High-tech Facelift for Learning

Students “get real” in newly transformed classroom in College of Music.

College of Music staff, faculty, and other MSU representatives gather for an introduction to the new REAL classroom (Rooms for Engaged and Active Learning).
Steve Jowett of MSU IT Services Teaching and Learning demonstrates capabilities of the new space, classroom 241 of the Music Building.
The new classroom provides ample connectivity for sharing media from laptops and other devices, including 14 wall-mounted flat screens.

A traditional classroom and piano lab in the MSU Music Building recently received a high-tech facelift as part of a campus-wide movement to transform out-of-date spaces into technology-rich, active learning environments.

Room 241 will serve as the new hub for delivery of academic-based courses like music history, theory, and education through the College of Music. Michael Kroth, associate dean for undergraduate studies and operations, says every undergrad in the College will eventually take a course in the room and experience learning that moves beyond the traditional lecture or seminar format.

“This special type of classroom changes the way we teach,” Kroth says. “We’re working to create 21st century performers, educators, and scholars, so having a technology-rich environment that promotes interactive learning will contribute to student success.”

The Music Building classroom is among seven on campus that have been reconfigured into Rooms for Engaged and Active Learning—or REAL classrooms for short. The rooms are designed to promote lively interaction, enhanced learning, and increased faculty and student engagement through collaborative environments and enhanced technology.

Classrooms feature modular furnishings configured in small groups or “pods.” Major technology includes Internet access and monitors for group work, class lectures, and presentations. Cable connectors allow students to bring their own laptops, smart phones, and tablets.

“Our College has always prided itself on active learning techniques,” says Associate Professor Leigh VanHandel, chair of the College’s technology committee and chair of the music theory area. “This renovation opens up possibilities that while they weren’t impossible, were exceptionally difficult in traditional classrooms.”

The REAL room enables the College to expand the type of classes offered to students, with a case-in-point being the new music for film course. The College worked extensively with MSU IT to ensure the room would be completely flexible to accommodate needs unique to music.

“We think the College of Music REAL room is the coolest room yet,” says Steve Jowett, manager of IT Services Teaching and Learning Tech at MSU. “We’re evolving. If you look at what that room used to look like and compare it with now, it’s really amazing.”

Severin Grabski agrees that the College’s REAL room has quickly become a model for future tech-enabled rooms across campus. Grabski was part of the eclectic mix of MSU faculty and staff on the University Classroom Committee, and helped to create the academy and training program for faculty.

“The music building gives us an additional model for REAL classrooms,” says Grabski, an associate professor of accounting and information systems. “We now have two to three models that provide additional flexibility for faculty.”

So far, three classes have been taught in the College’s REAL room with 13 scheduled to be taught both Fall and Spring Semesters. All faculty interested in teaching in the converted piano lab participated in a short training program to learn how to use the room’s technology and adapt traditional lectures into active learning presentations.

“The REAL classroom is one of a number of incremental facility improvements in the College of Music that significantly advances student learning in dramatic ways,” says James Forger, dean of the MSU College of Music  “We are grateful for the University support that helps us to rocket forward.”

First-year master’s student Rebecca McWilliams was one of the first students to take a course in the College’s REAL room. She said the array of screens made it easy to see from any seat, and enhanced her learning experience in her sociology of music education course.

“The ability to share media without difficulty at opportune moments resulted in a richer, more interactive experience,” says McWilliams, who also took a seminar in music history.

Music Education Graduate Student Stephen Vecchio says he was surprised the moment he stepped into the room.

“It was a pleasant shock to see the room completely redone and up to date,” says Vecchio, who also took the sociology of music education course. “It gave me pride to see that the College of Music is leveraging the power of interactive technology in instruction.”

The College’s REAL room was more than two years in the making. In addition to furnishings and equipment for up to 30 students, the $250,000 university-supported project involved extensive physical improvements including replacing tiles, resurfacing walls and ceilings, upgrading and installing circuitry, and expanding the room’s footprint by merging with an underused storage space.

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