An open house set for 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, will showcase the capabilities of an experimental “bring-your-own-device” e-classroom in Room 313 of Forsyth Building, which has become a testing ground for learning spaces in the new natural sciences building to be constructed on campus.
Observing usage and receiving user-submitted feedback on the experimental classroom will provide useful information in the design and equipping of the new building, which will focus on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, said Martha Diede, director of Coulter Faculty Commons. The new facility is expected to be in the design phase throughout 2017. “The requirements for the new building were in mind long before its funding was secured in a bond issue approved by voters in 2016, and research began with available assets,” Diede said.
The CFC and faculty partners received support through WCU’s strategic renovation fund to create a new e-classroom in Room 219 of Killian Building in fall 2015. “That was our first time to get faculty input for this kind of classroom,” Diede said. “We were pleased with the results … in fact, we were finalists for awards for the classroom twice. But, when the STEM building was certain, we needed some real data. We need to be able to say not only what we think we want, but what faculty and students have tried and are actually using to develop critical thinking skills in the 21st century.”
Last fall, Diede and other members of a task force – Michele Hawes, Jonathan Wade, Galen May, William Frady and Colby Dietz – reached out to the colleges of Arts and Sciences, and Business, for a possible test site.
Darrell Parker, dean of the College of Business, assisted the project by volunteering Room 313 in Forsyth Building as the location for the new e-classroom, and Joe Walker, associate vice chancellor for facilities management, also was instrumental in its development, Diede said.
The room will be passively monitored as it is used. “We’re going to be asking for data and using security cameras to see where things are being moved around so we’ll know what to build and how to equip new spaces,” Dietz said.
The design of the room will contribute to the research, with half of the room providing access to electrical power and the other half not powered. “We want to know if students go to outlets, work on battery power or negotiate power usage with each other,” Dietz said. “It will help us understand if a laptop requirement for students should replace the current computer requirement if we know what kind of devices students bring – laptops, tablets or touchscreen hybrids. We need to know where and how much space we should allot for backpacks, plus umbrellas, coats, hats and other gear. Students already use the Tech Commons and library, but if spaces like this are available, they might elect to use them in a free period that’s closer to the professor’s office.”
The questions are not all focused on the students, Diede said. “We’d also like to know if instructors are moving away from document cameras to Powerpoint or projectable PDFs and what kind of whiteboards or glass panels to install,” she said. “Are faculty doing more ‘sage-on-stage’ up front, or throwing materials from the instructor’s computer to the six screens? Are they standing still or moving from table to table?”
Diede believes the data collected can heavily influence what needs to be in the new sciences building. “This will tell us a huge amount about how many wireless access points we’ll need and student use of power and planning for infrastructure for the new building, as well as how much equipment to purchase for it, how we refresh classrooms and how much bandwidth is required.”
The open house will provide a first glimpse at the experimental space, which can be reserved like any other classroom. Diede encourages faculty and staff to attend the open house and “come in, show up and play around.”
“And if you can’t make it, there will be a visitor schedule posted so you can go in and try things,” she said. “Sign the guestbook and you can provide feedback. There will be signs with QR codes that will direct you to an online survey about your experience.”
The event also will be “an opportunity to say thanks to the instructors who wanted to step up and help us with the classroom,” Diede said. “Snacks and meaningful conversation will abound.”
A downloadable flyer about the new classroom can be found at this link.