Successful Opening

New state-of-the-art SMART Lab puts into practice new approach to math learning.

Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News


By Barbara Melendez
USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 31, 2012) – As the grand opening ceremony was coming to an end, students were already making themselves at home in the University of South Florida Library’s new $3.3 million SMART Lab and expanded Learning Commons – as if it had been there all along. 


Thursday afternoon, USF President Judy Genshaft, Provost Ralph Wilcox, Vice Provost for Student Success Paul Dosal and Library Dean William Garrison welcomed guests for the formal unveiling of 46,000 square feet of renovated space students and faculty will use for Science Math and Research Technology-related learning activities, Learning Commons services and studying overall.


Over 400,000 bound volumes were removed to make room for the new facilities, which take up the entire second floor. They have a new home in the library’s basement. 


Noting that the library is the university’s “busiest spot on campus, the heartbeat of the university where all things come together,” Genshaft recognized its central role in helping USF to new heights. She pointed to USF’s ranking by the National Science Foundation among the nation’s top 50 public and private universities in research funding. “We’re one of only two in Florida with this esteemed ranking and we’re 100 years younger,” she said. “Get into your gloat positions.” 


The university’s newest facility to gloat about boasts state-of-the-art technology in the form of 330 computers, 13 collaborative work stations and interactive white boards.  It will even have roving tutors available to work with individual students or groups.


The first two courses to be offered in the Lab are in math – algebra and statistics. Additional math courses will be added as early as spring semester. An Academic Oversight Committee of the Student Success Council is being organized to consult and work with academic leadership in bringing more courses into the Lab. Over time, there will be sections from other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related departments.


The Lab is an integral part of a new approach. The traditional math course has two large lecture classes per week and two small breakout sessions with a teaching assistant. Redesigned SMART Lab classes make possible only one large weekly overview/discussion class, complemented by a minimum of three hours in the computer lab each week. Students can use the lab as much as necessary to master the work.


Dosal said this methodology has been proven to improve passing rates and that it supports the notion that “we might be able to lecture less and students will be able to learn more.”  He added, “Active learning works best,” and that the services offered incorporate best practices adapted to the new environment. 


“This is one of those wow moments,” said Wilcox, acknowledging the efforts of the team that put together this expansion of the university’s Learning Commons. In addition to Dosal and Garrison, it also included Vice President of Information Technology Michael Pearce, Vice President of Administrative Services Sandy Lovins, Director of Academic Services Nancy Cunningham and Executive Director for Financial Planning and Management Nicholas Setteducato. 


Indicating the new lab’s role in helping students succeed, Wilcox said, “We’re looking to change the discourse so that students can arrive on campus with confidence they can graduate within a reasonable time frame.”  


Garrison pointed out that early visitors to the lab were indeed wowed. “The first reaction is ‘whoa!’ and then ‘where are all the books?’” he said.  “This is not just a book warehouse anymore,” he said, explaining that the 40-year-old building is keeping up with being a 21st century resource. 


The costs of the project included fire and life safety improvements, construction costs, computers and software, technology infrastructure and peripherals, math and Learning Commons stations and seating, carpeting, flooring and painting.  The project also included installation of compact shelving in the basement of the Library to accommodate the materials moved from the second floor to make way for the Lab, and the cost of that moving and storage. The funds came from Academic Affairs, the Library and students’ technology fees.


With the library’s new SMART Lab, its Writing Center, new Career Center, tutoring program, IT repair shop, small and large group study rooms, circulating, reserve and special digital collections, and more, it is a key resource for students to find success at USF. 


The lab will be open five days a week around the clock, though Lab services will be available between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.