Lawrence University, a private Liberal Arts College in Appleton, WI, believes engaged learning to be the most effective way to prepare students for lives of personal fulfillment and professional accomplishment. To that mission, LU spent three years dreaming and reimagining how an outdated science lecture hall could and should work. Preparations for how to best utilize the remodeled space was supported by a grant to Lawrence by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) through the Science Education Program to implement its Inclusive Excellence Initiative. This Initiative aims to encourage colleges and universities to explore innovative ways to bring unrepresented students into the sciences. Science, in particular, can often be intimidating and discouraging during early coursework, preventing many brilliant minds from pursuing higher-level STEM courses. The LU faculty could envision a successful learning environment by transforming the former 150-seat traditional lecture-style room into a Science Learning Commons.
The Science Learning Commons is both a symbolic and tangible expression of the vision for Engaged Learning. The design scaffolds over the existing stepped structure to create a three-tiered amphitheater that can seamlessly support multiple pedagogies and transition between styles with ease. In Lecture-mode, faculty has access to two sizeable retracting presentation screens, two 12-foot whiteboard surfaces, a traditional rotating chalkboard, and document cameras. Teachers have long strived to incorporate interactive elements into their curriculum but often struggle to find methods that aren’t awkward and cumbersome. Now, within a single session, a lecture might conclude and efficiently give way to group work or lab demonstrations without furniture and seat shuffling disruptions. In Group-Work mode, students are circled around a table with the ability to display and collaborate on content from personal or local devices. Students can also tuck monitors and technology away into furniture cavities to provide a clear working surface necessary for lab work and hands-on activities. In Interactive-Mode, instructors can operate the room from a central control panel at the technology podium and choose content from any student pod to display on either or both of the front screens.
Ultimately, the renovated classroom enhances each student’s ability to work together creatively without intimidation, eliminating the isolating experience of solely lecture-based classes and fueling happiness and success in the sciences. LU continues to track the impact of Engaged Learning and develop methods to help all students feel welcomed, engaged, and inspired to be creators of their own understanding.