By Aaron Hale, News Service
A new dawn for science instruction begins at UGA this fall.
The Science Learning Center, a three-story, 122,500-square-foot building tailored-made for undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction, opens for classes in August. The SLC will offer a new setting for effective teacher-to-student interaction and student-to-student collaboration-all with the goal of more effectively teaching STEM subjects at UGA and empowering students to pursue careers in the STEM fields.
“We’re really promoting a culture of active learning” said Ronald Cervero, an associate vice president for instruction at UGA. “The students learn from each other as well as their instructor.”
The state-of-the-art facility-currently unfurnished as crews continue to insulate it and install drywall-already cuts an impressive figure. Once complete, the SLC will replace aging classrooms and labs on South Campus that were built over 50 years ago.
The SLC, with its 33 instructional labs, two 280-seat lecture halls, two 72-seat SCALE-UP classrooms as well as spaces for informal student collaboration, is aimed at better communication between instructor and students as well as between students and their peers.
- The labs-20 chemistry, 10 biology, two ecology and one physics-are designed to promote face-to-face interaction between students as they engage in hands-on learning.
- SCALE-UP, which stands for Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs, promotes collaboration between students to discover solutions to problems in a team format.
- Even the tiered lecture halls have rows with flexible seating that can be turned to promote active learning.
Timothy Burg, director of UGA’s Office of STEM Education, said active-learning instruction-which emphasizes fewer in-class lectures and more discussion and activities-has proven to be effective in teaching STEM courses. And while UGA instructors have been adapting active-learning techniques to older classrooms, the SLC is designed with active instruction in mind. That means labs that are designed to encourage face-to-face collaboration between students and classrooms will be equipped for facilitating small-group exercises.
“The idea is to build a physical space that matches the teaching style,” Burg said. “This is an exciting opportunity to focus resources on new teaching methods.”
In addition to the classroom space, the SLC will feature informal meeting rooms and study spaces that will offer learning opportunities and collaboration for all levels of students. However, formal instructional rooms will primarily be used for introductory courses in chemistry, physics, biological sciences and ecology.
The building, which will cost $48 million, was funded through the support of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia General Assembly. Cervero said the SLC’s construction is a sign that state leaders are putting a priority on STEM education. When UGA broke ground on the building in 2014, Deal noted the increase in jobs created in STEM areas and the importance of training college students for those jobs.
“The Science Learning Center is a game changer in instruction for UGA,” said Rahul Shrivastav, vice president for instruction. “The process of active learning will help students develop strong reasoning skills, which are transferable not only to their other courses, but to life beyond college.”
The goal is for the building’s features-paired with effective instruction from UGA faculty-to provide a strong foundation in science for all majors, but there is also an expectation that this building will bolster the number of graduates in STEM majors. In 2015, nearly 21 percent of degrees awarded to undergraduates at UGA were in the STEM fields-an increase from 15.1 percent a decade earlier. With updated instructional spaces able to facilitate the most effective STEM teaching methods, the SLC is geared toward retaining and recruiting more STEM majors.
Cervero said, “It’s all about helping students be prepared to succeed in their careers and graduate and professional school.”