Montana State University

MSU looks to help students with new advances in classroom technology

August 9, 2012 -- MSU News Service

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The classrooms of the future will look more like NASA mission control and less like a lecture hall under plans Montana State University has for renovations beginning this fall.

The university plans to renovate one of its standard classrooms in Gaines Hall into a TEAL classroom. The acronym, coined at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stands for Technology-Enhanced Active Learning and has been shown to dramatically increase the pass rates in courses freshmen historically struggle with, like math, physics and chemistry.

Instead of students sitting in rows and looking straight ahead during a lecture, a TEAL classroom is built with round tables where students work in groups of nine. The tables are equipped with flat screens, ports for laptop computers and are linked to wall-mounted screens or monitors around the classroom. At the touch of a button, a professor will be able to project a concept, or a student's work, on all the monitors in the room for the whole class to see. Faculty can also introduce computer visualizations of difficult concepts to their students.

"There are two key reasons this classroom setup has been so effective," said Martha Potvin, vice president of academic affairs and provost. "The first is that students learn more quickly and to a better degree when they interact with other students. Having to explain a concept to a fellow student helps them understand a subject in a more complete, and memorable, way.

"Second, technology allows students to easily share mathematical proofs, chemical formulas or physics equations with their entire work group or class for feedback - that's a powerful learning tool," Potvin said.

MSU's plans for a TEAL classroom grew out of faculty interest in the idea after a workshop on classroom design last spring, Potvin said.

MSU is using the classroom in Gaines Hall because it can best support the technology thanks to a building-wide renovation completed in 2010. Gaines is also the most heavily used academic building on campus, with the majority of all undergraduates taking a class there at some point.

The renovation will begin in the fall semester and should be completed in time for the first class to be taught in the room in the spring semester.

Since the Gaines Hall TEAL classroom and other renovations planned around campus in coming years will take various classrooms out of use, MSU is leasing two modular classroom buildings to use as swing space for the next two years. Equipped with air conditioning, heat and bathrooms, the modulars will be placed immediately north of the university's Chemistry/Biochemistry Building, where two modulars used mostly as laboratories are currently located.

Typically, MSU does classroom renovations during the summer, but the modulars will allow the university to work at an accelerated pace.

"We want our students to succeed in these difficult courses," Potvin said. "This new classroom model has shown great results across the country - we don't want to wait any longer to bring it here."

Contact: Tracy Ellig, MSU Communications, (406) 994-5607, tellig@montana.edu