Being an instructor of entrepreneurship at Purdue University (one of my gigs when I’m not helping my clients grow their businesses) I get to be a catalyst for some pretty amazing student accomplishments. In August 2017, the new teaching home for most of our instructors, Wilmeth Advanced Learning Center (WALC) on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus opened for business.
But what is its business?
WALC brings together for the first time on Purdue’s campus five major elements considered important to active learning:
- An actual Library/Information and study spaces. WALC’s is pertinent to Purdue’s engineering programs
- The building’s four floors house 27 “collaborative active learning classrooms” with state-of-the-art technology connecting each student’s computer or smart phone to the classroom’s audio-visual equipment allowing any student to upload material developed by a team in class to share with others.
- Formal study spaces
- Collaborative work areas
- Informal learning spaces
James L. Mullins, dean of libraries at Purdue, had a major role in the building because it brings together six separate Purdue libraries that were scattered around campus. They are, in case you wonder, Chemistry, Engineering, Life Sciences, Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences, Pharmacy, Nursing & Health Services, and Physics.
Test classrooms were built in the Hicks Undergraduate Library where Dean Mullins gladly provided space. Several classes met in this space as learning laboratories. The room design that emerged facilitates teams working together and using the latest technology.
Purdue President Mitch Daniels cites studies showing students who spend additional (free) time on campus have higher grades. Dean Mullins noted that the experimental classrooms located in the library caused a surprising change in student behavior. Comfortable meeting and study space near the classrooms began to attract students to meet and study before and after class. The surprise was the space stayed in use throughout the day. Thus, turning WALC into a student hub became a major objective.
Whiteboards cover the walls encouraging ideating and brainstorming. Several classrooms offer easy recording of class audio.
Tables are of varying shapes depending on the room. In my room, the table tops are for two people and trapezoidal in shape. They are on wheels, so they can be grouped for team use or positioned in rows. Chairs too are on wheels and allow students to face in any direction. When teams are interacting, the tables are arranged so students face each other.
When the libraries are open, 40% of the center is devoted to the library collection and library study space. At closing time, the study space is opened up to any student on campus. The same is true for the classrooms at the end of the day.
Many movable one-person work units are scattered throughout the building, along with conference nooks that hold varying numbers of people. These are first-come, first-served!
The collaborative and informal learning spaces are available 24 hours a day to all students. I observed during WALC’s first month, these spaces were 80% occupied at 9:00 in the morning. (This reminded me of asking a student what he considered early in the morning: “Noon”.) WALC houses an Au Bon Pain bakery, open every night seven days a week until 8 PM.
All of this makes WALC an extremely efficient building that has become a popular 24-hour hub for the Purdue community.
Does all this really make a difference? Read on!
The Trustees named the building after the Wilmeth brothers, Thomas S. (electrical engineering, 1935) and Harvey D. (chemical engineering 1940). The brothers and their families have a long history of supporting Purdue libraries. The press release link at the bottom provides more information about the brothers.
The building, under construction for two years, cost $79 million. It is very open, light and airy. Many of the rooms are also sponsored by donors whose generosity helps make WALC a magnificent place.
WALC occupies a site that included Purdue’s 1924 Heating and Power Plant North. The plant was retired years ago and the equipment was left in place as a laboratory for engineering students. Happily, many relics from the plant are on display throughout Wilmeth. A smartphone tour is available in the building.
So, does it work? Prove it!
Most of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation classes are held in WALC, and our instructors have eagerly shared their ideas on how to take full advantage of the space and technology. I find that topics totally new to many students, such as analyzing financial statements, are understood much more quickly when each student has a copy of an assignment consisting of some problems, and the team works through it together in class. The students with experience mentor the students without, and everyone shares the joy of contribution and achievement. I roam around while the teams are working, answer questions and interact with team members.
A far cry from chairs bolted to the floor and everyone facing front!
This article resonates well with what I do when I’m not teaching at Purdue. I tell my clients who are eager to grow their business that passion for innovation is vital to success. The speed with which technology is advancing is causing disruptive innovation in many if not most of our business sectors.
If you aren’t willing to disrupt your own business, a competitor or new entrant likely will do the job for you.
A business cannot design a growth plan in a vacuum. Every step of the way you must be measuring the interest the marketplace has it what you intend to do. Based on what customers tell you, pivot with your business model so it squarely addresses what buyers want! The study above showed the impact of collaborating among students and you must collaborate with people key to your success. Your business will start to thrive when you put your customers first with creative actions that benefit them. Create a space where feedback from customers is given and really challenge yourself to make adjustments where needed or recommended.
For more information: See Purdue’s WALC Press Release, HERE
If you find yourself in the area with a little time to spare, a visit to WALC would be well worth your time!Tags: Purdue University