Full Steam Ahead

Where once a smokestack stood — an iconic symbol of another era — soon a new structure destined to be equally representative of its historical moment will rise on Purdue’s campus horizon: the Active Learning Center (ALC).

When the Indiana General Assembly adjourned April 27, the new state budget included $50 million in cash toward creating the $79 million visionary classroom-library concept — ranked since July 2012 as the University’s No. 1 capital project for the biennium.

Now, with the state’s decision, fundraising and project planning can proceed to create a learning environment central to Purdue’s campus — and mission.

More than a building project, the center will be an embodiment of new teaching methods and learning-space planning that is unique at Purdue, says Dale Whittaker, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs.

“Many of Purdue’s peer institutions are exploring active-learning courses, but not at the same scope and scale as Purdue,” Whittaker says. “In this respect, Purdue is out front as the national leader.”

The ALC project is essential to an array of University-wide student success initiatives and investments to promote active learning at Purdue, and central to these initiatives is the course transformation project, IMPACT — Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation. Launched by the provost in 2010, IMPACT’s curricula redesign applies active learning methods to improve students’ course completion rates in undergraduate foundational courses.

Whittaker says “active learning” is defined as a pedagogical methodology characterized by students’ engagement in learning activities that requires them to take greater responsibility for the knowledge they gain.

“IMPACT and active learning requires the University to reimagine the classroom and what’s needed for the 21st century faculty member and student,” Whittaker says. “Such classroom renovations include multiple computing stations, equipment for multimedia instruction, smart white boards, and ‘huddle boards’ for group work.” Formal and informal “blended learning” and so-called “flipped classrooms” — with online lectures and with interaction among peers and instructors in a technologically rich classroom — can result in better learning outcomes than those achieved with the traditional lecture methods or online instruction alone, Whittaker says.

“Our students will learn to think at higher levels and retain more knowledge,” he says.

A learning center at the heart of Purdue’s campus — and mission

The Active Learning Center will not only represent the transformation of teaching and learning at Purdue. It will transform the campus itself.

It will be located in the heart of campus on the site of the Engineering Administration Building (ENAD) and the onetime towering smokestack at Heat and Power Plant North, adjacent to the Bell Tower and near Hovde Hall.

ACTIVE Learning is … a pedagogical methodology characterized by students’ engagement in learning activities that requires them to take greater responsibility for the knowledge they gain.”


Administrators chose the name “Active Learning Center” to evoke the intent of the building — active learning — in their legislative presentations.

The center will replace lecture space in two existing facilities that will be lost through demolition and create new classrooms designed as collaborative learning environments.

The project is anticipated to provide 38,000 square feet of library study space and 59,000 square feet of classroom space at the eastern end of an area along Third Street from Martin Jischke Drive to Centennial Mall dubbed the “Student Success Corridor.”

This multi-building $328 million student success corridor is being planned to maximize student access and thereby create a bridge between residential, recreational and academic life, according to Ken Sandel, director of physical and capital planning.

Active Learning Center

The Active Learning Center will be located on the site of the Engineering Administration Building (ENAD).

The ALC’s overall efficiency is another significant element of the project. Creating this facility will also consolidate five science and engineering libraries that will result in significant space being freed up in the campus core. In addition, the center’s classrooms/study spaces by day, rather than sitting vacant in the evenings and nights, will serve as collaborative learning spaces due to their design.

University planners estimate the ALC will be within a 10-minute walking distance to most other campus classrooms and, according to current plans, students can access the building 24-7.

“Virtually every student on campus will go through this building,” Whittaker says. “It is centrally located, it is highly visible, and it will probably become the key academic building on campus from a first-year student perspective.”

If all goes according to plan, the Active Learning Center will be built and occupied by 2017 or 2018. Next steps will include Board of Trustees approval to proceed with hiring an architect and creating building schematics.

