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College classrooms at the University of Hawaiʻi may soon have a whole new look and feel. Instead of a large group lecture, students will be separated into smaller groups, seated around tables, working together to learn the material.

“If you want to improve long-term learning and improve student retention, then don’t lecture to them,” said UH Mānoa Biology Interim Chair and Professor Steven Robinow. “Get them involved, get them engaged in the material.”

Robinow was first exposed to the concept of a Student Centered Classroom at a science conference on the mainland where he learned that it’s not just the way the material is taught, but the environment students learn in. Mānoa administrators were already looking into new teaching concepts and classroom designs when Robinow approached them.

“With Steve’s vision and passion and support from several vice chancellors, as well as the chancellor, we built this space in less than an academic year which is really quite remarkable,” said Krystyna Aune, UH Mānoa interim associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

That space is room 101 in Webster Hall. It fits 64 students with eight large tables that seat up to eight students each. There’s a large monitor at each table where the professor displays his content and students can also use the monitors to display their work using their computers, iPads or smart phones.

There are also white boards on just about every wall, another way to get the students involved and talking about the material. In Robinow’s biology 275 class the students are working together using colored yarn and post it notes to figure out how DNA replicates.

“This is really new but it’s also really fun and exciting,” said student Sarah Pietruszk. “And what we do in class, you’re basically able to learn it a lot better than just having someone spout out facts at you.”

“There’s a lot more collaboration amongst students,” agreed fellow student Warren Stopak. “And it’s not so much just listening, it’s more like actually participating.”

Student Trislyn Tadaki says she is more a hands-on type of person.

“So when we do the activities like moving proteins around and stuff it helps a lot because you see it mentally,” said Tadaki.

“Usually I’ll just study by myself and read the book and read the PowerPoints but not really understand the whole concept, like the whole idea,” said student Herman Valdez.

“So instead of memorizing everything, which is I have gotten really good at doing that, we’re actually having to apply it a little bit,” said Pietruszk. “I think that is really healthy so we understand what’s going on instead of being able to just parrot it back.”

UH administrators say Webster Hall’s Student Centered Classroom may be the first of many on campus and could be used for a class of perhaps as many as 150 students.

“We really get to get up close and personal with the kids, which is the fun part of the job,” said Robinow. “I know this stuff so lecturing about it is not the interesting part. The interesting part is how to get someone else excited about it.”

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