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Published in CenterView on January 27, 2014
Craig Bullock and Amanda Cooley, M1s, study in the library space.
Craig Bullock and Amanda Cooley, M1s, study in the library space.

Renovated RML area, SHRP classroom herald educational environment’s future

By Bruce Coleman

In one corner of a room in the Rowland Medical Library that easily could be mistaken for a lounge area, a group of students, ear buds firmly in place, engages in an animated discussion in front of a large flat-screen monitor while another group, huddled in a semicircle around their respective laptops, shares assignments.

SHRP's "Collaboratory"
SHRP's "Collaboratory"

A similar space in the School of Health Related Professions – dubbed the Collaboratory – accommodates an entire class, as an instructor actively observes three “breakout” groups that are each using separate strategies to tackle the same training exercise.   

Equipped with the latest technology, both of these “collaborative learning” areas at the University of Mississippi Medical Center offer a preview of tomorrow’s learning environment today.

Studies at the University of Florida and the University of Minnesota have found that collaborative learning improves the student experience in many ways, from increased interaction among peers and faculty to improved learning outcomes and more satisfied, engaged students.

Jessica Bailey, SHRP dean, reverts to old-fashioned white boards.
Jessica Bailey, SHRP dean, reverts to old-fashioned white boards.

According to Dr. Jessica Bailey, dean of SHRP, collaborative learning is more than a trend – it’s a classroom revolution of sorts.

“While I was in Missouri training for my doctoral degree, we focused on problem-based interactive learning,” said Bailey, who oversaw the renovation of SHRP’s old informatics lab into the state-of-the-art Collaboratory. “I learned a great deal about problem-based learning there, and I’m thrilled we are integrating those practices here in this new room.”

New study area in Rowland Library
New study area in Rowland Library

Similarly, Susan Clark, director of the Rowland Medical Library, couldn’t ignore the fact that the library’s computer lab was being used less and less by students who had become accustomed to carting their laptop computers and tablets everywhere they went.

“We looked for a solution that could enhance problem-based interprofessional education,” Clark said. “As we renovated our upstairs area, we considered what we could do with the old computer lab to benefit students and faculty.” 

Terry Pollard, right, demonstrates some of the Collaboratory’s state-of-the-art features.
Terry Pollard, right, demonstrates some of the Collaboratory’s state-of-the-art features.

Although they had each arrived at the same collaborative conclusion separately, Bailey and Clark – with the assistance of Terry Pollard, assistant professor in the Health Sciences Program in SHRP, and Felipe Zuluaga, IT project manager in the Division of Information Systems – soon joined together to develop complementary spaces.

“It’s been a fantastic team,” Pollard said. “My input has centered around the use of the space compared to other active-learning classrooms in use across the country. My experience as a faculty member and student of communication theories has helped, too. But having a project manager oversee the project was just plain vital.

“Felipe helped us in all aspects, from construction to lighting, from carpet selection to network integration. We couldn’t have done this without him and his team.”

One of the planning meetings struck Clark as slightly prophetic.

“We were at one of the tables (in the library) and we had pulled up something on the monitor to discuss. We were leaning in and, without even realizing it, we were already using the space for the purpose it was intended for,” she said. “It was collaborative planning. That was an eye-opening moment for me.”

The result is an easily customizable, immersive experience using adaptable, intuitive technology.

“I had already committed to the idea without having experienced it, but once you do, it’s really powerful,” Clark said.
       Indeed, within 45 minutes after its Dec. 10 “soft opening” on the first floor of the library, the Collaborative Learning Center was packed with students who already had made themselves at home among the main room’s seven flat screen monitors, three collaborative tables, movable chairs, desks and booths.

A more isolated teaching classroom houses a touch-enabled smart board, while a third smaller room contains a whiteboard and more collaborative technology.

“One of the M2s said ‘You need 100 more of these rooms,’” Clark said. “The students just sort of took it and ran with it.”

Bailey and Pollard witnessed a similar reaction from faculty when SHRP unveiled its Collaboratory on Jan. 15. Able to accommodate 71 students, the room boasts 12 large interconnected flat screens and the ability for team-based teaching in any corner.

Zelma Cason, center, assistant professor of cytotechnology, leads a virtual discussion.
Zelma Cason, center, assistant professor of cytotechnology, leads a virtual discussion.

Survey results from the open house indicated a great deal of interest in using the space. All SHRP faculty members expressed a desire to use the room this semester, and half the faculty from other schools want to reserve the room.

That information elicited a spontaneous and joyous “high-five” between Bailey and Pollard.

“It’s affirming to know that others share our enthusiasm for what can be accomplished in the room,” Pollard said.
Bailey said plans are under way to use the room for research.

“One corner of the room will be used for a computer usability lab,” she said. “We are beginning to build computer-based simulations to better understand how students learn on computers. We are partnering with the leaders in this field across the country.

“This will provide many research opportunities.”

The Collaboratory is available to SHRP faculty as well as other schools on a scheduled basis. The room will be available for independent student work from 3-6 p.m. beginning Monday, Feb. 3.

To reserve the room, faculty should call Molly Ratliff at 5-4029 or email her at

Clark said the Collaborative Learning Center will be available during regular library hours, from 7 a.m.-midnight, on a come-and-go basis as space allows. She views the new space as a necessary component for libraries to meet the needs of students and faculty in the 21st Century – and beyond.

“Students are changing,” she said. “What we did 30 years ago doesn’t work today. And it shouldn’t.”