Purdue Libraries’ essential role

A central feature and benefit of the Active Learning Center is the presence and involvement of Purdue Libraries — thanks in no small part to James L. Mullins, dean of libraries and Esther Ellis Norton Professor.

The dean was an early and persistent champion of the concept of a new centrally located “learning commons” — integrated with library facilities and services — that will further reinforce Purdue’s national leadership as an innovator in emerging trends in active learning and collaborative study needs.

Research shows that library facilities remain the top destination to study for undergraduates at Purdue, Mullins says. And because information literacy is embedded in the new core curriculum, Libraries faculty play a greater role in instructing students how to locate, evaluate and judge information’s accuracy and value.

Libraries assumed a role as an incubator for pioneering new active learning spaces and concepts, designed in collaboration with the Center for Instructional Excellence (CIE), Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP) and Physical and Capital Planning.

Libraries faculty members have been instrumental in the creation of three active learning classrooms in Hicks Undergraduate Library, one in A.A. Potter Engineering Center and the blended spaces in the Roland G. Parrish Library of Management and Economics in the Krannert Building.

“These spaces provide us with a laboratory to test and assess the way in which our students use the library spaces adjacent to IMPACT classrooms and how the IMPACT classrooms are used for study when a class is not in session,” Mullins says.

These early endeavors will influence the ALC project as well, which itself will be a work in progress for fine-tuning blended learning spaces, Mullins says.

“We, in Libraries, will have a leadership role in planning and designing this new facility in collaboration with our campus space planning colleagues, as well as students and faculty throughout the University,” Mullins says. “It is a privilege for Purdue Libraries to help define the integration of instruction and learning within and outside the classroom.”


Reimagining the Classroom

  • Multiple computing stations
  • Equipment for multimedia instruction
  • Smart white boards
  • ‘Huddle boards’ for group work
  • Increased interaction among peers and instructors
  • Online lectures

Funding for the future

In May, the Board of Trustees issued a resolution of appreciation to alumnus Larry Hiler (BSIM ’69) and his wife, Janet, for their $1 million gift to the University and the ALC project. Hiler serves as the chairman of Hiler Industries, Aurora Metal Division and Busche Enterprises Inc., manufacturing companies primarily located in Indiana that provide employment opportunities for over 900 associates. In addition, Hiler has been active in leading-edge battery management and fuel cell technologies. Hiler’s enthusiasm for the transformative ALC project stems from his service on the Dean’s Advisory Council for Purdue Libraries since 2005. He credits Dean Mullins for envisioning “a library atmosphere for the times” and recalls that the dean even scouted the site of the old boiler plant as an ideal location.

“Jim is a visionary,” says Hiler. “His presentations about the need for the project, the Libraries role and the potential for improved outcomes for our students really resonated with the DAC — and me,” Hiler says. He has observed that changes in teaching and learning correspond with changes he’s seen taking place in business and industry.

“Today, the work world requires a lot of collaboration, and the active learning center will reflect how modern companies work.

“You can’t help but get excited by the changes in teaching and learning that are taking place — on campus, in Libraries, with IMPACT and now with the Active Learning Center — to create a great learning environment. And I think we’ll see positive results in the students we graduate.”

In addition to the $50 million received from the state, the University has committed $13 million from its reserves, leaving $16 million to be raised from private donors to fund the project.

Sandra Howarth, the Libraries’ director of advancement, says $2.2 million, including the Hilers’ gift, has been pledged for the Active Learning Center.

“People like the Hilers, who are passionate about Purdue, higher education and producing work-ready students, will be inspired to support new types of learning and their corresponding facilities and technologies,” Howarth says. “Gifts to this project will have a direct impact on Purdue’s students, faculty and the University’s mission for years to come.”

The remaining $13.8 million funds will come from collaborative efforts between the University Development Office, the provost and the president.

For additional information on supporting the ALC please contact:

Sandra Howarth
Director of Advancement
P: (765) 494-2806
E: showarth@purdue.edu