Mell Classroom Building bringing ‘leading edge’ learning environments to Auburn University

Published: February 20, 2017
Updated: June 21, 2017
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When the 69,000-square-foot Mell Classroom Building opens on Auburn University’s campus this fall, students will enter a learning environment like they’ve never experienced. With 29 active learning classrooms, two lecture halls and approximately 50 group study spaces, the $35 million facility is one of the single largest investments in engaged active student learning in the Southeast.

While most college students are familiar with large lecture halls, classrooms in the new facility will be outfitted with technology that far exceeds laptops and projectors. Instead, students will take an interactive approach by using multiple TV monitors, cameras and digital screens to collaborate and engage with peers and professors.

“Student success is our number one priority at Auburn University. This is one of the steps in our strategic planning process to provide students with state-of-the art, actually leading-edge, classroom and learning environments. We would like to set the standard for others,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Timothy Boosinger.

The classrooms—officially called Engaged Active Student Learning, or EASL, classrooms— are not only transforming the way students learn, but they’re also enhancing the way professors teach. Auburn faculty members have been preparing for years for this new style of learning.

“In spring 2013, we began fall and winter break EASL retreats, which are three-hour interactions where faculty could start thinking about how they might want to revise their courses to minimize lecture time. Cognitive science tells us that after about seven to nine minutes of listening, the average college student needs to take a small break or attentional reset with some active learning, quizzing or problem solving,” said Diane Boyd, director of the Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.

While cognitive science does explain the benefits of active learning, that doesn’t mean professors won’t be able to lecture in the EASL classrooms. Furniture in the EASL classrooms is mobile and designed to be moved in different configurations within a minute or less when all students pitch in to help. If a professor knows the lesson for the day is better suited for lecture-style instruction, they can switch to that mode of teaching, Boyd explained.

Active learning wasn’t the only goal for the new building, which is slated to open in August for fall semester classes. The building committee also wanted to make sure that students were as close to the library as possible—a goal that was achieved by building the facility onto the front of the Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

“During breaks and things, students can use the library to augment their classroom learning because the library is a tremendous resource with reference services,” Boosinger said. “We think this will become one of the big hubs on campus for student interaction and learning.”

Marcia Boosinger, associate dean for public services at the Ralph Brown Draughon Library, said the proximity of the two spaces will blend well with the library’s mission to support academic success for students by providing group and quiet study spaces for students.

“On the fourth floor, students will come out of classrooms into what we call the quiet floor,” she said. “There will be places for them to go by themselves but there will also be lots of areas for group work.”

To make access to the library seamless, four new bridges were built to connect the new construction to the existing building.

“When you walk in the facility, you will actually see the old front of the library,” said Ben Chapman, assistant director of construction management for Facilities Management.

The atrium, which boasts 65-foot-high ceilings, will serve as a common area for students to gather between classes before heading up the grand staircase to the classrooms. The front of the building is almost entirely glass, providing natural light and never-before-seen vantage points of campus.

“To me, this is one of the most breathtaking features of the facility,” Chapman said. “This will be one of the best in the country for active learning. We’re accommodating for technology that may not even be here yet. This is going to be a fantastic venue for students to learn.”

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 29,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.