Saint Louis University

Since last fall, a small team of faculty, students and staff have been changing what a classroom can look and feel at Saint Louis University. Located in room 213 in Des Peres Hall is the Reinert Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) Learning Studio, a state-of-the-art teaching space designed by the team to provide a highly-flexible, technology-rich space in which professors can experiment with new ways of engaging today's students and creating collaborative learning opportunities.

Learning Studio Symposium
Tim Howell presents at the Studio's first-ever Learning Studio Symposium in April. Submitted photo

Part of the national Herman Miller Learning Spaces Research Program, the Learning Studio is a place of experimentation, innovation and creativity. And it's a space that allows SLU to experiment with new technologies and classroom designs that can be adopted for other classrooms on campus.

Much has been learned about what makes for high-impact learning spaces, and the faculty who are teaching in the Studio have been excited about both high-tech and low-tech features in the room. One of the most popular features of the space is the re-configurable furniture, which makes collaborative projects easier than traditional classrooms.

"The room, the space itself is the third teacher," said Flannery Burke, Ph.D., who taught in the Studio this spring. "It fosters collaborative work. Because learning depends on group work, citizenship is enacted as well as studied; the room also fosters student-led learning and inspires students to seek information on their own initiative."

Whereas many traditional classrooms are more focused on what faculty members can convey at the front of the room (using display projection of lecture notes or PowerPoint slides, for instance), the Learning Studio allows both faculty and students the easy ability to move around the space, working from almost any location in the room. In addition to the faculty's conveying of information, students can also participate actively by creating content and connecting to experts and learners beyond the University.

Learning Studio Symposium
Flannery Burke, Ph.D., spoke on the advantages of the Studio's space during the symposium. "The room, the space itself is the third teacher," said Burke. Submitted photo

Recently, presenting at the first-ever Learning Studio Symposium, Kathleen Llewellyn explained how the room's multiple internet access points help to immerse her French Society and Media students in Francophile culture by providing "immediacy and authenticity which is not available in any other way except for studying in that country."

"The Learning Studio is fantastic for that purpose to help develop linguistic, cultural and intercultural competence," she added.

At that symposium, held earlier this month in the Learning Studio, Innovative Teaching Fellows shared their experiences teaching in the space. Most of them described the different ways students have used the iPads and tablet PCs to conduct real-time searches for news or journal articles, to create shared documents and presentations during class and to look up relevant information as the class unfolds. The room is especially well-suited to collaborative, learner-centered teaching models, and all of the Fellows described instances where students become active agents in the construction of the courses and materials.

Across the board, faculty and students alike have praised the ample whiteboard space and the possibilities of multisource projection in the room. The video wall can be segmented into different zones, so that lecture slides can appear alongside a Twitter feed from the class or a news article from the Internet. Ultimately, everyone agreed, it's the ability to turn any part of the room into a site of learning and collaboration that makes the Studio such a rich environment for teaching and learning.

The Learning Studio is always evolving. As new faculty use the space, it will continuously enhance and expand the available tools and technologies they can use. And as new courses unfold there, the CTE will continue to work with ITS and facilities to find ways to rollout new tools to other classrooms on campus and to inform the SLU community about what's happening behind the Learning Studio door.

To find out more about the Learning Studio or the Innovative Teaching Fellowships, contact the Reinert Center for Teaching Excellence at cte@slu.edu or 314-977-3944.

About The Learning Studio

The Learning Studio features a number of innovations, from room design and flexible furniture to interactive technologies and tools specifically meant to push the boundaries of what's possible in a classroom. To encourage meaningful collaboration and interactive learning, the Studio features:

  • Comfortable, changeable seating to allow for different class formats
  • A multisource projection wall consisting of 18 46-inch video monitors
  • A cache of iPads and tablet PCs for student use during class
  • Mini-portable projectors and wireless projection capability to support collaborative work
  • Ample whiteboard space, including portable whiteboards for small-group work
  • Video conferencing capability for collaboration with other universities
  • Specialized apps and other software tailored for specific courses

The Studio is designed for classes of 25 or fewer students, but with quality video conferencing options, the room also allows for joint courses and collaborations with students from other universities, both in the United States and abroad. Next year, the Studio will host three courses that will be taught in partnership with other institutions. So, in essence, there is no limit to class size.

About the Innovative Teaching Fellowship

Of course, none of this would be possible without committed faculty, who are willing to try out new things in their teaching. In order to teach in the Learning Studio, faculty must apply and be selected for a Reinert Center for Teaching Excellence Innovative Teaching Fellowship. The Fellowship provides a course release for the semester prior to the faculty member's teaching in the Learning Studio. During that semester, Fellows work closely with CTE Instructional Designers to create courses that take full advantage of the Studio's capabilities, while still meeting core learning objectives. Together, Fellows and Instructional Designers ensure that the Studio and its technologies are used purposefully and reflectively, in ways that align with pedagogical and disciplinary goals.

During fall 2011, the first Innovative Teaching Fellows launched the Studio; they included Tim Howell (physical therapy and athletic training), Stephanie Mooshegian (organizational studies) and Rachel Schwartz (Institute for Biosecurity). This spring, new Fellows Elena Bray-Speth (biology), Flannery Burke (history) and Kathleen Llewellyn (modern and classical languages), have been teaching in the Learning Studio.

The following faculty members have been selected for Innovative Teaching Fellowships for 2012-2013:

For fall 2012, Jenny Agnew (English), Jamel Bell (communication), Nathaniel Rivers (English), Thomas Stewart (law) and Emmanuel Uwalaka (political science).

For spring 2013, Rebecca Aldrich (occupational science and occupational therapy), Paul Lynch (English), Nathaniel Millett (history) and Jintong Tang (management).