By Erin Holaday, Colleen Glenn
It’s almost time for class and you’re still in your dorm room. But you’re not going to be late. There’s plenty of time to walk downstairs.
Imagine what residence halls will be like in 2020. That’s what the College of Arts & Sciences did when they created a new living and learning community at Keeneland Hall.
Debuting this fall, A&S Wired houses almost 200 freshmen in a unique interactive space that combines education and residence life.
“As we envisioned what education would be like for students starting college in 2020, we knew advanced technology would be a critical component,” said Adrienne McMahan, assistant dean of undergraduate affairs in the College of Arts & Sciences.
A&S Wired features a technology-infused curriculum designed around the concept of a 21st century liberal arts education. Students take 2-3 of the same courses, including eight-week interdisciplinary Wired courses and a first-year writing course, as part of a shared academic program that promotes communal learning.
Each student involved in A&S Wired received an iPad, but “it’s not all just about technology,” said faculty co-director Cristina Alcalde. The idea, she explained, is that students will learn new skills using the technology with which they’re already familiar.
While students are learning new ways to employ technology, professors are finding that Wired courses give them freedom to be innovative with their pedagogy. Many of the courses offered in A&S Wired are nontraditional in that they venture beyond the walls of the classroom.
For instance, students in Gerald Smith’s class this fall, “The African-American Experience in Kentucky,” will visit several historical sites in Kentucky that have been central to the black experience. In the spring semester, Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Media Professor Jeff Rice, one of the three co-directors of Wired, will teach “Eating Kentucky,” a course that will encourage students to become acquainted with the “food moments” that define Kentucky culture.
“Part of the vision behind Wired is to provide a liberal arts education within the context of a research university,” said Alcalde, who, in addition to co-directing Wired is a professor in the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies. “One of the reasons that I became involved in Wired — why I’m so excited about it — is that it brings the resources of a large university like UK into a really small environment.”
Critical to that vision is establishing meaningful connections with faculty. A&S Wired faculty won’t just come to class, lecture and leave. They will hold office hours — both real and virtual — in the residence hall, and will be available to students through a variety of informal activities, such as Wednesday afternoon coffee chats.
“A&S Wired is all about building connections with people — with faculty, other students, and the community,” said Nathan DeWall, a professor of psychology and a co-director of Wired.
In fact, extracurricular activities — designed to encourage getting to know classmates —
comprise an important component of the Wired program. “A lot of the activities sound crazy but they’re going to be so fun,” DeWall said.
He and several students have committed to writing a novel in a month, while professor Anna Bosch is leading a group that uses their iPads to read newspapers, from local to global news.
“Nationally, there’s a lot of effort to create spaces where students can live together and study together, to create environments where the social and academic come together,” Rice added.
Such efforts at universities across the nation have demonstrated that communities similar to Wired helped with retention rates of freshmen, who often find themselves lost in large lecture courses at research universities.
“There’s going to be a built-in network of peer mentors that will be checking in with students, and faculty will be very accessible to students, so there’ll be a built-in network of support,” Alcalde said.
The 65-year-old Keeneland Hall has undergone extensive renovation in its conversion from ordinary dorm to the home of A&S Wired. Outfitted with state-of-the-art technology to enhance the learning experience, Keeneland Hall now features two modern classrooms equipped with new media that allow for video projection and international telecommunication. An interactive digital bulletin board in the lobby — with live streaming capability — enables students to post messages and plan activities with others, and a large movie screen in the public space is used for the student-planned movie nights.
Lexington's Keeneland Race Course will welcome Keeneland Hall residents with gift bags full of the recognizable thoroughbred racing brand on T-shirts, hats, tumblers and pens.
"We are happy to welcome these new students to our namesake residence hall," said Keeneland's President and Chief Executive Officer Nick Nicholson. "The renovations that the College of Arts & Sciences has already completed are quite impressive, and we look forward to finding innovative ways to connect with the residents there."
The freshmen who are living at A&S Wired have a unique opportunity to experience a modern model for college education. But the Wired directors make it clear that this will not be a one-way experience — the college fully expects that this group of students will help them to develop new ways of teaching and learning.
“What A&S wired is poised to do is to fundamentally change the first-year college experience here at UK by fostering these connections and by offering students opportunities that will redefine what they think a first-year educational experience can be,” said DeWall.