Several people in a newsroom

High-Tech Classroom

by | Jul 1, 2019 | On Campus, Spring/Summer 2019, Technology

We have come to see California Hall in action — UC Davis’ newest and largest lecture hall (578 seats), the campus’s first major addition of classroom space in a decade. “Action” is the operative word, as this hall has active-learning features like none other on campus.

Joel Ledford is about to start his lecture on protostomia in BIS 2C, introductory biology. The students have been waiting in the spacious lobby, filled with a mix of seating and other study spaces.

Before Ledford shares a warm-up quiz, he reminds his students to work together: “Make sure you have a buddy. Remember, if you don’t have a buddy, your chair has this magical ability to turn completely around.” With swivel seats and shared tabletops instead of individual desks, a class approaching 580 students can instantly become 145 four-person teams.

This collaborative learning environment is itself the result of collaboration, among faculty, students and staff, including teaching specialists from the Center for Educational Effectiveness, a unit of Undergraduate Education. Planning began in 2013 as part of the 2020 Initiative to add students and the space to accommodate them. Ken Burtis led the 2020 project as faculty advisor to the chancellor and provost, and carried the banner for a new kind of lecture hall.

“The seats and tabletops are examples of the flexibility that allows for more active learning,” Burtis said as he observed a class in California Hall. “Our students are more active, more engaged in the discovery process — and this produces better learning outcomes.”

Ledford puts the room through its technological paces. He has students answer questions on their electronic clickers, he shows slides and video clips, and he uses the document camera to show a box of wiggling worms, transformed into giants on three 21-foot-wide projection screens high on the front wall. For students up front, there are 90-inch monitors at eye level — monitors that also serve as annotation screens (write on them, and the writing appears on the larger screens above).

Other features include electrical outlets and USB ports (for recharging) between every two seats, and variable lighting. And students who step outside need not worry about missing a word: The lecture audio is transmitted to speakers in the lobby and even the restrooms.