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Learning and Design Join in New Spaces

By Muyinatu A. Lediju

Five principles -- community, intensity, variety, flexibility, and ubiquity -- underlie MIT’s changing approach to architecture and learning, said Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning William J. Mitchell.

Mitchell described the approach in an address last Friday as part of MacVicar Day, an annual day focused on educational issues.

These five principles went into the renovation of six undergraduate classrooms, including the Technology Enabled Active Learning room that is home to 8.02, a class most MIT students must now take.

Expanding on his five principles for education, Mitchell said that there is a need for a sense of community at MIT. Although students are here to learn, students also need a social life to facilitate the learning process.

A university should also provide spaces that foster interaction, Mitchell said.

He said classrooms should be designed to support the variety of learning styles found at MIT. Part of the goal is to integrate such tools as audio-visual materials, video projectors, whiteboards, and laptops.

Architecture, he said, should be flexible so that it does not get in the way of learning. “If you build into the architecture the rigid presumption of how things should be done, it won’t always work out,” Mitchell said.

Learning takes place everywhere, he said, so a university’s overall design should support teaching and learning 24 hours a day.

Helen Samuels, MacVicar Day coordinator, said that the changes were not made just to make classrooms look pretty. Instead, the changes reflect faculty members’ belief that no single model for teaching is best, she said.

Samuels said that the renovations are still in an experimental phase, and that student reaction will help determine which spaces succeed.

TEAL designed for learning

Mitchell cited TEAL, the MIT/ Wellesley Teacher Education Program, and the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center as examples of these educational goals.

TEAL embodies variety in education, Mitchell said, by incorporating lecture, recitation, and hands-on experiments in one presentation.

Students taking 8.02 (Physics) use animated simulations designed to help them visualize concepts in electromagnetism and carry out experiments in groups during class. Each group has a laptop computer to view lecture slides and collect data from experiments.

So far, student reaction to the new format for 8.02 has been mixed, and the Student Committee on Educational Policy will consider the matter at its regular meeting this Thursday.

The Park Room for Innovative Education, Room 3-370, is similarly organized to make learning easier for students taking classes in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Tables in the room are designed to easily accommodate note-taking during lectures and table-top experiments.

Room 10-337, where the Teacher Education Program holds its classes, is designed to integrate work on and off computers. Kris R. Grymonpre ’03, currently taking one of the Teacher Education Program courses, said that the room was beneficial to group discussions, a key aspect of his class.

Mitchell said the Zesiger Center helps make learning ubiquitous by bringing the entire MIT community together, noting that it is important to remember that teaching and learning also occur outside the classroom.

Further examples include the Aeronautics and Astronautics Learning Laboratory in Building 33. The space was renovated to teach with a methodology called CDIO, or “conceive, design, implement, operate.”

The Undergraduate Architecture Studio in room 7-432 replaced drafting tables with computers and equipped the studios with network drops, CAD workstations, and ISDN lines for videoconferencing. The Shakespeare Electronic Archive in room 4-231 uses digital copies of original documents to aid in research.

Past MacVicar Day topics have included international education programs such as the Cambridge-MIT Institute, and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, founded by Margaret MacVicar ’65, the day’s namesake and a past dean for undergraduate education.