Matt Redinger shows off MSUB's new TEAL classroom

Matt Redinger, Montana State University Billings’ vice provost for academic Affairs, shows the new TEAL classroom, now under construction in the university’s College of Education.

Montana State University Billings will start holding classes this fall in a new cutting-edge, high-tech classroom that blends new technology and a different approach to student-professor collaboration in its College of Education building.

It will represent a shift in the way some classes operate, and officials believe it could be a glimpse into the future of education.

“We’re doing stuff here at Montana State University Billings that is, if not cutting-edge, is riding that wave at the very front,” said Matt Redinger, MSUB’s vice provost for academic affairs.

The university hopes to have construction completed by the fall for the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year on its first Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) classroom, which uses a teaching method designed to encourage active and group learning and collaboration with the help of technology and a decentralized instructional approach.

Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, TEAL uses lectures, hands-on work and practice scenarios in a high-tech setting to get students working together.

“The whole thing is about flexibility, technology and that group learning environment,” said Jason McGimpsey, MSUB’s facilities services director.

The TEAL classroom at MSUB — it’s just the second school in Montana to build one, after Montana State University in Bozeman — will take up a 1,350-square-foot classroom on the third floor of the College of Education.

Once completed, it will accommodate as many as 48 students, with groups of six each at eight half-circle tables around the room to encourage working together instead of staring towards the front of the room. Each table will include a computer and a universal device hub for students to link their phones, tablets and laptops, as well as a pair of monitors and a whiteboard for them to share and display their work with each other.

As for the professor, there won’t be a desk at the front of the room from which he or she can run class. Instead, there will be a centralized podium-type structure that encourages the professor to walk the room and interact with students.

It will also include a control hub that will allow the professor to display lessons, videos, notes, websites and work being done by the students on screens around the room, including those at student tables.

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“The faculty will be in the middle, wandering the class,” Redinger said. “There won’t be any desks and it’ll be a kind of one-stop tech shop. From the center podium, the faculty member is going to be able to control what is projected on the screen, show what he wants and also bring up anything the students are displaying.”

The classroom will be equipped with video cameras and screens that will allow distance learning students to attend and participate in classes remotely, as long as they’ve got an internet connection.

“The potential for the TEAL classroom is immense for bringing in online students,” Redinger said. “Students might still miss that physical interaction, the face-to-face, but they’re still able to be there in the classroom.”

McGimpsey said the classroom will cost about $200,000 to build, with most of that going towards paint, furniture and electronics. The university is pursuing grants to help offset those costs.

MSUB has taken a close look at Bozeman’s two TEAL classrooms in building its own, including the use of personal-sized whiteboards along the walls instead of clear ones in front of a multi-colored wall, which students complained was difficult to read from.

“We’re trying to take those lessons learned and integrate them into ours,” McGimpsey said.

The classroom will also be available for more traditionally structured classes. Officials at MSUB hope that construction will wrap up in time for the start of the fall semester, but if not, it’ll likely be up and running before the Christmas break.

And they hope that once that happens, it’ll start a classroom trend that continues.

“This is our pilot and, depending on how our faculty and students react, we’d like to replicate it elsewhere here on campus,” Redinger said.