Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Reed Dasenbrock

Students and faculty at the University of Hawai‘i of Mānoa are adjusting to the new Sakamaki Hall innovative classrooms, which feature SMART boards, AppleTV and a variety of spatial arrangements, according to the Sakamaki Innovation Zone website.  

The classrooms have been part of a trial in hopes to reinvent teaching styles and the learning environment.

Graduate Dean Krystyna Aune and Center for Teaching Excellence’s Kathleen Kane came up with the Mānoa Innovation Zone as was a way of creating different types of classroom spaces, according to Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Reed Dasenbrock.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make undergraduate education as good as it can be and this is one of the many things we’re trying to do,” Dasenbrock said.

The Mānoa Innovative Zone also fosters the idea of “the flipped classroom,” according to Dasenbrock.

“The idea with [the flipped classroom] is to create a different kind of space in which different things are going to happen,” Dasenbrock said. “[Students are] much more technological, much more interactive.”

The zone was built and constructed as part of the Sakamaki Hall project, which included repairing broken air conditioning systems and relocating departmental offices.

Dasenbrock said that the cost for the Sakamaki Hall project, which included the creation of the new innovative classrooms, cost a few million dollars that came from funding allocated by the state of Hawai‘i. Students say that, for the most part, the money is worth it and are excited about the new learning environment.

"I think it's amazing, better than a standard classroom,” said UH Mānoa senior economics major Frank Kelly. “If I was deciding between, you know, which class to take, Caribbean history or Roman history, they were both gonna fulfill my credits, [but] I would take the class that is in [the innovative classroom]."

However, some students say that the new learning environment does have some downfalls.

“It's a nice room but I think, like the SMART Board, you can't use other dry erase markers on it so she has to write on the other boards, which if you're sitting on the wrong side of the room you can't see it at all. So it's a little inconvenient,” said UH Mānoa psychology senior Candace Yoshimoto said. “We've had some technical problems that we can't always adapt to.”

History Professor Saundra Schwartz is one of the many teachers teaching in an interactive classroom. She has taught in both Sakamaki D101, which serves as a lounging environment, and Sakamaki D102, which has stair-like seating. Schwartz says that there were aspects of the two classrooms that were both good and bad things about the setting.

"[In Sakamaki D102], it was kind of fun to have this big wall that I could just write on,” Schwartz said.

However, she added that because of the seating arrangement, it seemed as if it was difficult for her students to write and take notes.

Schwartz says that in Sakamaki D101, “people were more relaxed, and so [she and the students] could get into these wild conversations,” which was helpful in teaching her Gender and Sexuality course to students who may or may not have been comfortable about the topic.

Aside from the relaxed environment, Schwartz said Sakamaki D101 allowed an opportunity for her to get to know her students more than she usually would and allotted her the space and flexibility needed for the role play assignments she assigns her Roman history class called Reacting to the Past.

“It feels like the students can ask more questions. I'm still guiding it, I'm still doing the best I can to guide it,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz also says she clearly notices that her students are benefiting from the new environment as well.

"When I teach that class in a tablet arm chair, I do a lot of lecturing at the students, but in these rooms, it becomes much more of a discussion and the students would offer a lot more of their perspectives and that would give me something to bounce off of,” Schwartz said. "It was a way for people to be in a place, to choose a place or position for where they're most comfortable for learning."

Though the learning space in Sakamaki D101 promotes an open and interactive learning environment, Schwartz says she has yet to use all the technology in the classroom, which includes two televisions and a Smart Board. She says her class doesn’t necessarily need all the technology the classroom provides and that her class is relatively low-tech.

“I haven't used the televisions on either side,” Schwartz said.

For her class purposes, she will use the projector on the SMART Board that is provided. But sometimes there are technological problems with the projector.

But for Schwartz, she thinks “it's important for students to have the opportunity to experience different learning environments because of how they learn differently in different settings. [And] that's why these classrooms in Sakamaki are so important.”

Dasenbrock hopes the faculty will be as creative and inventive in their teaching as they are in their research.

In teaching in these innovative classrooms Schwartz said she has learned to take cues from the students, which was a fun challenge for her – she got to see her students be actively involved in the assignments in an less than traditional teaching approach.

"Students are the heart of the university and it matters to them that they have spaces that that can learn in. I think it's central to everything we do here," Schwartz said.

Dasenbrock says that he has noticed that there has been a significantly higher demand for the classrooms by instructors.

“There’s a lot more demand to get in to [the innovative] class than we can satisfy. And so the question is, can we create more classrooms to meet the demand,” Dasenbrock said.

Currently, there are no additional plans to create more of these interactive classrooms, but Dasenbrock hopes that these innovative classrooms will continue to inspire students and faculty to be excited about learning and teaching, respectively.

Danielle Kate Vallejo contributed to this article