Modernizing UW classrooms enhances the teaching and learning experience
When she teaches in Bagley Hall 131, which seats 300 people, Deborah Wiegand knows it’s important to make a real connection with her students.
The classroom remains the heart and soul of the teaching and learning experience, said Wiegand, Principal Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry. It’s where students become more deeply engaged with a topic by learning from her and each other.
That’s why Wiegand and fellow faculty members were eager to partner with UW Capital Planning & Development, UW Information Technology (UW-IT) classroom technology experts, architects, UW Facilities and others to help guide the evolution of teaching spaces across the Seattle campus.
Their insights are helping to guide an eight-year plan to renovate 300 UW Seattle classrooms, modernizing them with the best available technologies as well as building new classrooms to enhance the student experience. The technology refresh initiative, led by UW-IT Classroom Technology & Events (CTE), is installing standard, easy-to-maintain tools such as advanced projection systems, displays, audio systems, Wi-Fi and more. Even lecterns are being standardized to give instructors a consistent experience from one classroom to the next.
The ultimate goal is to refresh the technology in each UW classroom at least every six years, a significant improvement over the previous average 23-year wait.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution for all of our classrooms.”
One of the largest and most visible undertakings of this initiative was the renovation of Denny Hall—the University’s oldest building, which reopened for fall quarter classes in September with 11 new classrooms, including a 100-seat Active Learning Classroom similar to those found at Odegaard Undergraduate Library.
The renovation work and construction of new classrooms is part of a larger strategy to improve the student experience at the UW. This “tech refresh” initiative is focused on classrooms of every type, from Active Learning Classrooms to lecture halls and small seminar classrooms. And each of them demands unique solutions.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution for all of our classrooms,” said Phil Reid, Vice Provost for Academic and Student Affairs and Deputy Chief Information Officer with UW-IT. “The array of technologies in the teaching and learning environment can be daunting, and, for many faculty members, sometimes less is more.’’
Because there is no single solution, Roberta Hopkins, CTE’s Director, said her unit is paying close attention to education trends and listening to what instructors, students and others at the UW are saying about what makes an effective classroom.
“We are taking a lot of input from students and faculty because we want to make sure we give them something useful—a classroom they can enjoy and that provides value,” Hopkins said. “About 3,000 unique sessions are taught every quarter in every kind of room at the UW. Today, students work as a team or alone, engaging with technology in multiple ways. But the classroom remains a key meeting point where teaching and learning come together.”
That’s true especially in a learning hall as large as Bagley 131, where CTE worked closely with campus partners, Wiegand and other faculty to make sure the renovation would meet specific needs. Bagley Hall reopened this fall quarter.
When Wiegand stepped into the renovated lecture hall this fall, there were new seats and desks, a slight smell of fresh paint, a larger projection screen and a pair of vibrant overhead screens that could be easily seen from every seat, and acoustics that were definitely much better. There was also a rolling table for her chemical demonstrations, equipped with a live-feed camera so students in the back could easily follow on the large screens.
All of these improvements make it easier for Wiegand to interact with her students in a meaningful way. “Sometimes that connection happens when I put on those goofy goggles to conduct a demonstration of a chemical reaction. Or in that split second when the unexpected happens,” she said. Some students will smile, or even let out a soft “Oh!”
“Students need to know that you’re a real human being. They need to connect with you in some way. That connection is at the core of the teaching and learning experience,” she said. “And it is at the core of the classroom experience.”
Wiegand, who taught chemistry for 10 years and then worked as Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs for another 12 years before returning to the classroom, said there’s no question that a better classroom environment leads to better learning.
“CTE and our other partners were very concerned about meeting our needs,” Wiegand said. “They brought us in from the get-go, and really listened to how we wanted the classrooms to work. There was a lot of problem-solving, a lot of talking things through. In all of our conversations, we were all thinking of the student experience.”