A corporate grant from Steelcase has transformed a lab in Cheatham Hall into a living laboratory to support learning strategies that promote engagement, creativity, and collaboration while helping researchers better understand patterns of active learning.

The Center for Environmental Analytics and Remote Sensing (CEARS) lab was designed over 20 years ago, with 22 computers in a traditional, theater-style configuration. The renovated space, with a flexible room layout, wireless connectivity, and a variety of seating options, supports a more open and collaboration-friendly atmosphere while increasing the room’s capacity. Features include new furniture and portable whiteboards, a projection system that allows multiple users and devices to display information simultaneously, and floor-based power outlets that don’t impede foot traffic.

As part of the highly competitive grant, which was secured by Assistant Professor Tim Baird, the CEARS lab and a more traditional computer lab across the hall have been outfitted with various sensing devices, including accelerometers, vibration microphones, and motion-tracking cameras. The spaces will serve as a real-life laboratory for a research project designed by Baird’s team. “Our project began with a couple of simple questions: How much do you move when you’re not moving, and what do these movements mean?” Baird explained. “By integrating social science and engineering approaches, we hope to address these questions in ways that can help us to think about what happens in classrooms and how we may nudge people towards positive behaviors and outcomes.”

Faculty members and students alike are thrilled with the new space. Assistant Professor Quinn Thomas, who teaches courses in ecological forecasting and Earth system modeling in the lab, said, “Not only is it a great classroom for computational focused courses, it also a great space for collaborative projects and informal conversations.”