New School of Business LearnLab Facilitates Active Learning

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Title III grant is helping Fairmont State University transform outdated classrooms into active learning spaces for the 21st Century. One exciting change is the creation of a LearnLab in 104 Jaynes Hall.

Designed using state-of-the-art products by Steelcase, the new LearnLab will provide a technology-rich learning environment for students in the School of Business. The LearnLab embodies Fairmont State’s Title III project goals to create collaborative and experiential learning opportunities by making a space for students to work together, as well as with their instructors, and utilize technology tools not available in a traditional classroom.

Traditional classrooms, with row seating and chalkboards, are suited primarily to lecturing, which leads to a more passive learning style. The LearnLab, however, creates the perfect setting for active learning for a new generation of students who thrive when using technology and working together. The School of Business worked with Steelcase to create a space that would consider pedagogy, technology and space equally. The LearnLab is designed around user-friendly technology and flexible furniture allowing for new teaching and learning methods.

“The primary advantage of the LearnLab design is for collaborative learning to take place. Students can get together in a study group, formal or informal, and collaborate very easily,” explained Dr. Richard Harvey, Dean of the School of Business.

The School of Business's LearnLab features three mediascape tables, with built-in interactive technology. Each table has two high-definition screens at the head of the table and built-in ports for students’ laptops or portable devices such as an iPad. Mediascape has been designed for a “walk-up and connect” experience, according to Steelcase. Students simply open the media well and remove a Puck™, connect the Puck™ to their laptop and then share what is on their personal screen, with their group, by pressing the Puck™ to choose which HD screen to occupy. Even better, this technology requires no software, drivers or special training, making it easy to use for both the faculty and students.

The flexible design of the LearnLab enables a variety of learning opportunities, including:

  • small team co-creation, where students co-create content together in small teams, and mediascape technology enables each student to share their digital content with their team;
  • group sharing and discussion, where each team can share content with the other teams in class discussion, and the instructor uses a central switcher to control the display of each team’s content; and
  • lecture and presentation, where instructors can share content with the class at every table or on a centrally-located display.

The mediascape table itself, as well as the close proximity and round-table seating arrangement, puts students in the center of the learning process. Because everyone is able to contribute, students are more engaged.

“The LearnLab extends learning beyond the traditional classroom; it offers students a flexible, technology-rich and collaborative environment that we believe will inspire them to partner on projects and pool intellectual energy to achieve success in their classes,” said Dr. Gina Fantasia, Director of the University Business Center and co-author of the Title III grant proposal.

The new LearnLab also includes Huddleboards and the Eno One board. Ultra-lightweight, double-sided, dry-erase Huddleboards hang on a work rail at both ends of the lab, making them easy to see from any seat. They are also removable, so students can take them back to their work spaces, make their notes and then replace them on the rail. The Eno One is a highly-advanced Smartboard with many features to enable quick lesson reference and seamless instruction.

This new setup in the LearnLab creates an environment for face-to-face interaction and engaged, active learning.

“We’re going to do case studies, role plays and simulations. We’re going to do exercises that practice the concepts that they read about in the book and heard their professors talking about. The LearnLab is equipped to help faculty reinforce textbook information with active learning experiences,” Harvey said.

Additionally, the LearnLab will be the home to the student peer mentoring program for the School of Business, which will be developed in the second year of the Title III grant.

“We want to build upon the peer collaboration that good students use so effectively. We will be training talented upper-level students, who—guided by faculty—will assist other students work toward mastery of the concepts and materials in targeted courses. We hope that a fabulous byproduct of that formal peer mentoring process will be to help students learn the techniques and habits that will then make them successful in all their classes,” Fantasia said.