The ghost in the radiator

Scenes from an outdated classroom that's a part of the Flip this classroom initiative.

And other tales from K-State’s forgotten classrooms

It was a dark and stormy day in Manhattan. Students filed into the Eisenhower Hall classroom, shaking rain from their umbrellas.

At the front of the class stood German professor Necia Chronister, trying in vain to erase decades of chalk residue from the blackboard. A few sneezes erupted from the first row.

“Good enough,” she said. “Let’s get started.”

As she began the day’s lecture on novelist Thomas Mann, several students put jackets back on to fight the chill.

Chronister had just hit a groove in her lesson on Dr. Faustus when suddenly a sharp banging sound made everyone jump. Exclamations rippled through the classroom, followed by chuckles from the upper-division students. “It’s OK, everyone,” Chronister assured them. “It’s just the radiator ghost stopping by for another visit.”

Learning at large

Beyond the occasional radiator ghost, K-State students and faculty are haunted by classrooms that are long overdue for the updates needed to propel them into the present.

Flip This Classroom is an initiative to raise $7 million for improvements to 67 of K-State’s most-used classrooms. It supports the university’s strategic plan, which accentuates continued efforts to recruit and retain both students and faculty.

K-State 105, the strategic plan’s pledge to deliver university knowledge and innovation to all 105 Kansas counties, is also driving the renovations. Classrooms must be capable of educating on campus and beyond.

“Our goal is to engage with research and extension partners across the state,” said Heather Mills, director of space management for K-State’s Division of Facilities. “This will involve changes in our approach to classroom technology and functionality, to allow better connection and collaboration.”

Flip This Classroom ultimately will improve both teaching and learning at K-State. Banishing the Eisenhower radiator ghost via HVAC updates is just a bonus.

Clearing the cobwebs

For Chronister, summertime heat is the biggest challenge in the 70-year-old building.

“My lesson plans include strategies for balancing instruction and group work in a way that allows me to turn the window-unit air conditioner off when I’m speaking, yet leave it on as much as possible,” Chronister said. “It’s still difficult for students to hear each other in their groups, and they deserve a learning environment that allows them to focus on the learning material — not on the AC.”

On the northern edge of the Manhattan campus, Throckmorton Hall — built in 1981 — is newer than some buildings. But time moves on, and while some of its classrooms have received the 21st century overhaul, others are still waiting.

“Upgraded rooms allow us to do a better job of in-class teaching, as well as meeting needs of remote learners,” said Anita Dille, professor of weed ecology and assistant head of teaching in the agronomy department. “We can offer a class online, record and export lectures for a hybrid option and try different teaching methods like surveying students on their phones.”

What else matters to today’s students? Dille emphasizes that today’s students require and expect outlets for laptops and other devices, and adds that a strong Wi-Fi signal is a detail that can’t be overlooked. But aesthetics play a role too — especially in student recruitment.

“In my role as assistant head of teaching, I give prospective students a tour of our building,” she said. “We highlight our updated classrooms, which are brighter and dust-free, but the tour also includes a larger lecture space that’s dated with worn-out carpet and a mix of gray and orange seats.” During a tour of this rust-colored classroom in 2023, members of the KSU Foundation Board of Trustees couldn’t help but cringe. Their Trustee Excellence Fund helps provide seed money for the classroom initiative.

Who you gonna call?

K-State has seen the addition of many modern, state-of-the-art -facilities over time, but the great thing about Flip This Classroom is that improvements will be focused on multiuse spaces that host a slew of students each day from many majors.

There’s a happy ending to this story — one in which students can focus on the first-class instruction taking place instead of the ghosts of classrooms past.

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