Northwestern State University’s School of Biological and Physical Sciences honored Dr. Philip Cole of Shreveport, a 1970 graduate, by naming a new interactive classroom the Philip A. Cole, M.D. Active Learning Classroom. The fluid classroom features moveable furnishings and learning accessories that encourage discussion, collaboration and engagement between students and with their instructor.
“Dr. Cole facilitated the communication between NSU and Christus Health System that resulted in the acquisition of funds for the project,” said Dr. Francene Lemoine, director of the School of Biological and Physical Sciences.
Faculty and administrators arranged to surprise Cole and his family with the name unveiling following his induction in the Long Purple Line, NSU’s alumni hall of distinction. Cole earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern in chemistry and biology and went on to earn his M.D. from LSU Medical School in New Orleans. He received a master’s of health care management from the Harvard School of Public Health and did his internship in general surgery residency and a colon and rectal surgical fellowship at LSU Health Science Center.
Cole has 36 years of private and academic surgical practice. He is professor of surgery and public health and general surgery program director for LSUHSC and previously served as chief medical officer for Christus Health in Louisiana and Southeast Texas. The surprise classroom name unveiling followed a luncheon in which Cole and five other Long Purple Line inductees were recognized.
The classroom opening in Fall 2017 brought to fruition an idea hatched more than a year ago by Dr. Lindsay Porter, assistant professor of biology, who shared an article with Lemoine about class furnishings equipped with wheels that are convenient, accessible and allow students to collaborate more easily.
Porter’s idea was to remodel a classroom to make it “student-centered, peer-interaction-center. Not instruction-centered.” With no funds allocated for remodeling, Lemoine reached out to the NSU Foundation network and eventually connected with Cole, who coordinated funding through Christus, one of the top 10 Catholic healthcare systems in the United States.
Lemoine and Porter identified an under-utilized former lab space in Bienvenu Hall to pilot the project. In the remodel, one wall was replaced with glass and screens were added to walls around the room for small group instruction. Classroom furnishings can be arranged for a variety of activities and teaching approaches. Traditional desks have been replaced by node chairs that can be adapted for right- or left-handed students and are completely mobile with extra-wide tablet tops and compartments for personal items. The chairs can be arranged in a traditional configuration in rows, but easily allow students to break into large or small groups. Interchangeable whiteboards can be distributed to students or student groups or remain on the main easel as an instructor’s whiteboard.
The fluid classroom makes it easier for students to learn in pairs or groups in contrast to the traditional classroom of stationary desks and student response was overwhelmingly positive, Lemoine and Porter said.
“I love the free environment of the classroom! It encourages interaction among students and between the students and the instructor,” said senior Haley Jett of Anacoco.
“The individual/group dry erase boards were great for biochemistry,” said senior Shannon Jones of Atlanta, Texas. “Working in groups to draw metabolic pathways helped a lot.”
“It’s great to be able to move the desks around to form different groups. This enhances communication and cohesiveness in class,” said junior Abigail Poe of Natchitoches. “The technology in the room also made it easier to give presentations. I love having class in this room.”
In addition to peer collaboration, Porter and Lemoine say the new model of interaction and engagement helps instructors identify students who need more help grasping concepts.
“Students might be paired to mull over a question. Small groups can draw on shared knowledge to teach each other and presenting homework conference-style encourages students to face their classmates,” Porter said. “Group work warms the students up for professor questions. It also helps with communication skills and teamwork, soft skills that they take with them beyond their undergraduate degree.”
The new classroom, commonly called The Fish Bowl, is located in Room 211 Bienvenu Hall. For information on NSU’s School of Biology and Physical Sciences, visit sciences.nsula.edu or contact Lemoine at firstname.lastname@example.org.