Bulletin News

Classroom Renovations Emphasize Technology and Collaboration


Updated classroom technology has given new meaning to applied learning at SUNY Cortland, with three learning spaces undergoing major equipment renovations over the summer.

The infusion of technology brought several large flat-screen monitors, new computer hardware, white boards and movable seating to classrooms in the Professional Studies Building and Memorial Library as well a SMART Board and video recording equipment to a teaching lab in Old Main.

The College furthered its commitment to academic innovation by investing approximately $115,000 in these projects.

“These improvements aren’t just about flashy new equipment,” said John Cottone, SUNY Cortland’s dean of professional studies. “Technology does not drive the learning environment. Rather, it’s the learning environment based on student-centered learning that incorporates technology to support better teaching and learning strategies.

Cottone was speaking to the new look of Professional Studies Building, Room 1170. A team of four Kinesiology Department faculty members mapped out the proposal for the Kinesiology Collaborative Learning Center, which transformed a traditional lecture-style classroom into a space that inherently promotes group work and discussion among students.

Previously, the room consisted of forward-facing rows of seats. It now includes six large flat-screen monitors and white boards attached to the walls, each one with its own cluster of six seats. Students are able to connect their own personal laptops to the monitors. There’s also more space for students and professors to move throughout the classroom.

“It doesn’t take as long for students to get talking,” said Assistant Professor Deborah VanLangen, who’s teaching four of her classes this semester in the redesigned classroom. “Sometimes it can take several weeks into the semester before students feel comfortable talking. But I’ve found myself talking less and guiding the conversation more.”

VanLangen developed the proposal for the new space along with Clinical Coordinator of Athletic Training Alyson Dearie, Assistant Professor Ryan Fiddler and Associate Professor Jim Hokanson. Their application was based on an extensive literature review examining the benefits of collaborative learning techniques such as project-based discussions, verbal problem solving and team case study work.

The classroom currently hosts undergraduate courses on topics such as cardiorespiratory fitness and exercise physiology as well as graduate courses on cardiovascular disease and nutrition. The hope is to include more departments in the School of Professional Studies — communication sciences and disorders, health, physical education, recreation, parks and leisure studies and sport management — based on the room’s availability.

“These classes are very hands-on,” Hokanson said. “It’s not just a professor teaching down to students. Students are more engaged in the whole process. They’re more invested in their own education.”

Memorial Library, Room B-111 followed a similar blueprint for a collaborative learning space, adding four wall-mounted flat-screen monitors, individual white boards and easily movable chairs during its summer renovation. The space will be used by librarians to promote active learning and information literacy.

A third classroom renovation brought crucial SMART Board technology to Old Main, Room B-17A, which primarily serves as a third-floor teaching lab for adolescence education: English majors. The interactive whiteboards are a staple in many of the classrooms that host SUNY Cortland student teachers.

“It seems like every school district has them and we want our student teaching candidates to be prepared before they enter the classroom for the first time,” said Laura Davies, assistant professor of English. “Understanding how to use instructional technology is an important skill that will serve our students well throughout their careers. We want them to be ready for the realities of the 21st-century classroom.”

Davies proposed the English Education Teaching Lab with Assistant Professor Geoffrey Bender and Professor Matthew Lessig. Besides the addition of SMART technology, the classroom now includes built-in video equipment for students to record, assess and reflect on their teaching. Submitting recorded video lessons is required to earn edTPA certification, the new student teacher performance measure mandated in New York state.

The renovated teaching lab also should help SUNY Cortland’s pre-service teachers achieve technology outcome goals set by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Outlines for the new learning spaces initially were submitted as proposals for grant funding from SUNY Cortland’s Academic Innovation Fund, which supports new faculty-driven projects across all three schools at the College. Support was provided by the Vice President for Finance and Management’s Office when it became clear that they warranted additional funding. 

The hope is that the locations become a model for other collaborative classrooms at the College, including one planned for the Education Building.

“We talk a lot about the importance of teaching in the classroom, and rightfully so,” Cottone said. “But we need to verify our students’ learning. This fits into everything we say about applied learning. Once people see how this type of classroom set-up works, they’re going to want to use it.”