Built for Learning

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021
By Donna Greenwald, Sydney Flora
Bowling Green State University's William F. and Peggy T. Schmeltz Atrium.
Bowling Green State University opens a new business facility designed for the ways students learn in the 21st century.

The brick Business Administration Building at Bowling Green State University in Ohio was built in 1972 to support the traditional style of faculty-centered teaching. As in other higher educational institutions of the 1970s, BGSU faculty used lectures to disseminate their materials, wrote on blackboards to highlight main points, and assessed student learning through rote memorization tests. Teachers imparted their expertise to students through a one-way flow of knowledge.

All that changed in the 21st century, when evidence-based research proved that a student-centered approach to education leads to deeper, more impactful learning. Organizations like AACSB recognized this trend by developing new standards that measure learning outcomes and effective teaching practices. To meet revised AACSB standards and upgrade their own teaching, BGSU’s Allen W. and Carol M. Schmidthorst College of Business initiated a comprehensive, two-year review in 2013.

We began by hosting dozens of sessions with faculty, employers, administrators, and students to articulate the characteristics of incoming freshmen and successful BGSU graduates. We used the design thinking tool of “personas”—outlining the needs, motivations, and frustrations of specific kinds of target users—to identify successful students. Next, we considered the pedagogy and drivers needed to produce those graduates. Finally, our standing Committee to Advance Teaching and Learning crafted a framework that would support transformative learning and align with AACSB accreditation standards for effective teaching.

While we were completing the framework, we realized our nearly 50-year-old building was not designed to help us meet our goals. So, the Schmidthorst College of Business set out to intentionally build a modern facility that would both resemble a typical corporate setting and enable our faculty to deliver 21st-century classroom experiences. The new building was intended to embrace an interactive student-centered approach to teaching and facilitate discovery-based learning, hands-on experimentation, transparency, and collaboration.

The new 50,000-square-foot Robert W. and Patricia A. Maurer Center opened in August 2020. It was combined with the newly renovated Hanna Hall, one of the school’s earlier buildings, to create a facility that reflects the real business world.

Opening a new building during a global pandemic was less than ideal—but it was also opportune, because the new facility allowed us to provide education in a nontraditional way at a time when many students could not come to class. In fact, we used a hybrid model to deliver more than 60 percent of our fall 2020 undergraduate courses and more than 75 percent of our spring 2021 undergraduate courses. And as the campus continues to open up, the new building will allow us to serve students in many other ways.

Flexible and Tech-Enabled

Teaching and learning are both greatly enhanced by two hallmarks of the new Maurer Center’s design: flexible classrooms and state-of-the-art technology.

The mobile furniture in the active learning classrooms include movable high-top tables and chairs, as well as cushioned seats and ottomans. These can be reconfigured to allow students to collaborate in teams and small groups. Even the walls are adjustable. This flexibility is a significant upgrade from the old building, where it was difficult to move any of the furniture around to conduct hands-on, small group activities. The new technology also enables flipped classroom approaches and enhances interactive learning. This is another improvement over the old building, where most classrooms had only one projection screen, which was often positioned in a way that made it difficult to view.

The new building was intended to embrace an interactive student-centered approach to teaching and facilitate discovery-based learning, hands-on experimentation, transparency, and collaboration.

Ruth White, associate marketing professor and coordinator of the first-year introductory business course, appreciates the fact that the Maurer Center’s technology allows her to conduct hands-on activities simultaneously with students who are in the classroom and students who are working remotely. She also relies on the sophisticated technology to bring in guest speakers virtually to share their professional work experiences with freshmen.

In fact, the classroom tech has led to improved learning, according to Gabriel Sayer, a junior studying accounting and business analytics. “I can see course material being projected from anywhere in the room and can easily collaborate with other students, which helps me better understand the material,” he says. “The technology allows remote students to fully participate in class sessions and maintain the same quality of education as if they were in person, which has been a great benefit this past year.”

Window on the Real World

The tech outside of the classroom at the Maurer Center—in particular, the Visualization Lab—provides additional rich learning experiences for students. The lab features an expansive array of digital monitors that can be reconfigured for a variety of uses, including virtual meetings with large audiences, live streaming, and presentations. It’s particularly useful for helping students understand analytic concepts, says Ray Braun, the school's dean. “Faculty are better able to incorporate business simulation exercises in their classes and show in real time the business outcomes of student decisions,” he says.

Assistant finance professor Stephen Rush explains how the lab helped him conduct his portfolio management project. “The stock portfolio presentation requires accounting data and valuation models readable by both remote and in-person students in real time,” he says. “The Viz Lab captures better and more information about what is going on in class with minimal changes to student behavior and less worrying about technology during the presentation.”

Using the digital monitors in the Visualization Lab, professors can run business simulation exercises and students can give class presentations.

Rush, whose teaching and research focus on stock market concepts, also takes advantage of the digital ticker displayed in the Visualization Lab and in the main stairway of the three-story William F. and Peggy T. Schmeltz Atrium. “The ticker displays in the center walls remind students there is always something happening in the markets,” says Rush. The displays also include news headlines and the college’s social media feeds.

Sophomore Matt DeAmon has used the Visualization Lab to share documents with colleagues and to attend BGSU events like The Hatch™, where student entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential alumni investors. The technology simplifies presentations and makes information more accessible, he says. He anticipates that having a familiarity with the tech used in the lab will give him a head start once he enters the workforce.

Convenient and Connected

However, the design of the Maurer Center was driven by more than just technology and flexibility. It also was created to make students’ lives more convenient and connected. Some of this convenience comes from features such as its first-floor Nancy and Drew Forhan Café, where visitors can grab meals or beverages without leaving the building.

But a more important element of the building’s design is the way student services are conveniently organized for students. In the old building, for example, coaching and advising functions were located in different offices. Now, just off the atrium in the new building, students can visit a centralized one-stop shop in the Sister Noreen Gray, R.S.M., Student Services Hub. Here students can find advising, global study abroad, recruiting, and career coaching offices grouped together in one area on the first floor, with university resources right next door.

The Maurer Center is a flexible, tech-enabled learning space that reflects how students acquire critical workplace skills and familiarizes them with the business environment they will enter as graduates.

Just steps away from the student services hub is a large collaborative space where all business organizations can meet. In addition, the Schmeltz Atrium serves as a central gathering spot that encourages students to interact with peers, faculty, and employers. Options include stadium seating spaces and terraced small-group meeting areas. There is rarely a time when the building is not full of students taking advantage of the collaboration spaces.

“Breakout spaces throughout the building add to the collaborative feel and are equally accessible for students and faculty for discussions,” says Karen Eboch, a teaching professor in the department of management. “Although the pandemic has restricted capacities and full face-to-face classes, all the student and faculty reviews of the spaces have been positive.”

“The collaboration spaces in the Maurer Center have offered a quiet and private area for me to work either alone or with my peers,” says Sydney Cauper, a senior accounting major. “Being able to easily collaborate with my fellow students in these rooms has shown me how valuable it is to learn and grow ideas with others.”

Designed for Success

The Schmidthorst College of Business conceived the Maurer Center as a flexible, tech-enabled learning space that reflects how students learn best and how they acquire critical workplace skills. It provides an immersive student-centered education and familiarizes students with the business environment they will enter as graduates.

Instead of studying business inside a 50-year-old brick building, today’s BGSU students will learn inside a spacious, light-filled 21st-century facility. We let the construction of the building be influenced by our pedagogy, which allowed us to put student success at the heart of its design.

Donna Greenwald
Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University
Sydney Flora
Communications Intern, Bowling Green State University
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