The alcoves in the lobby area of the Life Science Library in the Main Building of The University of Texas at Austin have been transformed into Signature Course classrooms and will bring first-year teaching into the heart of the university's Tower.
The centerpiece for each of the six classrooms is a large elliptical table shaped for a seminar of 18 first-year students to sit, listen and engage in discussions.
In a Signature Course, the university's most distinguished faculty members introduce college-level discussion, writing and analysis, along with some of the university's most valuable resources: the Blanton Museum, the Harry Ransom Center and many other campus "gems."
The Signature Course is part of an effort to improve the undergraduate experience and make the freshman curriculum a more prominent piece of a University of Texas at Austin education. The core curriculum is designed to expose young students to broad issues that transcend individual disciplines, providing students with skills designed to make them more successful in life. By 2010, the core courses will be adopted in all of the university's colleges and schools, and will provide a common intellectual experience for undergraduates at the university.
"The Freshman Seminar rooms are a concrete example of our commitment to enrich the undergraduate experience at UT," said William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin. "We are introducing first-year students to great teaching by senior faculty members in a small-class environment. These beautiful rooms are part of a much larger effort to update and enhance our undergraduate core curriculum."
Powers will be among speakers honoring the Signature Course faculty during an open house event from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 29. Members of the university community are invited to tour the new classrooms.
Dr. Paul Woodruff, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, oversees the Signature Course program and was instrumental in the renovation project. From the beginning, he recognized the importance of design and layout of the classrooms.
"These rooms are dedicated to learning through discussion, recitation and dialogue," Woodruff said. "They are expressly designed to put students in eye-to-eye contact with each other and with a professor. They are sized for discussion; only in groups smaller than 18 can every student be heard effectively during a class period."
One of the Signature Course faculty members, Chiu-Mi Lai, a senior lecturer from the Department of Asian Studies in the College of Liberal Arts, praised the intimacy of the new classrooms. She said the seminar style encourages discussion and the natural lighting makes it feel less institutional.
"Being in the Life Science Library will make it even more effective in accessing materials for the section I'll be teaching on exotic flora and fauna in Chinese history and literature," Lai said.