Lawrence University reimagines what a science classroom can be


The Science Learning Commons at Lawrence University brings a more interactive and collaborative approach to intro science courses.

Lawrence University science faculty worked closely with architects to reimagine how a science lecture hall could and should work.


More specifically, how Room 121 in Youngchild Hall could be transformed from a tiered lecture hall into an interactive classroom divided into a dozen tables, each seating four to six students and equipped with technology to keep every student engaged, be it in a lecture or in a lab.


All that work came to fruition with the recent unveiling of the Science Learning Commons.


“I kind of had to collect myself a little bit,” chemistry professor Stefan Debbert said of his emotions that first day of class. “It was a great moment.”


Lawrence donors funded the renovation. Preparations for how to best utilize the remodeled space was supported by a $1 million grant to Lawrence from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Science Education Program to implement its Inclusive Excellence Initiative.


By creating a more interactive and inclusive environment, the science faculty hoped to showcase the collaborative nature and beauty of the sciences.


“Part of being a scientist is talking to other people and working together, putting stuff on the board, and being wrong,” Debbert said. “It’s amazing how much of that attitude and emotional work we do in these science courses, but that’s a big part of the job.”


The room is equipped with two large projector screens, allowing the professor to use them for different purposes simultaneously. Each student table has a screen connected to the screens up front. Microphones at each table allow for easy interaction. Document cameras give faculty new options for sharing materials.


“In terms of inclusion, I think it’s a huge step forward,” biology professor Beth De Stasio said. “We can have students in groups, we easily monitor who is talking, who’s not; is anyone being left out?”