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Matthew Jackson is a second-year medical student at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Art and science of learning

April 2010

by Natalie Gutierrez

For months, they were the focus of conversations on campus - the buzz in every building. Students and faculty waited patiently, containing almost giddy excitement, for the unveiling of the new Library Classrooms.

On Jan. 4, the doors opened. You could almost hear the "oohs" and "ahs." Mouths nearly hung open and eyes danced in delight as students poured into the main entrance of the new Library Classrooms, located on the second floor of the Briscoe Library.

"Exciting, versatile and modern," are the three words second-year medical student, Matthew Jackson, used to describe the area. "I'm really impressed with the design and the stark contrast to our previous multipurpose laboratories," he said.

The renovated facilities, which took more than two years of planning and one year of construction, replace what were known as the multidisciplinary classrooms located on the second and third floors in the C corridors in the School of Medicine building. What began as a dream in the minds of many faculty members several years ago became a reality when UT Health Science Center President William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, who was dean of the School of Medicine at the time, initiated the plan and advocated for construction to begin in 2008. The completed facilities are now available for use by all faculty and students from every school at the UT Health Science Center.

The renovated area encompasses more than 16,000 square feet of classroom and individual, group-study and meeting space and can hold up to 300 students and faculty at any given time. At a cost of $4.2 million, the rooms don't disappoint. Brightly colored walls and contemporary lighting lead to a corridor of classrooms equipped with the latest in high-tech teaching and learning systems. Three large master classrooms feature built-in lecterns that house a control system including a DVD unit, computer interface, document camera and an 18-inch LCD touch-screen monitor that serves as a preview and writing surface for electronic annotation capabilities. This allows a presenter the ability to make notes over computer-generated images displayed on a 50-inch screen for viewing by the entire classroom. Plans are under way to enable the uploading and sharing of classroom presentations to Blackboard, the online system faculty and students use to communicate coursework and assignments.

Faculty members indicate the rooms are distinctive from multidisciplinary classrooms at other universities throughout the country because they combine electronic work stations and wet lab space.

"Our old multidisciplinary classrooms were constructed as part of the original medical school teaching rooms more than 40 years ago," said Nan Clare, M.D., who served on the Library Classroom Planning Committee.

Dr. Clare is the senior associate dean and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Medicine.

"They became outdated over time and inflexible for teaching methods used today," she said. "It's wonderful to have a brand new space especially designed to accommodate desks equipped for digital technology, and sinks and cabinets for our microscopes and specimens, all within the same room."

Frank Weaker, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology, is a co-course director for Dental Histology and course director for Structures of the Head and Neck that is taught to first-year dental and dental hygiene students. He also lectures and is a lab instructor in the Dental Gross Anatomy courses.

"Because we have so many students in medical and dental histology courses, we used to have to spread them out over two floors in our previous lab space. This can be a logistical nightmare for faculty to keep track of students and to disseminate information during labs," he said. "It's refreshing to have everything we need, including the blood labs, located on one floor in a modern, vibrant and flexible new working environment."

In addition to the10 classrooms, the area features a video-conferencing room as well as three study/meeting rooms each with 42-inch plasma displays and touch-control panels on the walls. All rooms feature collapsible walls for increasing or decreasing the size of meeting space. Furniture is adjustable and moveable for further flexibility and comfort. An abundance of power outlets with network drops, wireless networking and digital signage line the walls leading to a multipurpose charting station and three seating/waiting areas.

Jackson said he intends to spend a great deal of time using the facilities. "I plan to meet here with my study group regularly to prepare for national board exams in the summer. The new space is convenient and it's easy to find a comfortable and functional area to spread out my notes. It certainly will make my life less stressful."

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