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Ten JSU Classrooms Get A New Back-to-School Look

08/31/2015


Ten classrooms in six buildings have been redesigned on campus.

By Heather Greene

The return of students each fall seems to breathe new life into JSU, as it emerges from the sultry, dog days of summer to hail a new year of learning. However, this fall, some students and faculty will get to walk into ten newly renovated collaborative learning spaces, which have received a surge of new life themselves.

This classroom design vision began in the spring of 2014 with Dr. Rebecca Turner, provost and vice president of academic and student affairs, during a Faculty Commons planning session.

Turner expressed the need for classrooms with mobile furniture, allowing easy transitions to be made from one style of lecturing or learning to another. Her belief in the project was so strong that she dedicated funds from her own budget towards the purchase of mobile furniture, only stipulating that instructors but especially students be the ones to design the rooms and select the furniture, as opposed to administrators.

“An integral component in our quest to transform the learning environment at JSU is our learning spaces, traditionally called classrooms,” stated Turner, reflecting upon the project. “To inspire and promote learning, these classrooms needed a facelift. They needed change from the standard rows of desks in front of a faculty desk or lectern, to flexible and engaging learning spaces that can adapt to today’s learning needs. To begin the transformation of learning spaces we set aside funding in 2014-2015 to modify ten classrooms into learning spaces that are 21st century showcases. I am so proud of the work completed by individuals across campus who worked as teams in this successful year-long project.  I am pleased with the results of their work, which exceeded my expectations. I look forward to seeing and hearing about the learning experiences of our faculty and students who will benefit from using these re-designed REAL spaces this fall. This classroom re-design collaboration illustrates what can be accomplished when we work together for a common purpose.”

This classroom redesign project came under the oversight of the Office of Education Technology and Support, or more specifically - JSU’s Faculty Commons program. For Gena Christopher, director of JSU’s Faculty Commons program, and Dr. Joe Walsh, associate vice president of educational technology and support, this redesign became a labor of love over the past several months.

“The Faculty Commons’ purpose is to support faculty in every area of teaching, whether it be to discover new pedagogy or helping them to use innovative technology,” explains Christopher.  

Each year, there is a new theme for Faculty Commons. Last year it was “Teaching for REAL: Relevant, Engaging, Active Learning,” which fits hand-in-hand with the classroom design project.

Early on in the planning process, Faculty Commons accepted applications for room proposals and strategically selected where to best appropriate renovation monies.

Christopher stated that the rooms selected “are all over campus and have all different purposes.” All the rooms have new furniture and a fresh coat of paint, and some have new flooring and lighting. She explained, “It is all for the purpose of making these learning spaces places where active learning could occur, where people could move the furniture around, where you don’t have a ‘front’ of the room. They are not lecture based rooms; none of them are.”

Walsh explained that the idea behind a mobile classroom is based on current scientific research: “Your brain is more active during sleep than sitting at a desk. We tell children not to fidget, but they actually should fidget because movement stimulates the brain.”

Some of the departments designing rooms completely left the idea of a “traditional” classroom in the past and revamped the rooms in such a manner that students can imitate real life experiences relevant to their major. For example, the criminal justice and social work departments combined their ideas to create an interrogation simulation room, which can be videoed as well.

Of the ten spaces, two are dedicated to just faculty members, which allows them a place to receive training or simply drop by and work, especially in a collaborative manner.

One of the classes scheduled to use a redesigned collaborative learning space this semester is Jennifer Foster’s Bible as Literature course. On the benefits of the new designs, Foster stated, “Because The Bible as Literature is a student-centered class that is directed by the students and focuses heavily on critical thinking via discussions, the renovation allows the students and me to be more mobile and flexible. Within the span of an hour, we can quickly and easily move tables and chairs to go from a large group discussion to smaller breakout groups. With the mobile dry erase boards, smaller groups can have their own visual reference during collaborative sessions that can be easily moved to the front of the class to share the visual with the rest of the class.”

Students Dustin Gaskins, Nick Bonds and Kellie St. Clair were the leaders of the student team who, with the assistance of several other students, worked to design the Stone Center rooms.

Foster noted that the first day of class was a hit for all students in her classroom.

On August 25, 2015, an official open house was held to publically show the new learning spaces, thank everyone involved in the process and honor Turner for envisioning this project.

For more information about the services provided by Faculty Commons, please call 256-782-5806.

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