ASU launches new, high-tech learning environment for life science students

January 10, 2013

As Arizona State University’s spring semester begins, students studying life sciences will learn about subjects such as evolution, neurobiology, and genetics in a new, high-tech classroom designed to promote “active learning.”

Rather than listening passively to a lecture in an auditorium, students will work in small groups on “student-centered” learning exercises – facilitated by faculty and teaching assistants who are trained in active learning teaching methods. Research shows this highly structured approach enhances long-term conceptual learning and student success. In addition, by being actively engaged with course content, peers, and instructors, students recognize that learning is their responsibility. New Active Learning Classroom Download Full Image

“There’s a national movement – a critical mass moving away from the lecturing style where we know students really only retain five to 10 percent of the material, to a more student-centered approach,” says Miles Orchinik, associate director for ASU’s School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “On a large scale, research has shown great student success when traditional lecture classrooms are transformed into something like this. Instead of being a passive recipient of the information, students actually have to actively engage with the science concepts we are teaching.”

The School of Life Sciences’ new Active Learning Classroom holds 96 students grouped into tables of six. As the first of its kind in the school, one 23-inch touchscreen computer is available for every two students. Students can share information among groups or across the classroom through four projectors that display their work onto large screens. In addition, white boards help create an environment conducive to sharing information in real time.

“With this technology, we can nurture skills required by most employers today – skills, that traditional lecture halls simply don’t have the capacity to build,” shares Bina Vanmali, an instructional professional and biology education researcher in the school. “This innovative classroom helps students learn teamwork, collaboration and communication, and ultimately, will help them when they land their first jobs out of college.”

Since the fall, teaching professionals have trained faculty and graduate students how to work effectively in the active learning environment. Vanmali worked with faculty to modify lessons, labs and activities and Kathy Hill, an ASU doctoral student in education, trained graduate students in scientific teaching methods.

“Students learn more when they wrestle with the material, ask questions, talk with their peers and answer those questions,” explains Vanmali. “Rather than having a professor at a podium in the front of the classroom giving a lecture, the professor actually moves around and works directly with the students – one on one. There is no front to this classroom by design. Our faculty will be able to relax more and get the students more involved in the learning process.”

Christopher Dimond, an ASU life sciences graduate student who has both taken Hill’s class and taught in the Active Learning Classroom, says he believes more classrooms should be modeled after this one.

“With small group activities, everyone is engaged in the process,” shares Dimond. “It’s easy to hide in a classroom of 300 students. It’s harder to hide in a class of 25, and nearly impossible to hide in a group of three, four or six students. Learning by doing is really important.”

Leading classroom trends

Planning for the new classroom began last February and crews completed construction in August of 2012. The technology installation was finished two months later. The room cost approximately $625,000 to build – paid for by a combination of funds from the School of Life Sciences and student program fees.

Previously, the room was used as a lichen herbarium – storing a large research collection that is currently being moved off-campus.

“This renovation was not done on a whim,” adds Orchinik. “We are using current data that shows how students learn, how to teach most effectively, and how to reach into student learning patterns. In order to make life scientists and scientifically literate citizens for the next century, we must teach students how to think critically about information that is already out there.”

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing, School of Life Sciences


ASU employees' Jan. 11 pay stubs reflect 2013 tax changes

January 10, 2013

Legislation recently was signed into law that continues many of the tax provisions that were in effect during calendar year 2012. However, since no action was taken to continue the temporary reduction in the employee's portion of the Social Security (FICA) tax, this rate reverts to 6.2% for calendar year 2013. This is a 2% increase from the temporary rate of 4.2% which was in effect for calendar years 2011 and 2012.

The increase in the employee’s FICA rates will be effective for the Jan. 11, 2013 paychecks and will result in a reduction in net pay for most employees. Download Full Image

Other calendar year 2013 payroll-related tax provisions in this legislation include:

• The same personal income tax withholding rate will be used for most employees as was used in calendar 2012.

• A new income tax withholding rate of 39.6% was established for the highest withholding level. Adjusted gross income thresholds for the new rate are $400,000 for single filers, $425,000 for head-of household filers, and $450,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

• Graduate level tuition waivers used by employees are not subject to tax withholding up to $5,250. This continues the exemption that was in place for prior years. Graduate waivers in excess of $5,250 used by the employee (where the employee is the student) will be taxed, as well as the total value of graduate waivers used by the employee’s spouse or dependent(s). There is no change in this treatment from prior years. ASU employees with graduate waivers subject to tax will be notified through their ASU email account about the timing of the tax withholding.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Employee Service Center: 855.278.5081 or

Wendy Craft

Marketing and communications manager, Business and Finance Communications Group