Over summer, 17 Hillhouse and SPL receive facelift

Yale renovated some of its classrooms on Science Hill and built others on Hillhouse this summer in an effort to revamp science and technology education.

Six news classrooms have been constructed at 17 Hillhouse Ave. — the site of Yale’s old health center — and around eight rooms in Sloane Physics Laboratory have been fully renovated and refurbished. The updates and additions were designed to encourage discussion and interaction among students in smaller classes and lectures alike, mainly by replacing formerly stationary furniture with more mobile tables and chairs. Rooms also received technological upgrades such as double-screen video projectors and general touch-ups to facilities.

“Our facilities really needed a facelift,” Associate Provost for Science and Technology Timothy O’Connor said. “These facilities will also facilitate the introduction of newer pedagogical methods that aren’t possible in traditional classrooms.”

As part of the construction, Yale equipped rooms in 17 Hillhouse and SPL with tables on wheels and chairs that swiveled, replacing furniture that had formerly been bolted to the ground. Administrators said the more movable furniture should help increase collaboration and discussion among students, by allowing them to more easily rearrange seating for group activities.

While they are not actively asking professors to change their teaching styles to include more group activities, administrators said they hope faculty will consider modifying their instruction. Deputy Provost for Academic Resources Lloyd Suttle said the new facilities will serve as a “test pit” for faculty to try more interactive techniques.

“We don’t necessarily know where STEM teaching is headed,” Suttle said. “But we want to be ready.”

Two of the classrooms in 17 Hillhouse are considered “computer classrooms,” with computers installed at every desk for student and class use. Of those two, one is finished while the other is scheduled to be completed before the spring semester. Called a Technology Enhanced Active Learning classroom, that space will seat at least 90 students at small round tables with several computers apiece. Each table will be attached to a video projectors, allowing all groups to display their work to the entire class simultaneously on the different screens lining the walls.

Some of the new classrooms in the two buildings are already housing classes this fall. While the computer classrooms were designed specifically for use in science and technology courses, several of the other rooms in 17 Hillhouse are currently being used by a range of departments, including anthropology and archeology.

Statistics professor Jay Emerson, who will teach a class in the TEAL lab in the spring, had mixed views of the new classrooms in 17 Hillhouse. He said the rooms do not meet the specific needs of his department’s classes, but acknowledged that “no classroom is one-size-fits-all.” Emerson said time will tell if the new classrooms — particularly the TEAL lab — lead to significant improvements in teaching and learning methods.

Carla Vásquez-Noriega ’15, who is taking a class in 17 Hillhouse, called the more modern design of the classrooms “refreshing,” adding that the seating is much more comfortable than that of other classrooms, such as William L. Harkness Hall.

The renovation of rooms in SPL was the first step in a larger effort to renovate all the major classrooms in Science Hill’s older buildings, including Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, Osborn Memorial Laboratories and J.W. Gibbs Laboratory. The cost of the renovations to the SPL classrooms was $4 million, and the total cost of the Science Hill classroom renovation project is projected to be around $13 million.

Work on 17 Hillhouse, which included adding research spaces on the second and third floors for engineering faculty in addition to constructing the new classrooms, cost around $16 million.

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