PhilaU’s New Nexus Learning Hubs Foster Active Learning

Health sciences majors Daniella Rosen (left) and Kiana Lavery brainstorm on individual whiteboards.

Just in time for the start of the academic year, Philadelphia University opened two Nexus Learning Hubs in Hayward Hall designed to foster active learning and support deeper student engagement through advanced technology.

The new flagship learning spaces merge state-of-the-art technology and furniture to facilitate the ability of students and faculty to share ideas and collaborate more effectively. Hayward 111, the larger of the two spaces, serves all academic disciplines, while Hayward 211 is dedicated to science and health education.

Nearly everything in the Nexus Learning Hubs is mobile, so that chairs, tables, monitors and whiteboards may be positioned to best suit the needs of a variety of learning experiences.

Hayward 111 features a media lounge equipped with a touch-sensitive, flat-screen monitor and an interactive whiteboard.

“Nexus Learning Hubs leverage a great instructor’s strengths with the unique and thoughtful integration of built environment, technology and pedagogy,” said President Stephen Spinelli Jr., who with his wife, Carol, made a generous gift to make the Hayward 111 space possible.

Hayward 211 was transformed through the generosity of Eileen Martinson ’86, CEO of Sparta Systems Inc. and chair of the PhilaU board of trustees, who said she believes the Nexus Learning Hubs are enhancing the University’s physical environment to better support its already cutting-edge curriculum.

“As a business executive, one issue that is so important to me is that students graduate from college with relevant skills that are in demand by 21st-century employers,” said Martinson. “That is exactly what’s happening at Philadelphia University.”

Hayward 111 features a media lounge equipped with a touch-sensitive, flat-screen monitor, and an interactive whiteboard that allows faculty and students to jointly compose, edit and share documents. Using two mobile media centers, students can connect and share content on HD monitors from any device. Four screens allow content to be viewed from any location in the room. A vivid green wall, orange seating and clean white work surfaces set the tone for creativity.

“These Hubs shift the learning process from an instructor-centric to a student- and learning-centric environment, where instructors can seamlessly toggle between many forms of active learning,” said Jeff Ashley, director of chemistry and biochemistry programs and coordinator for the Nexus Learning spaces initiative.

Jestin Joseph, a junior health sciences major on the accelerated M.S. in Occupational Therapy track, waters chive sprouts in his medicinal plants class.

Anne Bower, associate professor of biology, has all four of her classes this semester taking place in Hayward 211. “I love that room,” she said. “I’ve used every technological feature in it—including the interactive whiteboard to compile field data for classes in medicinal plants and ecology and the individual whiteboards that students use to write on, place information around the classroom and collaborate on ideas.”

In addition, the laboratory space in H211 has grow lights and humidity and climate controls that are allowing her class to grow 20 different medicinal plants from both tropical forest and desert climates. “It’s the best room I’ve ever worked in,” Bower said.

The Nexus Learning Hubs are supported with a grant of $74,000 for furniture from the Steelcase Education Learning Innovation Hub program, which supports investments in educational institutions that promote the advancement of active learning principles. Steelcase is a 100-year-old global leader in workplace products, furnishings and services.

“PhilaU has done a lot of wonderful work developing its Nexus Learning approach to education, and I think we’re able to complement it with this space,” said Marisa Sergnese, Steelcase Education professional learning initiatives leader, who led a faculty training session in August. “Faculty will now be able to facilitate Nexus Learning using a variety of spaces and technology to support student discovery.”

Jeff Klemens, visiting assistant professor of biology and environment science, is teaching a course in eco-innovations and sustainability in H111 this semester, and said his students are enthusiastic users of the small whiteboards. “The erasable boards let the students feel freer about scratching down something provisional,” he said. “They encourage first drafts that we can revise as we go.”

In addition to classroom learning, the space also will serve as a valuable resource for industry-sponsored projects, in which partners such as Johnson & Johnson, Verizon and Unilever work with students to develop creative solutions to real-world problems.

The Nexus Learning Hubs are part of a campuswide initiative to upgrade classrooms, laboratories, studios and common spaces, including new architecture studios in Search Hall and a Ravenhill Dining Hall renovation that includes a new campus center and convenience store.

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