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February 06, 2012

Feb. 12 open house at NIU’s Cole Hall will showcase Anthropology Museum, high-tech classrooms

Kendall Thu
Kendall Thu

The Anthropology Museum

DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University invites the public to an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at the newly renovated and high-tech Fay-Cooper Cole Hall.

Located in the heart of the NIU campus, the 1960s-era building has been transformed into a modern educational setting that university officials believe will be looked to as a national model for collaborative learning.

The building features three distinctive educational spaces: the technology-loaded Cole Hall Collaboratory Classroom, the Jameson Auditorium and The Anthropology Museum.

“The NIU community made a wise decision in choosing to renovate this building,” NIU President John Peters said.

“Cole Hall now honors our heritage, serves as a tribute to the NIU Huskie spirit and demonstrates how technology can enrich the classroom experience. It already is changing the way our educators teach and enhancing the way our students learn.”

The relocation of the museum, which had been located in the neighboring Stevens Building, seems particularly appropriate since Cole Hall is named in honor of famed anthropologist Fay-Cooper Cole.

The open house will include The Anthropology Museum’s official opening shortly after 1 p.m.

Some of the museum’s special features include movable walls that can be used to create customized spaces for each exhibit; low-iron glass display cases for crystal-clear viewing of artifacts; a 10½-foot-long display case cut into the museum’s exterior wall; and special humidity and temperature controls for protection and preservation of collection pieces.

“Moving the Anthropology Museum to Cole Hall represents a new chapter for our students, the anthropology department and the NIU community,” said Kendall Thu, anthropology chair.

“The Anthropology Museum invites its visitors to come along on an adventure, using the past and present as a looking glass to the future,” he added. “This beautiful state-of-the-art museum will deliver an invaluable engaged-learning experience for students and the larger community.”

Former anthropology faculty members and museum directors are expected to be in attendance at the opening, which will feature two new exhibitions:

  • Touch the Sky – a series of photographs by world-renowned nature photographer Jim Brandenburg, whose work in this collection captures the breathtaking vistas and iconic creatures of the American prairie. Brandenburg has worked as a photographer with National Geographic magazine for more than three decades. His photographs also have been featured on all major television networks.
  • Dancing With Spirit – an introduction to the characters and iconography of Korean mask theater. The exhibit is curated by Kathy Foley, a professor of theater arts at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Classes resumed in Cole Hall at the beginning of this semester after completion of the nearly $6 million, state-funded renovation.

Historically, the building has played an important role on campus. Its original companion 500-seat lecture halls served as the core classrooms for many general education courses in the liberal arts and were used by about 6,000 students each semester.

On Feb. 14, 2008, the building was the site of a shooting that claimed the lives of five students, and the building had stood dormant until recently.

“We have, in a sense, come full circle,” said Cherilyn G. Murer, who was chair of the NIU Board of Trustees in 2008 and was re-elected as chair this past fall.

“While the new technology-rich Cole Hall points to the bright future of our university and its students, it also echoes of the past,” Murer said. “The reawakening of Cole Hall bears witness to the resolve of the NIU community.”

Long before renovation work crews arrived, NIU began researching hundreds of case studies on how to create the best possible interactive-learning spaces.

In addition to The Anthropology Museum, the renovated Cole Hall is now home to two premier educational spaces:

  • The Cole Hall Collaboratory Classroom, which boasts 48 computer stations divided among six separate learning pods. Each pod is equipped with a 65-inch, high-definition digital touch screen, enabling students to interact with educational material in the same way users interact with touch-screen iPads. NIU officials say it is not only one of the most unique and cutting-edge educational settings on campus, but anywhere.
  • The 351-seat Jameson Auditorium. The 43-year-old lecture hall has been completely overhauled with the addition of improved sightlines and access, technology supporting up to 750 wireless devices, comfortable seats that swivel 360 degrees to allow for small-group interactions, the highest-quality HD projection system on campus, back-of-the-room HDTV monitors and a full complement of smart technology to meet the needs of students and educators.

“This really feels state-of-the-art and like a brand new location,” said NIU Board of Trustees Professor Jeffrey Chown, who has taught in Cole Hall for nearly three decades and now is teaching a course on interpretation of film and TV in the Jameson Auditorium.

“It’s a very stimulating environment to teach in,” he said.

Chown said he is impressed with the technical controls at the fingertips of the instructor, as well as the high quality images produced by the projection system and the comfortable seating for his 200 students. A wireless microphone ensures that each student’s comments are heard by his or her peers. Chown also intends to make use of the swivel seating for group discussions.

“The flexibility for small-group work provides educators with a great option,” he says. “When you’re teaching to a large audience, you sometimes feel like a circus performer trying to entertain people. But group discussions help break up the one-way flow of information and make students more responsible for their own learning.”

Susan Russell, a professor of anthropology, is similarly impressed with the collaboratory classroom.

“The students and I love this classroom—it’s spoiling us,” Russell said.

“It is so new that I know of no textbooks or instructor manuals that fit this kind of technology, so we are pioneering how to best capture a student-professor, co-learning approach to the subject matter. I really feel this classroom will revolutionize the way we teach.”

Scheduled speakers for the Feb. 12 open house program, which will begin at 2 p.m., include President Peters, Kendall Thu and Cherilyn Murer, along with NIU Provost Raymond Alden and elected officials.

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Media Contact: Paul Palian, NIU Media & Public Relations
Phone: 815-753-1681
Email: ppalain@niu.edu