UT students and faculty who have classes in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building (HSS) may have noticed a few changes this semester. Most notably, the floor is gone in almost every classroom.
These changes are in preparation for the large-scale renovation HSS will be undergoing this summer. William Dunne, associate dean and professor of research technology in the College of Engineering, said these renovations are simply the next step in improving student learning at UT.
“We have seen an improvement in the caliber of the students at UT,” Dunne said. “We take that as a challenge to make students’ learning experiences better. The HSS renovations are a large part of that.”
 HSS, which was built in 1965, has been the source of a lot of student complaints over the past few years. UT has been making slow but steady improvements to relieve these concerns. In the summers of 2010 and 2011, the lighting and HVAC systems were replaced, resulting in more comfortable temperatures and added energy efficiency.
 “I had classes in HSS my freshman year,” Megan Lange, junior in English, said. “It was always either really hot or freezing cold. This made it a very distracting learning environment.”
With the HVAC systems now fixed, the Classroom Upgrade Committee, chaired by Dunne, can focus completely on the renovation of the entire building. For three years, the committee has been working on diversifying the style of learning through classroom style in HSS.
“Most of our classrooms now reflect a focus on lecture-style teaching,” Dunne said. “While this is still a valuable teaching method, we recognize it may not work best for every type of class UT offers. Our aim is to make those classrooms more accessible for learning.”
This accessibility comes in the form of flexible rolling chairs, mat-ceramic boards to take the place of white boards/chalkboards, and smartboards in smaller classrooms. These are all meant to enhance student-teacher interaction. Currently, a few classrooms in HSS are already using the colorful chairs, and Dunne said the feedback has been excellent.
“These chairs make it easy for teachers to construct their classrooms in different ways,” Dunne said. “Students can work in groups much more efficiently to maximize classroom space.”
 But these renovations extend beyond the classroom. Because of the age of the building, HSS does not strike students as a very lively learning environment.
“It kind of feels like an old high school,” undecided freshman Adam Young said. “I don’t really like to go there a lot.”
It is precisely this sentiment that Dunne wants to change.
 “We want students to spend time there, like they do in the library commons,” Dunne said. “University buildings should have multiple functions.”
Once the renovations are complete, HSS will have an Aramark food facility on the ground floor and a small common area on the first and second floors. The common areas will have seating, charging stations and printers. Outside seating will also be available on the ground floor.
Other changes include fresh paint for the entire inside of the building and modifying the hallways to include more seating for students waiting before class. The stairs will also be made more aesthetic and artwork will be added. Dunne hopes these renovations will not only better the atmosphere of HSS but also inspire other revamps around campus.
 “I hope students and faculty will like it and want it in their buildings,” Dunne said. “These types of renovation aren’t for every classroom on campus, but many smaller classes could definitely benefit.”
If the reaction is good, then the committee will be able to acquire funds more quickly and provide useful changes to other colleges at UT.
“I’m excited for these changes,” Lange said. “Now it will be more of a community learning environment instead of a falling-asleep-in-class kind of environment.”