UND classroom and technology upgrades improve teaching and learning

UND classroom and technology upgrades improve teaching and learning

UND leaders toured 13 classrooms across campus that had been upgraded over the summer months. The updates and renovations are bringing UND’s facilities closer to what today’s students expect from a university experience. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

If you go:
Teaching Transformation and Development Academy Open House
Monday, Sept. 23, noon-3 p.m., with remarks and ribbon cutting at 1 p.m.

Chester Fritz Library Open House
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Serving students and helping faculty teach were among the goals of UND’s most recent classroom upgrade.

Among many other projects, UND spent the summer upgrading 13 classrooms, rethinking faculty teaching support and remodeling the Chester Fritz Library.

It’s all part of a master plan to upgrade learning spaces and broaden teaching techniques and innovations.

“The conversations on summer classroom upgrades began last October,” said Madhavi Marasinghe, UND’s chief information officer. “We had a team represented by Facilities, the Registrar’s Office, TTaDA, UIT and faculty prioritize the list of classrooms to be upgraded and align it with the Master Plan to ensure we get the biggest bang for the buck.

“Our goal was to create a learning environment conducive to how students prefer to learn in the 21st century,” Marasinghe continued. “I do believe we were able to do that in this round of upgrades.”

On a recent tour of upgraded classrooms, the Chester Fritz Library and University IT, UND leaders were awed by the new technology and teaching tools.

“This is absolutely fabulous,” said Tom DiLorenzo, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“I’m so pleased faculty will have opportunities to engage in active and applied learning, innovative pedagogy, and team activities.  Doing so will really engage students in a way that traditional classrooms and lectures do not.”

In 211 Witmer Hall, now a bright, open classroom with monitors, whiteboards, projectors and comfortable seating, Vice Provost Debbie Storrs visited with a student who was taking advantage of the empty room to do homework.

“It’s much nicer than it was before,” the student said about the new classroom. “I really like it.”

Jevin Jensen, an undergraduate student in the Department of Physics and Astrophysics, agreed. “The new and improved room actually facilitates learning in ways that most people wouldn’t realize,” Jensen said.

“The classroom is far more dynamic due to the freedom for instructors to teach in innovative ways.”

From drab to fab: Madhavi Marasinghe (center) shows off the new look of 211 Witmer Hall, which features fresh looks and new technology. The “before” image may be seen in the top photo, courtesy of UIT. Bottom photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Active learning

Flipped classrooms and smart classrooms are more than just buzzwords. They help students learn. Instead of listening to lectures in class, students watch the lectures before class. Then the students come to class to apply their new knowledge, working collaboratively in teams, while the professor interacts with and mentors students throughout the class.

“A group of UND faculty recently toured high school classrooms,” said Storrs. “What they found was high school students are learning in innovative classrooms and are used to the type of learning that such classrooms invite. The more UND can offer, the better the transition to college. We want to encourage active, not passive learning.”

The upgrades include classrooms in O’Kelly, Witmer and Upson II Halls and Education. They offer digital projection and monitors, whiteboards, cameras for hybrid teaching and guest speakers, projector screens and flexible seating. Other improvements are in Abbott, Gamble and Leonard Halls.

This room in Upson II has gone through a radical transformation, as seen by comparing the top photo — courtesy of UIT — to the bottom photo, which shows a much more interactive and up-to-date classroom. Bottom photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

“Active learning requires students to do something that develops their skills, more so than passive learning, like listening to a lecture,” said Lynette Krenelka, executive director of the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy. The TTaDA program supports faculty and students, both on campus and online.

TTaDA, along with the Office of Extended Learning, UND Online and Assessment and Accreditation, recently moved to the third floor of O’Kelly Hall. It offers collaborative work space, technology assistance, a digital media studio to help faculty develop short videos, and more.

“We all collaborate and work together to enhance classes, work with faculty on course outcomes and grow online and lifelong learning opportunities,” Krenelka said.

Upgraded learning

A bonus stop on the tour was an upgraded physics & astrophysics teaching lab, showcased by Kanishka Marasinghe, professor and chair of physics and astrophysics.

“Until recently, the majority of equipment in this lab was at least a couple of decades old,” he said. “We’ve gotten funding from the College of Arts & Sciences and donors to upgrade to new, state-of-the-art equipment. That has allowed us to give our students a contemporary laboratory experience designed to better prepare them for careers in industry, academia, or elsewhere.  One will be hard pressed to find in this region a better equipped upper-level physics teaching lab outside of the Twin Cities.”

With additional funding for upgrades, professor Kanishka Marasinghe says his physics and astrophysics department will have the most advanced lab outside of the Twin Cities. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

IT at the Library

At the Chester Fritz Library, which is being remodeled, Library Dean Stephanie Walker offered a behind-the-scenes tour of improvements, which include integrating University IT on the first floor, renovating the entrances and other upgrades.

“It’s the first time IT has all been together,” said DiLorenzo.

The group was impressed by the “maker space” tools for students, which include 3D printers, a laser cutter/engraver, PCV mill to make computer chip sets, and more.

“Integrating the library and University IT will be huge,” Walker said. “Students often get research help from librarians, then experience laptop problems. Instead of going to a different building, we offer integrated services that will save students time. We’re upgrading study space, adding power and data hubs, and offering more convenient space.”

Madhavi Marasinghe agreed. “The collaboration has been great,” she said.

Stopping in the One Button Studio with Stephanie Walker, dean of libraries, President Wynne said he’s been impressed with the improvements around campus learning spaces. The Chester Fritz Library, in particular, is in the middle of metamorphosis. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

The group especially enjoyed a preview of the Reading Room, which Walker said will still be filled with light and windows, but also will feature insulated glass, new paneling and carpet, a fireplace, new seating and artwork.

Some remodeled areas of the library are open, with repurposed furniture from the Memorial Union and other areas.

Walker showed off the One Button Studio, an easy way for students to make video recordings of themselves for presentations or to practice job interviews.

“It’s really popular, and the Law School has also been using it,” Walker said.

“As someone who has been at UND for over 15 years, I’m amazed at the wonderful improvements that have occurred across campus,” said UND President Joshua Wynne, who also serves as dean of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences and vice president for health affairs.  “I’m obviously familiar with the dramatic changes at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences, and I’m equally impressed with the rest of campus.”