Students depart from the Student Innovation Center on the first day of fall semester. We'll know more about Iowa State's 2022-23 student body after Sept. 2, when the official fall count is taken.
Room 3204 in the Student Innovation Center is a one-of-a-kind general university classroom, built in the style of a theater-in-the-round stage. Sixty-two seats form three circles around a central teaching station ringed overhead with 16 display monitors -- two facing in and two facing out in four directions.
Throw your hat in the ring?
Instructors interested in teaching a course in the classroom-in-the-round should contact their department-level course scheduling contact. To schedule an event in the room other than a class, faculty and staff can submit a request to facilities planning and management's room scheduling team. Students organizations also may request the space for group meetings by submitting a request to room scheduling.
Only a handful of ISU instructors have taught in the classroom-in-the-round, the Emerson Innovation Classroom, which has hosted 26 classes since it was first used in spring 2021. With at least 13 more courses scheduled for the room this fall, it's a good time to catch up with instructors who have taught in the room. Here are some of their tips and observations.
Know the purpose
A key starting point is understanding what classes and teaching styles work best in a configuration of encircled students. A course that emphasizes interactive discussion among students capitalizes on the strength of the setup, as students see their classmates' faces.
Straightforward lecturing may not work as well, as an instructor teaching from the center of the room always has their back turned to half the class. Also, the room's whiteboards are on the periphery, designed more for small-group collaboration than as focal points. Instructors who rely heavily on writing on a whiteboard while teaching may need to adjust their approach.
The room was perfect for the course Brianna Burke teaches on literature and the environment because much of the classroom conversation is about racism and the environmental burdens placed on communities of color. Broaching those topics face-to-face makes the dialogue more honest and respectful, she said.
"When you're handling issues that are culturally, intellectually and emotionally challenging, it's good to have a super-open environment where the students all see each other all the time," said Burke, an associate professor of English, American Indian studies and environmental studies. "It's not them all looking at you. It's them looking at each other. It's not as easy to throw verbal bombs into the discussion."
Kevin Kimle, who taught four course sections in 3204 SICTR last year, agrees the major benefit of a 360-degree classroom is the peer-to-peer connection it encourages. That's a big aim in the classes he teaches on agricultural entrepreneurship and small business management.
"Hopefully, students can pick up a thing or two from me, but I want to create an environment where they learn from each other. Every student knows things that are interesting to their classmates, if I can only pry it out of them," said Kimle, a teaching professor of economics. "I've learned over the years that the classroom space makes a difference."
The added attentiveness is important for class running smoothly. Burke and Kimle said students quickly realize they need to alert them when a classmate sitting behind the instructor is raising their hand.
Another difference in a classroom-in-the-round is students are never far from their instructor. Sitting in the back is no way to hide out when it's also the third row.
"Everyone was within a short distance of me, and that was helpful. It's hard for them to not be engaged," said Francis Owusu, who taught world cities and globalization in 3204 last spring.
On the move
Teaching inside a circle of students requires increased movement and awareness to connect with the whole room.
"The way I dealt with it was to continuously be turning around," said Owusu, chair of the community and regional planning department.
Kimle bought a lectern on wheels to use in 3204, which made it easier to shift his focus to different areas. He also relied on the advice he gives students about business presentations: Be intentional about movement.
"I had to listen to my own coaching on paying attention to your body," he said.
Burke took some tips from a training video on teaching in the round, such as dividing attention between different "slices" of the circle and standing on the opposite side of the room from the students you are facing. When possible, she'd stay out of the middle all together, either to sit among students to grab their attention or to make room for their discussion.
"There were lots of times when I stepped outside the circle and just let them go," she said. "All those techniques were useful."
Using the tech
The classroom-in-the-round has level 1 audiovisual technology, which is installed in about 50 general university classrooms and includes higher-end videoconferencing gear. In combination with the bank of monitors, it's an ideal room for virtual guest lectures, Owusu said.
He typically has on-campus guests visit his global cities course to talk about places they have lived. For the section taught in 3204, guest lecturers currently living in those cities were able to join the class virtually and interact with students, including speakers from India, Palestine and Mexico.
"It allowed me to bring the globe into this classroom in a very real sense," he said. "The students loved it."
The bank of monitors can be used in a variety of ways. While there's no central whiteboard, Kimle writes on a tablet linked to the monitors to replicate drawing on a board. Burke appreciates them because she often uses videos in her instruction.
"If you teach with media and technology, it's such a good space for that," she said.
Embracing the difference
The classroom isn't just built like a stage. It often becomes one. It's a common stop for prospective students or other visitors touring the Student Innovation Center. Kimle said tour groups looking in are common enough that students become accustomed to waving at visitors.
"Whenever we give tours, everyone gushes about the unique setup,” said Kylee Mullen, communication specialist for the center.
Embracing that uniqueness, knowing that teaching in the classroom is different than in a traditional learning space, is essential to thriving, instructors said.
"Being forced to be more dynamic took some time to prepare for mentally. But it becomes an acquired behavior, and it was a very useful experience," Owusu said.
Burke, Kimle and Owusu all said they look forward to teaching in the space again.
