Cole Hall opens

High-tech facility could become model for collaborative learning

Cole Hall exteriorWith the spring semester beginning today, NIU unveiled a new crown jewel on campus — the renovated and super-high-tech Fay-Cooper Cole Hall.

What had been one of the university’s most outdated facilities is now among the most forward-thinking.

The 1960s-era building, located at the heart of campus, has been transformed into a collaborative-learning setting that university officials believe will be looked to as a national model.

The new sunlit lobby, with marble benching and a sweeping view of central campus, serves as a gateway to three premier and distinctive educational spaces:

  • The Cole Hall Collaboratory Classroom, which boasts 48 computer stations divided among six separate learning pods. Each pod is equipped with a 65-inch, high-definition digital touch screen, enabling students to interact with educational material in the same way users interact with touch-screen iPads. NIU officials say it is not only one of the most unique and cutting-edge educational settings on campus, but anywhere.
  • The Anthropology Museum, which offers premium museum exhibition space and a training ground for students. Features include movable walls for creation of customized exhibit spaces, low-iron glass displays for clearer viewing and an eye-catching 10½ -foot-long glass display case cut into the museum’s exterior wall.
  • The 351-seat Jameson Auditorium. The 43-year-old lecture hall has been completely overhauled with the addition of improved sightlines and access, technology supporting up to 750 wireless devices, comfortable seats that swivel 360 degrees to allow for small-group interactions, the highest-quality HD projection system on campus, back-of-the-room HDTV monitors and a full complement of smart technology to meet the needs of students and educators.

“Cole Hall has been at the heart of the NIU community since it first opened its doors, and it is personally inspirational for me to know that this building now will foster learning for tens of thousands of 21st century students,” NIU President John Peters said. “We believe the newly renovated Cole Hall embodies the Forward, Together Forward spirit that binds us all together.”

Cole Hall computer lab

Cole Hall was originally built in 1968 to house two 500-seat lecture halls.

On Feb. 14, 2008, the building was the site of a shooting that claimed the lives of five students. In the wake of the tragedy, there was talk of demolition, but NIU surveys of students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends discovered an overwhelming desire to see the building remain standing.

Historically, Cole Hall had played an important role on campus. Serving as the core classroom for many general education courses in the liberal arts, the lecture halls were used by about 6,000 students each semester, and the facility was well known to tens of thousands of students and alumni.

Long before work crews arrived to start the state-funded, nearly $6 million renovation, NIU began researching hundreds of case studies on how to create the best possible interactive-learning spaces.

“We envisioned a setting where students learn, not only through lectures and textbooks, but also through online activity, visual representations and group interactions,” NIU Provost Raymond Alden said. “We know from research that this blended-learning approach enhances retention and critical-thinking skills, and group interactions encourage students to put learned concepts into practice. So we found the top models nationally and, I think, improved upon them.”

Both visually and technologically impressive, the new Cole Hall provides students with an environment designed in every aspect to maximize the educational experience. The facility’s rebirth also carries a symbolic meaning for the NIU community.

“It is fitting that Fay-Cooper Cole Hall now stands as testament to this university’s resolve,” Alden added, “a symbol of our vision for the future and a campus crown jewel.”

Cole Hall auditorium

John Cordogan, principal of Cordogan Clark and Associates, Inc., said his firm designed a small addition to the Cole Hall lobby but otherwise maintained the vast majority of existing spaces while fully transforming the building.

“The new Cole Hall has strong ties to the old Cole Hall, such as the beautiful exposed brickwork and high ceilings,” Cordogan said. “However, the space is new and fresh and flexible enough to meet the future needs of the NIU community. It has felt more like a full new building project than a renovation.

“We have worked on numerous auditoriums and classrooms for higher education institutions,” he added. “The spaces at Cole Hall are unique in regards to the cutting-edge technology.”

The Cole Hall Collaboratory Classroom is a prime example.

“No doubt, it will become the blueprint for future facilities on campus and beyond,” said Frederick Schwantes, NIU vice provost for special projects. “The classroom design will maximize student-to-student, team-based collaboration during problem-solving challenges and will give opportunities for professor interactions with small groups at boardroom-like tables.”

In addition to the giant touch-screen panels at each collaboratory learning pod, an even larger screen is situated at the front of classroom, where the professor can project and interact with individual or group work.

NIU faculty members say the classroom provides a whole new tool kit for instruction.

“The technology of the collaboratory is going to allow for a lot of educational creativity,” said Geography Professor Lesley Rigg, associate dean for research and graduate affairs. Rigg taught previously in Cole Hall.

“Professors now will be able to present their materials in new and more compelling ways, and students will not only interact with educational materials intellectually, but also physically,” she added. “It’s going to be an interactive experience unlike any other they’ve had in a school setting.”

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