Magazine for McKendree - Winter 2018

Active Learning Center Promotes Collaboration

Designed by Students, for Students

by Lisa Brandon, Director of Media Relations

Active Learning CenterThe Active Learning Center (ALC), a high-tech hybrid of classroom and collaborative workspace next to New Residence Hall West, originated as a class project. A year ago, instructor George Kriss, MBA ’08, director of information technology, gave his Business 401 Management Information Systems class a task: design a business center for the campus. The class surveyed other students’ needs and wants, identified an underused fitness center as a potential location, designed a layout, and created a website and brochure outlining their proposal.

“We were fueled by the idea of taking on a project that would actually make an impact on campus,” said Jennifer Carron, a senior human resource management major from Mascoutah, Ill. “The more we looked into this project, we began to discover the benefits of active learning. Education is moving more towards a group-oriented learning environment. I haven’t had a business class without a group in the past two years. We decided that this center was going to be something we wanted all students to be able to utilize—not just the business majors. We tweaked our plan to be more inclusive and focused on a creative, pro-technology classroom.”

Innovative thinking and problem solving helped the class stay within its $6,500 budget and nine-week deadline. Emily Doersam, a senior economics and finance major from Bunker Hill, Ill., led the design team. “We made quite a few modifications from beginning to end. It was difficult at first to figure out what kind of space we wanted to create or see,” she said. “It really gave us experience working as a team and helped our communication skills as well. The design specifically changed quite a bit. With every new idea came a new way to design it.”

The group presented its plan to President Jim Dennis and other senior university officials, who were impressed. Given the green light to implement his students’ plan, George, his IT staff and others turned the former fitness center into the Active Learning Center in less than two weeks before the fall semester began on Aug. 28.

The comfortable, colorful, multi-functional center is used for classes, meetings, training sessions and small group study. It is equipped with large and small whiteboards, a projector, printer, Wi-Fi, and four big screen monitors activated by Google Assistant.

“We wanted to get away from that computer lab feeling and focus more on the collaborative experience. Understanding that the majority of students would prefer to be able to use their personal devices, we concentrated on enabling students to cast their devices to the displays around the room via Chromecast,” said project manager Robert Watkins, a business major and December 2017 graduate from Indian Head Park, Ill.

Active Learning Center with StudentsDarren Cross taught his Recognized Leadership course in the ALC last fall. “The Active Learning Center helps to remove distance between students and me,” said the assistant professor of management. “Students are far more relaxed, and as a result, engaged. Having technology and tools at my fingertips has also helped me to be more innovative and flexible, which is something I think students are starting to demand.”

Some said they felt more confident and empowered after working on the ALC project. Jenn, who was hesitant to take on a leadership role as research coordinator, rose to the challenge. “Ultimately, this project really has changed me in a very personal way,” she said. “It made me step back last summer and dig deep into why I was afraid of stepping up and taking charge. Coming back in the fall, I signed up for a leadership class and have started looking at projects as places where I shouldn’t be afraid of stepping up.”

“I learned how, on any project, having diversity of thought is critical,” added Robert, who has started the University’s MBA program. “Without the support and input of every member of the class, I truly believe that we would not have been able to create such an amazing finished product.”

Robert recalled Dr. Dennis’ convocation speech to the first-year class four years ago. “He discussed the importance of ‘making your mark.’ I saw this as the perfect opportunity for me to create positive change and make my mark on McKendree before I graduated. Everyone has the ability to actualize the change that they want to see on campus. All it takes is a plan and determination.”

The project’s success also inspired a classroom makeover at the Radcliff, Ky., campus, which opened its new Active Learning Center on Jan. 11.

Coming Soon: HUB@McKendree

The ALC is the prototype for a larger collaborative learning space under construction in lower Pearsons Hall, known as “the HUB@McKendree.” The Fusion Room within the HUB is a gift from Glen and Loretta Vangampler, of Carmi, Ill., in memory of their son, Glen Arthur “Artie” Vangampler ’89. Artie, who passed away in 2015, studied computer science at McKendree and spent his career in computing and information services at Sigma Aldrich in St. Louis, Mo.