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Inspiring spaces in the College of Education’s DeGarmo Hall

Area 20.

Area 20, a large, flexible learning space created for dynamic learning and practice for education majors and graduate students in the College of Education.

For several years, the College of Education has prioritized the redesign of classrooms and computer labs to reflect the flexible learning needs of aspiring educators and their future students.

The first reimagined collaborative space was Studio Teach. The third-floor, approximately 2,000-square-foot area overlooks the University’s Quad. It features dozens of flexible seating options, stations where multiple students can connect to a single monitor, SMART Boards, a 3D printer, an educational gaming area, a writeable white board partition, multiple wall-mounted monitors, and an array of technology available for checkout.

Storage areas on DeGarmo’s garden level have also been converted to classroom spaces with several interactive monitors that can be controlled individually or together through a single source. In addition, several classroom spaces in DeGarmo have been remodeled with a few more to come this fall. They too incorporate flexible seating and cutting-edge educational technologies.

The Richard L. Benson flexible learning space

The Richard L. Benson Flexible Learning Space was created with the help of funding by the alumnus for which it was named.

It’s a shift in mindset reflective of the evolving state of PreK–12 learning environments across the U.S. In many schools, gone is the traditional set up where a teacher stands at the front of the classroom and lectures to students.

Assistant Professor Jay Percell is among the many faculty embracing the opportunity to incorporate the versatile technological spaces in his curriculum.

“As technologies change and develop, I think it is incumbent upon classroom teachers to also change and develop to take advantage of those resources,” he said.

“We have to move more toward exploration, more toward collaboration, and those exploratory pursuits do not necessarily have to follow a direct path or pattern. We should be letting students take the lead, learn, create, and explore on their own. We can then go back to them and find dynamic ways to assess their new knowledge.”

Percell recalls taking his students to Studio Teach immediately after it opened so his teacher candidates could explore the space and check out the multitude of options available to them.

Within a year, the space became a core part of his and many other faculty members’ curriculum.

Percell’s proudest moment came while teaching a group lesson on the use of educational technology in the classroom. The aspiring educators were researching different ways of delivering content and assessing learning.

“I could see the change in mindsets of my students based on their interactions and feedback. They were enlightened from a collaborative standpoint and a kinesthetic standpoint because they were able to be up and moving around. And also, from just an engagement standpoint, they were really enjoying what they were doing. They were beginning to imagine what they might do one day in a classroom, and it was really eye-opening for all of us.”

The Richard L. Benson Flexible Learning Space in DeGarmo Hall

The Richard L. Benson Flexible Learning Space in DeGarmo Hall

Percell said he has partnered with multiple faculty members to deliver curriculum in tandem using the flexible spaces. He also plans to incorporate more video conferencing between his class and PreK–12 environments, a practice he has observed in the classrooms of his colleagues.

“In those environments, it is an informative and interactive experience. Teacher candidates get to see a modern classroom early on in their course work, which is incredibly beneficial,” he said. “They also get the chance to observe and learn from a practicing teacher.”

Percell has found that his students are more motivated and interested in the course work as a direct result of the enhanced physical and technological atmosphere of the upgraded classrooms.

“Several of my teacher candidates talk to me about how much they appreciate the features of the classroom, including the flexible layout, modular furniture, and the ability to do small-group collaboration using remote technologies. It’s clear that the space better fits the needs of today’s students.”

Similar redesign projects are taking place across Illinois State University, from academic units to student housing. With a task force focused on evaluating all stakeholders’ needs, the campus promises more dynamic learning environments in the mold of the way people learn today.

“I am really excited for the way Illinois State, and in particular, the College of Education, is embracing flexible learning spaces and technology in collaborative learning environments,” Percell said. “I love the fact that we are following through on this idea and that we are creating more spaces like this on campus.”

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