Turning Dreams into Reality
According to Dean Mark Lawrence Kornbluh, the College of Arts & Sciences has dreamed for a new academic science building for 20 years. More recently, the University of Kentucky has made commitments to the principle of active learning: not just sitting in class taking notes but participating in the learning process.
Plans for the upcoming Academic Science Building (ASB) emphasize environmental responsibility, utilizing natural light, outdoor teaching areas and potential rainwater recycling. But the value of the ASB’s design extends far beyond its construction – the innovative lecture halls and classrooms inside will help the College realize its dream of improving science education through exciting new models of engaged in-class teaching.
The teaching space in the ASB will be composed of next-generation lecture halls and groundbreaking TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) classrooms. While some classes in the College (such as BIO 155) are already taught using interactive computer assistance, the new capabilities offered by the ASB stand to change the academic culture of STEM education at UK.
Traditional lecture halls place students in fixed single rows of stadium seating facing the front of the room. This arrangement limits students’ access to information and minimizes their ability to interact with each other.
Lecture halls in the ASB will maintain the same basic stadium structure, but are also designed with two rows of seats per tier with a table in-between. Even though these lecture halls will have as many as 300 seats, this design means students will be able to form groups and take part in active learning exercises in ways not possible with UK’s current facilities.
“We envision a professor putting a problem on a board and students breaking into groups of 4 or 6 or 8 and working on the problem together,” said Kornbluh. “It’s designed for students to bring their computers with them and work together. After group work the class can come back together and the professor can tell them to put their answers on the board.”
“Some subjects and classes will remain large at UK, but now they are designed for active and interactive learning,” he added.
These designs give unique opportunities to the professors who use them. “The structure really enables activities that require working in groups,” explained biology professor Peter Mirabito. “Now we can design active class periods instead of just telling students what we know.”
The ASB will also feature a variety of TEAL classrooms, ranging in size from 24 to 132 seats. TEAL classrooms group students around tables, allowing them to interact as they learn. But the tables do more than organize – they also contain interactive technologies that allow students increased access to the professor and web-based resources.
Statistics professor Bill Rayens sees these spaces as a great opportunity to implement aspects of both flat classrooms and flipped classrooms. “This will change everything,” he said. “It’s going to be amazing to have this technology and to have this beautiful way we can reach each other electronically.”
“This is really exciting because we’ll have eye-level access with all students all the time. In a sense, the class that used to be 120 will feel like a class of nine,” Rayens said.
Mirabito looks forward to the additional resources because of the ways they enable group work, individual pacing, and student-assisted education.
“In the TEAL classroom, groups can handle lessons at their own rate. They can make sure they get what they need,” he explained. “Students explaining things to each other is a big part of the group dynamic. They get something out of it by teaching as well, and it’s a great use of their time.”
The new lecture halls and TEAL rooms in the ASB will dramatically change the role(s) played by professors in the classroom. Instead of just providing content, instructors in the ASB will have a new and unique capability to give students access to problem-solving tools and steer them toward solutions.
“With this, students can interact with hands-on things – what I call intangibles or ‘ponderables,’” Rayens said. “We can project demonstrations or activities on the walls and broadcast them to each table. Students can work together and report out instead of being held captive by a passive lecture.”
“It’s a big step away from the approach of just reading the textbook and taking a test,” Mirabito added.
The teaching space in the ASB will reinforce the classroom as a site of knowledge creation, allowing instructors to focus on building and reinforcing students’ skills. “There are things students can’t deliver to themselves: connections and discoveries that need to be guided by someone who knows where they are going. The success of this pedagogy is directly correlated to the architecture of these classrooms,” Rayens explained.
“[The ASB] looks like something you would be excited to be part of as a student and excited to send your kids to if you were a parent. Being a student here is going to be better than ever,” said Mirabito.
 Academic Science Building, scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016.
 Teaching Engaged Active Learning, a teaching format that combines lecture, simulation, and hands-on student interaction.
 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
 This design is often described as the “sage on the stage” model.
 A pedagogical approach utilizing technology and group interaction to foster communication and problem-solving.
 Pedagogical investment in shared/join responsibility for learning between instructor and student. Rayens explains this as “insisting that students be involved in their own learning.”