The right places for students and faculty

Strong academic programs are the product of a simple formula—the right people teaching the right curriculum in the right places._---Chicoine,-David-adj

I have shared that message in recent years to emphasize the cases for new academic buildings and research laboratories on campus. These new facilities became priorities to meet critical needs identified through accreditation reviews and self-study.

It’s time to focus on existing classrooms to make sure they also are the right spaces for effective teaching and learning.

Recent research shows a positive correlation between classroom environment and student achievement. A November story in The Chronicle of Higher Education points out a new dynamic in college and university classrooms, one where the professor has shifted from front and center in the lecture hall to a position on the side or among students in class discussions and group work. This learner-centered model promotes student engagement and necessitates the use of different teaching methods.

An article in University Business last fall notes the ways in which active learning environments are affecting university practices—from building design, to ventilation systems and lighting, and to furniture. Provosts, deans and department heads see the need for flexible spaces with furnishings and technology that can be adapted to meet multiple teaching modalities, today and in the future.

Many classrooms at South Dakota State University—and most other colleges and universities—were built for lectures, the predominant teaching method for generations. For instance, the chairs in the Bailey Rotunda’s rooms cannot be moved to accommodate group discussions. Unfortunately, the limitations of certain rooms often force instructors to alter their teaching methods.

A classroom utilization study about two years ago revealed the opportunity to change the teaching and learning environment at the university. Provost Laurie Nichols and I agreed with the recommendations ( made last year by a subsequent task force; specifically, we have several good academic buildings with an outdated mix of classrooms for today’s students and their instructors.

This university’s solution is the Classroom Enhancement Initiative, a five-year effort that will renovate 99 classrooms in 23 buildings. When finished, an inventory of five classroom styles will provide the teaching environments that reflect faculty preferences and students’ learning styles.

Visitors will still see lecture halls with fixed seats, larger classrooms with movable desks and seminar rooms with conference-style furniture. Other rooms will accommodate group learning and teaching styles integrated with the newest technological tools and platforms. These collaborative and active-learning rooms will reflect workplaces our students will find after they complete degrees.

The financial plan for these renovations is approximately $10 million, and it relies on resources from our generous donors matched with university maintenance and repair funds. This is an opportunity for alumni and friends to have an impact on student success with modest contributions that include naming privileges on many rooms.

The SDSU Foundation is coordinating fundraising, and its website ( offers more information for those who are interested. An informational brochure ( is also available for online viewing. Ultimately, the Classroom Enhancement Initiative will provide learning environments that differentiate this university from other institutions in the region.

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