Students Played Pivotal Role In Development of ITLL Building

Published: April 6, 1997

A description of how CU-Boulder’s Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory was developed might read a little like the Gettysburg Address with the addition of the word student: of the students, by the students and for the students.

The three-story, 34,000 square foot laboratory is intended primarily for use by undergraduate engineering students and this semester is being used for freshmen, sophomore and junior courses.

The one-of-a-kind lab came about primarily through the efforts of engineering students who were not content to wait until their junior and senior years for more hands-on course and lab work.

“From an engineering perspective, lab classes are good because they give you a feeling for what you’re learning, and if you’re a visual learner, ITLL can help you learn faster and better,” said Eric Peers, an electrical and computer engineering senior who has worked since his sophomore year on the lab’s development. Peers chairs the Undergraduate Excellence Fund, a student-controlled fund that contributed $478,000 toward the lab’s $11 million construction cost and an additional $772,000 toward project planning and curriculum development. The student fund contributed $1.25 million to ITLL during the last five years.

According to Peers, the assistive technology section of the First Year Projects class -- now meeting in ITLL -- is helping students learn theory and technical skills, like how to build circuits. It also allows students to work across disciplines so that electrical and mechanical engineering majors learn how to work together on projects, an experience that cannot be duplicated in a traditional lecture course.

Jackie Sullivan, co-director of ITLL, said students were an integral part of the building’s planning and design, which is reflected in the building. “ITLL is totally student-centered. It doesn’t have faculty offices and it was designed so that a maximum amount of space is student-usable, which is about 85 percent of the building.”

Not only did students work on the ITLL Curriculum Task Force, which drove the building’s design, they also made changes to the architect’s drawings, took time off from summer jobs for design open houses and met with legislators to promote state funding of the lab.

In 1991 the Board of Regents approved the plan by engineering students to levy an additional $100 per student per semester, phased in over a four-year period, to improve the engineering curriculum and to upgrade labs. The goal was to keep coursework and equipment up-to-date, thereby improving students’ marketability when they graduate, Peers said.

The Undergraduate Excellence Fund, or UEF, raises about $750,000 annually and is controlled by a committee of 9 students, three faculty and an associate engineering dean.

“ITLL shifts the emphasis away from lectures to lab projects, which give you an objective and force you to attain that objective,” Peers said. “That’s good because you learn a lot in the process.”

Lab classes also are harder for students, Peers said, “because you don’t have all the answers and you really have to think and spend more time. And you have to come in and work outside of class time.”

For junior Elizabeth LeBlanc, the First Year Projects Class was the one that helped her decide to major in mechanical engineering. First Year Projects will be the largest course offered in ITLL next fall with eight sections in a variety of subjects and disciplines.

“I had chosen to be an architectural engineering major, but that class helped me decide to switch to mechanical engineering. I met other people who were majoring in mechanical engineering and I realized that I thought more the way they did,” said LeBlanc, a member of the UEF board and president of the University of Colorado Engineering Council, the student government.

The interdisciplinary nature of the ITLL “is really a key part of the facility because in the real world, you would never just work only with mechanical engineers,” LeBlanc said. “It also helps you to learn to think differently because in all the engineering disciplines, people do think very differently,” she said.

Another benefit of the ITLL is that students get to see what their peers are doing at different grade levels. “One of the ideas is to let freshmen see what the sophomores are doing because it’s such an open environment,” LeBlanc said.

The lab has 30 work stations for 60 teams of two to four students located on two levels of the building, two breakout rooms for brief meetings of faculty and students, and 10 group-study rooms where student teams can meet to discuss and plan their class projects. It also has several student lounges where impromptu meetings are encouraged and several other rooms for special purposes.

Another important feature of ITLL is natural light thanks to an abundance of windows, which students requested. “When it’s fully open this will be a highly used building because the rest of the engineering center has very few windows,” said LeBlanc.

ITLL Fall 1997 Classes

Fifteen classes are scheduled to meet in ITLL for the Fall 1997 semester. They will include:

Aerospace I (new integrated sophomore course)

Aerospace II (new integrated sophomore course)

Applied Data Analysis (chemical)

Chemical Engineering Principles

Circuits for Non-Majors (electrical)

Circuits/Electronics I (new interdepartmental focus course)

First Year Projects (8 interdisciplinary sections)

Fluids (civil)

Fluid Mechanics (mechanical)

Electromagnetic Waves

Information Systems for the Next Millenium (computer science)

Measurements and Instrumentation (new interdepartmental focus course))

Simulation Lab

Software Engineering Methods and Tools (computer science)

Water Quality (civil)

Engineering Enrollment:

• undergraduates 2,229

• graduates 1,173