"I would teach every class there, if I could," Burke said.
Yes, Lake LaVerne on the south edge of central campus looks greener than normal for this time of year. Every summer, algae and aquatic plants grow in the shallow lake, and normally, campus services staff in facilities planning and management (FPM) treat the lake to reduce algae growth. Periodically, they even remove some algae. This summer, as part of a study, the lake has not been treated, said Chris Strawhacker, campus planner and manager of the project.
With assistance from faculty in several departments and consultants from Shive Hattery and Stantec, FPM is conducting a study of the lake that will map water and sediment depths and analyze nutrients in lake water samples throughout the spring and summer. During this study, the lake is not being disturbed or treated. The results of the study are expected by December and will be used to determine priorities for improving and maintaining the lake.
Why is there one swan on the lake?
One of Lake LaVerne's iconic paddlers died in June. A campus committee continues to study options for introducing a single mute swan -- or a completely new pair to the lake, most likely in the spring.
While it's not scenic now, Strawhacker said the lake's plant and algae growth will decline naturally this fall as temperatures and sunlight intensity decrease.
A lake where there was none
Currently, lake depths vary from two feet to five feet, Strawhacker said. He noted it never was a deep lake -- perhaps nine to 10 feet following dredging efforts.
Lake LaVerne was created in 1915-16 by constructing a dam on College Creek to fill in a three-acre marsh. But decades ago, the creek was separated from the lake and still runs in an underground channel from Welch Road to the east side of the Memorial Union parking ramp. The lake was dredged in the 1930s, 1950s and 1990s, and various improvements were done to reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients entering it and enhance the shoreline.
In addition to rainfall, water sources for Lake LaVerne are groundwater pumped in at the west end and rainwater diverted from the roofs of several nearby campus buildings.
Annual inclusive classroom training for academic departments is in its third year this fall. The sessions are required for all instructors, but it is students who benefit.
"We share updates with student government so they know what is going on, and we are very intentional about that because we want them to have more input for future programs," said Laura Bestler, a Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) program specialist. "We did a workshop with them last year, and it is super helpful to hear their experiences and what they felt was important."
That communication helped shape this year's training and will continue to impact it going forward, Bestler said. Students are a focus from the first sentence a CELT instructor says to open each session: "On behalf of our students . . ."
This year's training is about supporting students through a mindful and learner-centered syllabus. It shows how a syllabus can foster an inclusive classroom and helps identify strategies for creating a mindful syllabus. Each year brings a new topic determined through feedback during trainings, a survey with unit leaders and departmental facilitators, and input from university leaders and CELT boards.
"The one thing we know all faculty have is a syllabus, and it is the one connection point our students have with their instructor and campus community," Bestler said. "It's the first place where students are introduced to who we are as instructors, what the course is about and the resources available to them on campus."
A main focus is making a syllabus something more important than a first-day-of-class ritual, Bestler said. It can be used as a communication tool throughout the semester.
Every department on campus will go through training, which includes five scenarios ranging from student support to encouraging student attendance.
"All of the topics are based on experiences our faculty have had," Bestler said.
CELT staff administer the training -- face-to-face or virtually -- to 63 departments during the fall semester. As of Aug. 19, all but five departments had scheduled their training, with a handful completing it before the start of classes.
"It is becoming institutionalized, which is a good thing, and our students appreciate that the faculty are putting this as a priority," Bestler said.
CELT published a two-year summary of the training this year that found 98% of participants recognized why teaching inclusively is important and 94% identified course-specific improvements to foster inclusive teaching.
"It is important we take time to do this because good teaching is inclusive teaching," Bestler said. "Taking time to talk about teaching strategies so our students can be more successful is the biggest thing we have gleaned from the first two years."
Working remotely comes with the job for Brenda Schmitt and countless other ISU Extension and Outreach employees. She communicated with others through Zoom or WebEx long before the pandemic made it commonplace.
Even with that experience, the human sciences extension specialist learned plenty from "Remote Work: How to Get Started." The online certificate course is offered in partnership with extension at Utah State University. ISU has been an affiliate member of the program since 2019, with more universities across the nation joining yearly.
"I took the program, and it was an eye-opener," Schmitt said. "Communication is huge, and taking the course you see how much more cohesively you are able to work as a group. There are a lot of little tips that are good for anyone, working remotely or not."
Information pleaseRegister online for “Remote Work: How to Get Started” informational meetings scheduled for Sept. 12, Sept. 19, Sept. 26, Oct. 10, Oct. 17 and Oct. 24. Some extension offices have full scholarships available to cover the cost of the program.
Schmitt covers a mostly rural 13-county area in north central Iowa and quickly realized the benefits of the course for the entire state.
"I manage five Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites, so I see about 500 people during tax season," she said. "The biggest thing I hear is, 'I really want to work remotely, but I don't have a clue about how to get started.'"
The course helps people beginning or making a career change, and teachers can use it as continuing education units. Some employers require the certificate to allow their employees to work remotely, Schmitt said.
