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Interactive classroom opens on campus

February 7, 2014

Students work during a physics lab in the newly opened Active Learning Center.
Students work during a physics lab in the newly opened Active Learning Center. (Photo by Desi Danforth/Student Voice)

The Active Learning Center has opened in Hagestad Hall and is now providing chemistry and physics students at UW-River Falls with an innovative learning experience.

Completion of the Active Learning Center is part of the Pathway to Distinction, a five-year strategic plan to improve the university and is the first interactive classroom at UWRF. Many staff and faculty from Facilities Management and Planning, Division of Technology Services and Chemistry and Physics Departments helped with idea generation and development of the project.

Jamie Schneider, a chemistry professor at UWRF, originally brought forth the suggestion of creating an active learning environment at UWRF after teaching in a similar environment at the University of Minnesota.

Schneider said that the Active Learning Center gives more students a chance to participate in class and provides a space where active learning is the norm versus out of place.

Schneider described the expectation some students have in a traditional lecture hall that they are going to listen and not have a very strong voice. The classroom has given students the opportunity to work with others and problem-solve and given Schneider the chance to see and hear student thinking.

Schneider also said that fixed seating in traditional classrooms can act as a barrier for class collaboration and participation and the new classroom opens up the possibilities for teaching and also brings a large class to a small class feeling.

Students face each other in small groups in the Active Learning Center, instead of facing the front of the room. There are 12 learning stations in the classroom, each with monitors and glass boards that facilitate group learning.

Earl Blodgett, a physics professor at UWRF, believes most students will benefit from the active learning style. He described the classroom as being a new learning experience for faculty and students alike and said he sometimes feels like a rookie teacher all over again when teaching in the new classroom.

Students familiar with lecture-style learning may feel uneasy about the new changes of the Active Learning Center. However, all types of students, even those who excel at traditional learning, will benefit from the new classroom style, Blodgett said.

The Active Learning Center may also provide opportunities in the future for Physics students to be paid to assist professors with new equipment and learning concepts, said Blodgett.

Before the project was completed, a group of faculty and staff from UWRF went on a trip to the University of Minnesota to observe the active learning environment.

After the idea gained support, faculty from UWRF then requested and received funding from the UW-System to create the Active Learning Center. The funding totaled $850,000 and included costs for construction, electricity, technology and materials. Construction of the building was started in mid-July and completed at the end of January, according to Tim Thum, project manager of Facilities Management and Planning.

Technology installation and implementation was a major consideration when building the classroom, said Thum and Michael Stifter, executive director of Facilities Management and Planning.