SOM designers plan unconventional classrooms

Yale’s newly designed School of Management is ready for classes — and it hasn’t even been built yet.

Planners built a mock classroom, tucked away in Yale’s West Campus, a 20-minute drive southwest of downtown New Haven, modeled ona typical teaching space in the planned $189 million the SOM building, which administrators hope willpropel the school into the country’s top echelon of business programs. SOM professors have toured the room and given feedback about the space and what they think it would be like to teach in.

“The whole idea of a mock-up classroom is to basically figure out how to tweak it to make it better,” the SOM Deputy Dean Stan Garstka said.

The sample classroom has 83 seats and is oval or “U-shaped,” said Garstka, who has worked on plans for the project alongside architects from the firm Foster + Partners for the past few years. He said the room is designed for case-discussion style classes, and its layout is meant to facilitate conversation among students.

The “U-shaped” room is just one of several unconventional teaching spaces planned for the new campus.

Two rooms will be structured like “theaters in the round”, with the professor in the center and seven to nine projector screens around the walls. Garstka described another room as “like a Las Vegas dinner theater,” where students will sit and work in groups.

“We’re trying to create environments where we’re limited only by the imagination of the faculty,” he said.

SOM professor Fiona Scott Morton, who visited the mock classroom in June, called the space “lovely,” but expressed concern about the room’s orientation. The most important aspect of a classroom for her, she said, is that students have a clear view of the board and the professor —something she felt the Ushape impaired.

Judith Chevalier, another SOM professor who saw the space this summer,said she thought the oval-shape — which, when she toured it, positioned professors in the narrow end of the oval — worked better for discussion classes than lectures.

Seating plans in several classrooms have been altered since June to facilitate more traditional lecture classes, Gartska said in an e-mail Wednesday. In some of the U-shaped rooms, for example, the professor will now stand on the long side of the oval so that all students will have a better view.

“Honestly, a classroom to me is a classroom,” Chevalier said. “They’re going to be plenty big enough and have the technologies that we like to use… I think most of what goes on in the classroom is between faculty and students.”

Standard classrooms are designed to accommodate 75 students and will house three projector screens and three sets of blackboards or whiteboards. Three rooms will be equipped with technology for remote broadcasts so that students can practice holding real-time business discussions on-screen instead of in-person.

Classrooms on the new state-of-the-art campus will rely heavily on the latest technology, Garstka said. A podium with a large, tablet surface that functions much like a SMART Board will be a key component of each room, Gartska said, adding that he plans to get a mock-up podium soon. Still, exact details of the technology for the rooms remain hazy.

“The technology will be quite good …but we don’t want to make a commitment now,” Gartska said. “We’re looking at the fringes of this stuff and what’s going to be here three years from now, because we really want to get state-of-the-art.”

Technology costs have not been factored into the current project budget, Gartska said, but he expects them to fall on the scale of $10 million.

Gartska called the new campus, designed by renowned architect Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62, a “dramatic improvement.” The current campus, located on Hillhouse Avenue, has about nine classrooms, he said, but the next building will have 16 — each able to seat 40 to 130 people.

The new SOM campus is slated to open in fall 2013.

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