An $8 million renovation has converted UNL’s 107-year-old Brace Laboratory into a facility dedicated to using innovative teaching methods to further undergraduate education.
The updated building, originally used for physics instruction, now possesses four life sciences laboratories and support space; a 186-seat auditorium; four classrooms dedicated to active and collaborative instruction; a Technology Transforming Teaching (T3) classroom where instructors can use and evaluate cutting-edge teaching technologies from furniture to advanced computerized devices; and office space that will allow Information Technology Services employees to provide classroom and learning support.
“What is significant about this space is that the entire building is dedicated to supporting undergraduate teaching and learning,” said Lance C. Pérez, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. “This project has made Brace, in many ways, UNL’s most advanced instructional facility.”
Initial users of the renovated space include biological and life sciences, mathematics and business administration. Much of the project has been focused on providing collaborative learning spaces to undergraduates. While lecture courses remain useful, research in the last 20 to 30 years has shown that in many cases, students benefit from a more active and collaborative approach, Pérez said.
“Brace is not just an advanced teaching facility in terms of technology,” Pérez said. “We designed it to support modern research based pedagogies. Learning spaces have been built purposefully and intentionally to support active learning.”
Those spaces include the four life sciences labs that will be used by biological and life sciences and the four collaborative instruction classrooms to be used for mathematics instruction.
The collaborative classrooms each seat 36 students. While the furniture is set up to seat six groups of six, it can be reconfigured to support various instructional strategies. The space also includes multiple white boards to promote interactive learning and group discussions.
Pérez said the collaborative classrooms would initially be used primarily for UNL’s 100-level mathematics courses.
“Mathematics has invested in professional development and is completely updating how they teach many of their 100-level courses,” Pérez said. “The focus will be on small groups working together.”
The life sciences labs in Brace will include three modern “wet” labs on the first floor and a specialized space on the second floor designed for virtual instruction. The four lab spaces are designed to be similar to recent updates to chemistry labs in Hamilton Hall, with “islands” that allow students to face one another for group work.
“The addition of these labs significantly expands UNL’s capacity for teaching biological and life sciences to undergraduates,” Pérez said.
The College of Business Administration will be a primary user of the redesigned 186-seat auditorium.
Office space in Brace will allow Information Technology Services to bring its 16-employee, Learning and Emerging Technologies team together under one roof. The group, which provides technology support for classrooms campuswide, currently uses space in Architecture Hall and the 501 Building.
The renovation also included creating general use classroom space; adding restrooms (when built in 1906, Brace only had two restrooms, one each on the first two floors); installing modern heating and cooling systems to replace radiators and window-unit air conditioners; asbestos abatement; repairing and painting of walls; and repair and replacement of floors and ceilings.
Brace is linked to Behlen Laboratory to the west. The project secured the link between the buildings, allowing plans to move forward to expand high-security research in Behlen.
A portion of the funding for the project was provided by the Nebraska Legislature.