News Service


Doug Jacobson, Electrical and Computer Engineering, (515) 294-8307
Mani Venkata, Electrical and Computer Engineering, (515) 294-3459
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- A new active learning complex in Iowa State's department of electrical and computer engineering doesn't look anything like a classroom and that's what makes it effective. Rather than bright lights in a sterile room with straight back chairs and flip-up desktops, the complex features a comfortable environment in a room flush with vibrant colors.

The goal of the active learning complex, which will be dedicated at 1 p.m., Monday, Sept. 20, is to enhance learning by fostering communications and teamwork, said Doug Jacobson, faculty coordinator of the complex. So far it appears to be working.

"We wanted to create a space that will draw students in and make them feel like they belong," said Jacobson, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. "We wanted it to be comfortable, because comfort facilitates discussion which, in turn, facilitates learning."

The complex is in the high-bay area of Coover Hall. It includes several interaction areas, some with high-tech equipment and some without, and office space for 28 teaching assistants, putting them in close proximity to the undergraduate students. The areas can be readily changed as needs change.

Portions of the 3,000 square foot complex look more like a living room than a classroom. There are four high-tech interaction areas -- cozy enclaves that utilize several pieces of technology to aid learning. Bright awnings cover office and interaction areas.

Some interaction areas include white boards, where students can draw diagrams and work out problems. The notes and diagrams on the boards can be saved to a computer for future reference. There are "wireless" infrared keyboards, which facilitate students working together in groups by sharing the keyboard and large-screen computer.

"This space is unique in that it brings together the latest technology aids in learning and integrates teaching assistants and students into an environment where they will learn in groups," said Mani Venkata, electrical and computer engineering department chair.

"The complex is designed to foster interaction and use of technology, to encourage the discussion of ideas and have ready access to teaching assistants," added Jacobson. "It brings everything and everyone together and helps build friendships and bonds that will be valuable in the learning process."

"Our department has a critical need for space," Venkata added, "but we felt the quality of the space is an important factor to their success and we think this is the best way to teach undergraduate students."

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A formal dedication of the Active Learning Complex will be at 1 p.m., Monday, Sept. 20. The brightly colored area is very visual. Reporters are welcome to attend the dedication or arrange a visit by calling Skip Derra at (515) 294-4917. To see computer images of the complex, visit

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