Shifting focus

Designing for the evolving classroom at the University of Notre Dame

As pedagogy in higher education progresses so must the higher education classroom. We’ve seen the new classroom evolve through our long relationship with the University of Notre Dame, an institution which has been savvy in forecasting these changes and consistently challenges VOA to design for them in each new collaboration. Through the lens of our Notre Dame experience, we’ve seen distance learning, interactive learning and combined interactive and distance learning emerge as essential aspects of the new classroom.

In each new project, we’ve learned that in the new format, the size and disposition of the classroom is paramount. Our experience in designing for active learning environments has shown us that optimal class sizes are multiples of six—the preferred size for group collaboration. In each new format, we must consider student comfort relative to technology. We study the data on acceptable background noise and apply strict acoustical requirements to allow for the unamplified voice whenever possible. We’ve adjusted the mix of essential technology with each iteration, combining the technical and traditional. Where interactive whiteboards were once a must, for example, traditional whiteboards and tablets are now de rigueur.

We’ve completed four projects for Notre Dame in recent years and are currently involved in a fifth. Here’s a snapshot of the pedagogical thinking behind the design features for each.

Giovanini Commons at Mendoza College of Business, Notre Dame, IN

Giovanini Commons at Mendoza College of Business, Notre Dame, IN

Giovanini Commons, Notre Dame, IN
SIZE: 10,000 square feet
TEAM: Bill Ketcham, Steve Siegel, Gayle Soberg, Primera Engineers (MEP)
TEACHING METHOD: Social learning

Located in the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, Giovanini Commons represents a visionary progressive experiment in classroom facility type for Mendoza.

The goal of the Giovanini Commons was to graduate “learners and thinkers” not just “good workers.” Mendoza broke from a centralized expert lecturer format to a decentralized, knowledge-based, group-learning format to promote the exchange of ideas. In this format, the instructor catalyzes complex problem-solving through creative projects, social learning and group dynamics.

This approach required a flexible classroom to support customized pedagogies such as team teaching. Remodeled space features a series of flexible areas which invite students to share responsibility for the design of the learning process. The environment challenges students and faculty to explore the new ideas that emerge through active conversations and information accessed through network technology.

Located in the lower level of the Mendoza College, the Giovanini Commons is designed for complete
customization. Moveable tables, chairs, white boards, partitions and technology stations can be
reconfigured to accommodate innovative academic situations. Vibrantly colored and uniquely
contoured walls stimulate the senses throughout the learning center. The space can accommodate
an individual with a quiet study nook or larger groups needing space to collaborate.

University of Notre Dame Executive MBA Center, Chicago, IL

University of Notre Dame Executive MBA Center, Chicago, IL

Executive MBA Center, Chicago, IL
SIZE: 10,000 square feet
TEAM: Bill Ketcham, Andrej Mordzinski, McGuire Engineers (MEP), Talaske (Acoustics)

Notre Dame extended the ideas explored in Giovanini Commons to its Chicago satellite facility on the second floor of the historic Railway Exchange building in Chicago where it offers values-based programs to executives developing leadership skills.

The centerpiece of the Chicago Executive MBA is a technologically advanced 70-seat tiered classroom, which is both optimized for live classroom discussion and technologically outfitted for distance learning. The classroom tiers are arranged in a curve and the ceiling articulated to reflect sound so that classroom discussions or simulations can be heard easily without amplification. Additional acoustical glazing installed at the windows mitigates sound from the bustling street below. Mechanical
systems were designed to mitigate hum. Breakout rooms allow small groups to collaborate.

The classroom technology supports distance learning. It’s equipped with teleconferencing,
recording and broadcasting equipment. The formal multipurpose room can also be configured for dining, receptions, and seminars. The Executive MBA Center features four breakout rooms, an executive dining room, a reception area and a business center.

The new facility’s dark mahogany details echoes the aesthetic of the interior of Mendoza College’s Indiana campus building and the Chicago building’s historic glass-roofed lobby.

The Executive MBA project won the 2009 Partnerships in Innovation award.

University of Notre Dame Graduate School of Law, Chicago, IL

University of Notre Dame Graduate School of Law, Chicago, IL

Graduate School of Law, Chicago, IL
SIZE: 3500 square feet
TEAM: Bill Ketcham, Andrej Mordzinski, Rebecca Buchmeier, McGuire Engineers (MEP), Talaske
TEACHING METHOD: Highly interactive/Distance learning

Notre Dame’s auxiliary facility for its Graduate School of Law employs a variety of technological innovations to respond to its role as a distance learning-enabled, highly interactive classroom and seminar room. Both a 40-person tiered classroom and a 20-person seminar room are equipped with audio-visual equipment for lecture-capture and distance learning. The 40-person room features a custom sliding glass white board that can be moved aside to reveal a large central monitor. The technology supports recording lectures and sharing classroom materials as well as teaching Indiana campus classes from Chicago.

As with the Executive MBA program space, the classroom and seminar room have a contemporary look that complements the classical character of the landmark building and its dramatic two-story lobby.

Executive MBA Center expansion, Chicago, IL
SIZE: 6000 square feet
TEAM: Bill Ketcham, Steve Pantazis, Shuang Jiang, McGuire Engineers (MEP), Talaske (Acoustics)
TEACHING METHOD: Highly interactive/Distance learning

The Executive MBA Center expansion, scheduled to open in January 2015, will offer an expanded curriculum and multiple pedagogies in one flexible classroom. The classroom is optimized to support class sizes of 48 or 54, with breakout rooms and group study areas. A combination of new and traditional classroom technology, tablets and traditional whiteboards offers maximum flexibility. New features include ample storage space to control clutter in a classroom that will play many roles throughout the day.

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