S&T unveils active learning classroom

Posted by
On January 25, 2024

engineering management building

Designed in accordance with the principles of active learning, the Fritzmeyer Family Active Learning Classroom, located in Room 104 of the Engineering Management Building, opened at the beginning of the fall 2023 semester. S&T faculty and students consider the space a game changer. Photo by Missouri S&T.

Thanks to faculty know-how supported by S&T benefactors, students are learning the basics of project management in an environment that eschews a traditional classroom aesthetic for a space that inspires collaboration. Designed in accordance with the principles of active learning, the Fritzmeyer Family Active Learning Classroom, located in Room 104 of the Engineering Management Building, opened at the beginning of the fall 2023 semester.

Kevin Fritzmeyer, of Chesterfield, Missouri, earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering management from S&T in 1985. He says the department’s desire to change the way it teaches project management and the timing of the gift he and his wife Kelly wanted to make coincided perfectly.

“Everything that happens in real-world project management happens in groups of people focused on a task,” he says. “That’s why we created a space that puts students in pods so they’re looking at each other rather than at the backs of each other’s heads.”

Dr. Joan Schuman, associate chair of undergraduate studies and teaching professor in engineering management and systems engineering, has taught project management at S&T for more than a decade. She led the effort to combine two traditional classrooms and upgrade the technology and furnishings with an emphasis on teamwork. The result is a space that feels like a collaboration area at a software startup.

“This classroom is a game changer,” she says.

Instead of individual desks, the room features adjustable tables and chairs, while high-quality speakers and three large screens make guest lectures via Zoom feel more like in-person visits. Students face each other rather than the front of the room, which Schuman considers one of the most important differentiators.

“Interactions are so much better in this classroom,” she says. “We typically leave the interactive part until the end of class and move everything around, but in this classroom the interaction can happen at any time.”

Schuman employs various exercises to foster an iteration mindset. Iteration is the process of making adjustments to the outcome a team is working toward – usually a product or service – while the outcome is being developed. Iteration is known as a core component of software development, but Schuman believes it’s useful to any engineering project.

In the active learning classroom, one of the activities Schuman uses to model the use of iterations involves passing balls from table to table. Schuman scores students on their adherence to rules regarding which direction the balls can travel, how much time various balls can spend in the air and other factors. Schuman says this gives students the opportunity to practice quickly assessing where they are in a process, then changing course accordingly.

Kate Marting is a senior in engineering management from Byrnes Mill, Missouri. In addition to the two classes she took in the space in the fall semester, she used the room to practice for the American Society for Engineering Management’s (ASEM) case study competition. Her team, which was advised by Schuman, won second-place in the online competition and first-place in the in-person competition at ASEM’s annual conference. Marting has accepted a position with Mastercard in O’Fallon, Missouri, which she will begin following her graduation in May.

“The classroom provides a better learning experience for those who prefer group learning,” she says.

Having multiple screens helps her absorb content properly, Marting says. The flexibility of the furniture makes it easy to quickly adjust based on the type of collaboration required. And the room makes it possible to strike a balance between working with her team and being led by the professor.

In addition to the management courses, Marting also took a psychology class on the relationship between drugs and behavior in the active learning classroom. Even though it wasn’t engineering, Marting says the discussion-based material taught in the course made the room’s setup ideal.

Schuman agrees.

“The dynamics are different,” she says. “In most classes, especially those that start early in the morning, students come in, sit down and immediately get on their phones. In this classroom, they engage the minute they sit down.”

The result, she says, is a learning environment with deeper involvement.

“And it’s louder,” Schuman adds. “They’re not getting sleepy, which makes me feel more energized as well.”

About Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System, Missouri S&T offers over 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities for salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu

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On January 25, 2024.

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