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Classroom puzzle part of semester switch

As it stands now, Ohio State students have a short list of compelling reasons to visit the Gateway Theater — among them, visiting the Ugly Tuna next door and, if Facebook is any indication, lining up to see “Twilight.”

Beginning in Winter Quarter, though, they’ll have another: English class.

Using specially designed digital tablets that fit into a theater chair’s cup holder, students soon will be viewing slide shows and film clips on the big screen. Two English courses will have sections taught in the theaters Winter Quarter, said Associate Registrar Jack Miner of the university’s Office of the Registrar

So aside from the obvious appeal of 30-foot PowerPoint presentations, why are Gateway theaters moonlighting as classrooms?

Hosting classes in the Gateway — a pilot partnership between OSU and the theater — is a small piece of the classroom space puzzle.

The conversion of OSU’s academic calendar from quarters to semesters, scheduled to take effect in 2012, presents a host of logistical challenges to the university. With students taking more courses per term, finding a classroom in which to teach them all is one of these challenges.

On a calendar of 14-week semesters, a student’s typical course load is five three-credit-hour courses — three five-hour courses are more common under OSU’s current system of 10-week quarters. Guidance from Ohio’s Board of Regents suggests that three-hour courses take the form of 55-minute sessions three times a week or 80-minute sessions twice a week; a typical OSU course on the quarters calendar meets twice a week for 108 minutes. Breaks between classes will also increase to 15 minutes on a semester calendar.

Course sections, the building blocks that make up the schedule for classroom use, will be smaller but more numerous on a semesters calendar. To see if OSU is prepared to schedule classroom time on a semester calendar, the university hired a consulting firm, Ira Fink and Associates, Inc., in late 2008 to conduct a study.

The study found that OSU’s classroom space was being used efficiently but was not being used throughout the day, Miner said. On a semester calendar, more classes will be conducted in the mornings, late afternoons and on Fridays, he said.

Space concerns won’t force classes to be held Saturdays or online, Miner said.

The study also found that students and faculty wanted cleaner classrooms, better technology and smaller classes, according to the report.

A few years ago, OSU began a program to put technology in every classroom on campus. By next Autumn Quarter, all classrooms will have a projector, Internet access and a computer or a connection to link a laptop to the audio-visual system, Miner said.

“In the same way that you walk into a classroom and there’s an expectation that there’s going to be a chalkboard there, you can now walk into a classroom and have an expectation that there’s going to be a projector there,” he said.

Equipping all classrooms with technology gives the Office of the Registrar more flexibility in scheduling classroom times, but finding time and space for all of the courses offered at OSU still requires heavy lifting. The Office of the Registrar collaborates with OSU’s colleges and academic departments for scheduling.

Departments send the registrar a list of the course sections for which they will need space, including the kinds of accommodations each section requires (such as the number of seats and the types of classroom technology).

Departments are usually able to be pretty picky with their requests, going so far as to specify a day of the week and a part of campus that they would like for their courses, Miner said. This will still be the case on a semester calendar, he said.

“So far we think that the departments will have at least the same flexibility as they have now as far as what spaces they use,” he said.

Each department will decide how to handle the increase in student demand for courses. Some could add more sections and some could add more students to each section.

“Most of the colleges and departments have always placed a value on smaller class sizes,” Miner said. “We’ve always had the opportunity as an institution to have a huge number of large lectures, and we’ve chosen not to.”

OSU’s classroom facilities can handle larger class sizes, Miner said. The average class size is 30 to 40 students, with fewer than 40 students in most of OSU’s course sections, he said.

Even in massive lectures of 400 to 500 students, there are still unused seats in the large classrooms in Hitchcock and Independence halls. If a class of 700 students tries to grow, it will be up to the department to decide how to split up the course sections.

Some larger rooms that have not recently been used as classrooms will also be brought back into use, Miner said. And for some highly visual classes, such as art history and film studies, students will even trudge across High Street to the Gateway. 

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