Chemistry Discovery Center University of Maryland, Baltimore



Chemistry Discovery Center University of Maryland, Baltimore
Chemistry Discovery Center
University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
Committed, passionate, life-long learners.
Practitioners in a community of scholars.
Informed risk takers, entrepreneurs, empowered agents of change.
Responsible and compassionate citizens— leaders of tomorrow.
Communicating, discussing, and debating concepts and ideas.
Constructing and applying knowledge to relevant problems.
Exploring possibilities, discovering relationships, and owning knowledge.
Sharing common goals and challenges.
Essay: P. 94 – 95
Chemistry Discovery Center
University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
Flexible spaces that facilitate communication and student collaboration.
Technology-equipped spaces that leverage and enhance human interaction.
Open spaces that encourage learning, freedom of thought, and mentoring.
Spaces that sanction students to play, rest, and grow their minds.
Improvements in retention and persistence within the class, within the major, and within the
Improved class performance in the present and subsequent courses.
Spontaneous and enhanced group formation and study groups.
Observation of signs of self-assessment and personal responsibility for learning.
Growth in community and collegiality through enhancement enrollments in discipline specific
Chemistry Discovery Center
University of Maryland Baltimore County
Impressive large lecture halls economize teaching by
“warehousing” students in orderly rows of expanding
anonymity. The professor at the front of the room,
who appears as a miniature to many, is forced by
the design of the space to talk at the students rather
than with them. The drifting attentions of students
in the back are captured by their computers, smart
phones, and other modern technologies, undermining
the learner’s individual responsibility for learning,
marginalizing the process of learning.
I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them
think. —Socrates
Knowledge must be gained by ourselves.
— Benjamin Disraeli
My epiphany as to the importance of room design
in the economy of learning, in the teaching of
responsibility for one’s learning surfaced in reflecting
on these quotes while sitting in the back of the (then
empty) large lecture hall in which our 1300 students
in introductory chemistry were taught. I realized that
the dimly lit, cavernous, steeply ramped lecture hall
was the major impediment to efficient learning and
In common with other colleges and universities
where introductory chemistry is taught in large lecture
classes, historically UMBC had too many students
who were unsuccessful in this course. Also in
common with many of my colleagues, I must confess,
I practiced the traditional model of teaching in these
classes, relying primarily on lecturing—with minimal
active participation by students. We looked in the
The class average on tests and exams had
been dropping slowly in recent years; higher
numbers of students did not pass intro chem.
The Tutorial Center (self-initiated assistance)
was overwhelming utilized by A and B
Anecdotal accounts of increased student
frustration and failure: CHEM 101 is a “weedout course.”
On my new journey to enlightenment, I discovered
the literature solidly behind the theory that learning
was enhanced through discussion, through the
involvement of students.
Moving forward, I acknowledged the need to practice
my profession in a room designed to promote
individual responsibility for learning.
[S]hallow learning…can become a way of life for
students that imagine that this is what chemistry is
all about. The interlinked, multidimensional learning,
described as deep learning…requires commitment on
the part of the student (and the teacher) to see this as
a necessary and satisfying condition of learning. …It is
our responsibility…to enable and encourage students
to learn how to learn.
— A.H. Johnstone
With a supportive administration and an
entrepreneurial spirit, I repurposed an old game
room in the University Center into an “active learning”
classroom for the chemistry department. With limited
funds, round tables—to promote discussion—were
produced, minimal technology was provided—to
exchange working documents and chemistrybased art—to soothe fatigued minds with images of
disciplinary interest furnished our first version of the
chemistry discovery center.
Perhaps the most important spatial affordance
reflecting my epiphany about how learning happens
was that there was no front of the room, thus
reducing the tendency to lecture.
Chemistry Discovery Center
University of Maryland Baltimore County
The redesign of the space and the redesign of the
curriculum and schedule happened simultaneously.
As departmental faculty we make a commitment to
our students to:
Increase student involvement in the learning
process through fostering active learning.
Promote “discovery learning” through
knowledge construction and extension
Promote problem-solving skills with positive
competition and open debate.
Promote increased independence and
responsibility in the learning process
by developing critical skills—teamwork,
communication, management, selfassessment—an entrepreneurial skill set.
Envelope the student in a multi-faceted
learning environment—lecturing, discovering,
and tutoring.
Improve their experience with introductory
chemistry courses.
Assessment Evidence
This involved integrating the freshman chemistry
courses from concept (CHEM 101 and 102) to
practice (CHEM 102L), and creating opportunities for
crossing disciplinary boundaries between chemistry,
physics, mathematics, and computer science,
establishing a learning community among all entering
science students.
The major curricular modification consisted of new,
mandatory weekly two-hour “discovery learning”
sessions for all students in place of the existing
recitation session. Large lectures were gradually
changed to a flipped mode, designed to guide the
student on their journey into the world of chemistry.
Planning and design by the institution
Photos courtesy of: William LaCourse, UMBC
Location: Baltimore, MD
Net/gross square footage: 2,087 net assignable square feet
Cost: $85,000 (total)
Construction period: May 2007 - August 2007
Date completed: August 2007
Disciplines housed: Chemistry

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