NCI: ‘Learning spaces’ set for new technology

April 15, 2012

Martinsville Bulletin

Classrooms in the proposed New College Institute (NCI) building would not be like those in which most area residents have been educated.

NCI Executive Director William Wampler calls them classrooms, but that term may not adequately describe them. Associate Director/Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins refers to them as “learning spaces” because they would have a “highly flexible” design to help students and instructors collaborate.

Although design plans are not yet final, the building is expected to have 14 to 17 learning spaces. The latter number would be if the Grand Hall is divided by partitions into three such spaces.

Each space would have videoconferencing technology so students could be taught by instructors elsewhere or courses taught at NCI could be broadcast live to other higher education institutions, officials said. Students also could use the technology to hook into the Internet for lessons, they added.

At least two types of classroom configurations are represented on building plans that can be studied during a public hearing that NCI will hold at 6 p.m. Monday at Albert Harris Elementary School on Smith Road in Martinsville.

One configuration includes four tables surrounded by chairs. The instructor has a desk in the middle. The design lets students collaborate on projects in small groups, and the instructor can easily get to a table when the students need help, according to Wampler.

That is different from traditional classroom arrangements in which a teacher lectures in front of students seated in rows of desks. But the new arrangement seems to be gaining in popularity, Wampler said, noting that some classes at Laurel Park and Fieldale-Collinsville middle schools use it.

Another configuration looks like a corner booth at a restaurant. It is shaped like a half-octagon and lets students gather near video screens. Wampler said the portable furnishings can be moved wherever there is an Internet connection.

Wampler noted that some high-tech companies — particularly ones which expect workers to collaborate on projects — use such configurations in their facilities. As a result, students accustomed to the seating arrangements will feel comfortable in those work environments after they graduate, he said.

The institute’s fundraising arm, the New College Foundation, would own the new building whereas its other classroom facilities, including the King Building and space inside Jefferson Plaza, are rented. Wampler said.


He emphasized that NCI would continue to rent those facilities because it needs the space for various academic programs.


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