Super-Sizing Active Learning: The University of Illinois at Chicago Had Small Spaces. It Was Time to Trade Up

By Dickson, Ellen Bailey; Gaum, Sara | Planning for Higher Education, October-December 2019 | Go to article overview

Super-Sizing Active Learning: The University of Illinois at Chicago Had Small Spaces. It Was Time to Trade Up


Dickson, Ellen Bailey, Gaum, Sara, Planning for Higher Education


Active learning is not a trend; it's a reality. While small-scale active learning classrooms, with 24 to 32 students, are a common phenomenon on college and university campuses, super-sized active learning environments are just being explored. Administrators and educators have developed an awareness that exposing students early in their college career to active learning practices will improve their overall success.

The first classes that freshmen take are large-scale, prerequisite courses, often with 150 or more colleagues. To improve student success and the institution's retention rate, freshmen should be allowed to experience active learning pedagogies and all the associated long-term benefits:

* Better recall and deeper understanding of material over standard lectures, where student concentration drops off after 15 minutes.1

* Improved exam scores and decreased failure rates.2

* Education equity benefits (lower-performing students do better than already high-achieving students).3

* Different student learning styles supported.4

* Enhanced student learning, maintained interest/ engagement in the topic, and more enjoyable.5

With students encouraged to actively participate in the learning process, educators will see greater academic success and administrators an uptick in retention.

THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO'S ACTIVE LEARNING MASTER PLAN

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has fully embraced active learning over passive learning techniques. Leading the charge is UIC's Office for Campus Learning Environments (OCLE), which creates and renovates learning spaces, enabling active learning and enhancing student success.6

With input from the scheduling office and OCLE surveys of faculty, students, and OCLE's Advisory Board, the university and OCLE recognized the need for large-scale active learning environments. OCLE turned its attention to Stevenson Hall, a three-story classroom building built in 1966. Because staff members did not know for certain the classroom size, seat quantity, or location of the university's need, they engaged us, Bailey Edward, a Chicago-headquartered architectural and engineering firm, to undertake a classroom gap analysis, a prototype study, and classroom master plan laying out the vision for future classroom development.

DISCOVERY

To provide the optimum solution for balancing the need for and function of spaces, we started the discovery process by asking basic questions: What do you have? What do you need? What do you want? Can you get what you want and need? Is the cost justified?

WHAT DID UIC HAVE?

We first assessed the existing condition of Stevenson Hall. UIC provided to us original architectural and engineering drawings from the 1960s, as well as documentation on later remodeling projects. We reviewed and validated through field surveys two reports, the UIC University Hall Facade Repair-Conceptualization Phase Report, prepared by Ratio Architects in 2014, and the Stevenson Hall Building Assessment, by Bloom Companies, LLC, in 2015.

Architects and engineers walked the building, inside and out, reviewing existing systems with facility engineers to determine compatibility with previous reports. They also considered whether the building met current codes and standards, and what the costs of renovations would be to bring the building up to those standards.

WHAT DID UIC NEED?

Rightsizing the number and size of classrooms to the course demand, size of the student population, and weekly availability of classrooms is important to any educational institution. We conducted a quantitative gap analysis to discover the actual amount of space needed based on course demand and anticipated institutional growth.7

We analyzed over 176 existing classrooms and more than 2,300 associated undergraduate courses per semester on UIC's East Campus. Using raw data supplied by UIC, including course count, course maximum student occupancy, course actual enrollment, class hours, and weekly frequency, our analysis transformed the information into easy-toread tables that communicated the university's current performance against industry courses, classrooms, and buildings benchmarks. …

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