Completely ‘Geeked Out’

Renovations, technology enhance services for students with learning challenges

By:
Jeffrey Javier, UA Foundation, Jacob Chinn photo

Rudy Molina can’t help but smile as he talks about the ongoing renovations at the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center. 

For the director of the SALT Center, the expansion of the 15-year-old building could not come at a better time, as enrollment has climbed to more than 550 students in recent years and the need for updated technology has grown. 

“There wasn’t much in terms of technology built into the original plan of the building,” Molina says. “So right from the start our plan was to expand the space and upgrade to SALT Center 2.0, with technology fully integrated.” 

Since 1980, the SALT Center has provided comprehensive academic support services to aid students with learning and attention challenges. The center is internationally recognized as a model for academic services in higher education. 

The center’s expansion was made possible through the support of philanthropists like Patricia and Bruce Bartlett, who committed $2.7 million to the project.    

Scheduled to reopen in time for the start of the 2016 school year, the buildings will have a new communal space for students to relax, study, and connect with one another. On the second floor, there will be more space for one-on-one tutoring sessions.  
As for technology, Molina says the second-floor classroom and the entire building will be completely “geeked out.”

The classroom will feature four wall monitors and a main presenter screen. The four monitors will each have a desk or set of chairs for students to work independently or as a group. Every monitor will be controlled by a main switch at the front of the room. 

Molina says the classroom technology will enable a new teaching method called flipped learning, which encourages students to collaborate and share knowledge with each other. The instructor poses a question and students work on a laptop or tablet connected to the monitor at their stations. After some discussion, the instructor brings them back to the larger group to share what they have learned. 

“It’s the complete opposite of the ‘stand and deliver’ method of teaching,” Molina says. “In addition to benefiting from their professors’ knowledge, our students learn a lot socially by sharing with their tutors and each other.” 

The building also will feature amenities designed to help students with a diagnosis of emotional or psychological disorders. 

“Often our students come to us stressed out or anxious after a day of classes, so we really want to bring anxiety levels down by using color and sound,” Molina says. 

Using colors that soothe, like blues, sage green, and silver, can help students relax. Piping background music into the hallways and meeting areas for students to hear as they wait for appointments can also help bring energy levels down. 

Those studying in these communal areas also will benefit from technology hubs designed to encourage students to work with their own devices independently or with their peers. Technology coaches will be on hand to help students explore assistive software and apps that enhance their learning experience. 

Colleges of Letters, Arts and Science junior William Ellis has been a SALT Center student since his freshman year, and he looks forward to having more space to do his school work. As a kinesthetic learner, he values a space where he isn’t restricted to a desk.  

“I’m glad it’s getting renovated because it has really become a second home for me and the people there are like my extended family,” he says.