The 30-hour program developed by Utah State has nine self-paced modules and four interactive workshops. ISU extension’s role begins after individuals complete the course. People can meet with an extension staff member for career coaching advice and often identify additional skill sets to pursue or sharpen for a job.
"ISU extension has a four-person field staff that will support our students from the state," Schmitt said. "We know what jobs are available and how people can tap into other resources."
FlexJobs is used to help secure employment for those who complete the course because of its high level of vetting, Schmitt said. The program is promoted by Iowa Workforce Development and Vocational Rehabilitation Services across the state.
Participants also have access to two monthly webinars where business and industry leaders talk about skills they look for in potential employees and available jobs.
The course is offered monthly, except for July and December, with free informational online meetings the second, third and fourth Monday of each month through October. People 17 and older can ask questions and get an overview of the course before making the $249 commitment.
The course simulates remote work, with assignments due every Wednesday night and large online group meetings on Thursdays. Topics include communication, workflow, productivity and time management.
"This helps to ensure you know how to operate your camera, microphone and speakers," Schmitt said. "It also helps you set up a professional space to work and have online meetings."
A group project is assigned with individuals from across the country, putting group dynamics to the test in the online environment. Participants use the latest technology like Slack, Canvas and Zoom to prepare for future employment.
Age is just a number
The course may seem geared toward experienced workers looking to make a change, but Schmitt encounters people on both ends of the age spectrum, with course enrollment steadily increasing. It includes older individuals not ready to retire but no longer interested in traveling for work to those looking for a first job.
High school graduates gain entry-level employment to earn income while they attend college or determine the next step. College students also take advantage of remote work to maintain jobs even if they leave campus to return home for the summer, Schmitt said.
"This keeps them from having to find a summer job, and others are able to turn it into an internship experience," she said. "There are two individuals with physical disabilities who have taken the course because working from home is their only option."
Recipients of Iowa State's 2022 awards for faculty and staff excellence will be honored during the university's annual awards ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 21 (3:30 p.m., Memorial Union Great Hall, reception follows). Award recipients were shared last spring in Inside Iowa State.
And here's a reminder of college-specific opening events for faculty and staff:
- Agriculture and Life Sciences, Faculty and staff ice cream social, Aug. 19
- Design, Welcome celebration, Aug. 25 (5:30-8 p.m., outdoors west of the Design Building, preceded by multicultural welcome reception at 4:30 p.m., dean's welcome at 5:45 p.m.)
- Design, Faculty and staff convocation and awards ceremony, Aug. 31 (5:30-7:30 p.m., 101 Design, reception follows)
- Liberal Arts and Sciences, Convocation and awards, Sept. 6 (4 p.m., MU Sun Room)
- Veterinary Medicine, convocation, Sept. 14 (3 p.m., 2532 Vet Med)
- Engineering, College awards and honors ceremony, Sept. 15 (11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Howe Hall auditorium, preceded by light buffet beginning at 11 a.m.)
For the first time since 2018, Iowa State will be in Boone for the Farm Progress Show next week. After the 2020 show was canceled due to the pandemic, agronomy department chair Kendall Lamkey is excited to bring ISU professionals together to share their work with a national and international agricultural audience. Iowa hosts the event in even years, rotating with Decatur, Illinois.
Farm Progress Show
When: Aug. 30-Sept. 1
Where: 1827 217th St., Boone
Tickets: Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for students 13-17. Those 12 and younger are free.
A team of ISU specialists will be on hand to help explain the latest in carbon science and answer questions from the public. The show is expected to draw an estimated 150,000 people over three days.
"This is a chance for all of us to be together at the show," said Lamkey, who has helped chair the planning committee since 2010. "I consider this an Iowa State event that gives us a chance to interact with people. We focus on hands-on displays so we can engage with them."
The Iowa State exhibit covers nearly 6,000 square feet designed to showcase the latest agricultural research and technology. A planning committee of about 25 people met for a year to plan the exhibit at the event, billed as the largest outdoor farm show in the nation.
More than 135 faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and ISU Extension and Outreach specialists will be at the show Aug. 30-Sept. 1 to present on nine content areas:
- Water quality
- Plant health
- Digital agriculture
- Farmland ownership trends
- Weather and climate
- Monarch butterflies
- College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
The areas are a mixture of traditional and new topics. The monarch, water quality and digital ag displays have become staples at the show. This year, the digital ag display includes an insect identification mobile app that will be able to detect more than 1,000 insects through a photo. Designed by agronomy assistant professor Arti Singh and her team, the app tells the user if the insect is beneficial or a pest.
"You can take a picture of the insect at just about any stage to identify it," Lamkey said.
This year's new exhibits include plant health, weather and climate, and carbon. The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll conducted yearly by ISU sociologists will be shared at the show for the first time. The poll measures rural perspectives about farming and issues important to farmers. The information is presented in a quiz format and includes facts like half the farmland in the state is owned by women, Lamkey said.
He sees the show as an opportunity for ISU representatives to take a different role over three days.
"I want them to spend time listening because so often we are doing, but it is important to listen," he said. "It's a two-way street, and hearing what is at the top of people's minds is important. As they get to know us, they can equate Iowa State with excellence in agriculture."