Farewell to Old Science Hall

Today is the last official day that the Office of Digital Learning has space in Old Science Hall. Furniture and boxes were loaded up this morning.

One of my favorite campus stories at OU is how Old Science Hall got its name. Science Hall, built in 1893, was the very first building on campus, but it burned down on January 6, 1903. So in 1904, they built New Science Hall. I cannot find any information on when they decided to replace “New” with “Old” but I have always imagined it to just be informally done. So, no, it has nothing to do with “Old Science” versus “New Science.” It just that it wasn’t, then it was, then it was built, and now it’s old.

This blog is old enough now for this to be the second time that I have eulogized an office move. I wrote in January 2015 about us moving to Old Science Hall from Copeland Hall. Then, I talked about how Copeland had a personal significance as the original home of the HH Hebert School of Journalism and the continued location of OU Student Media, where I had spent much of my time as an undergrad.

Old Science Hall has significance for many other reasons. When we moved in to the building, we were still the Digital Learning Team (not quite yet an Office) and part of the Center for Teaching Excellence. At the time, the team had five full time employees. Today, the Office has 25 full time employees and two student employees. Three of the original five are still working together: myself, Angie Calton, and John Stewart. Some resources transitioned over from CTE as well including Biff Farrell and the CTE video studio on the OU Research Campus and Keegan Long-Wheeler, who shifted over from CTE to an ODL ed-tech role in 2018. Most recently, we’ve had some outstanding folks from the College of Professional and Continuing Studies join us due to centralization efforts.

Members of the ODL team in April 2022 at the annual OU Red/White Game

In some sense, the move unofficially marks the start of another era of ODL. First and foremost, it allows us to co-locate the team that has been distributed across campus for the past eight months. We’ll also be moving into 3 Partners Place, which means ODL and the ODL Video Studio are only separated by a parking lot.

It also a bit of a personal coming home party. Ironically, I was working in 3 Partners Place up until I got the position in the Center for Teaching Excellence. I occupied three separate spaces on the first floor of the building. Interestingly, not a one of those areas exist anymore as they have been converted into spaces for the Innovation Hub, the Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, and a Fabrication Lab. The building has a ton more amenities than it did back in 2013, which I’m excited for, including co-working space, a small cafe, and a 24-hour gym. As much as I’m excited for our little space on the second floor, I’m equally as excited for the community that exists.

An early morning in Old Science Hall (2015)

I’ll also miss Old Science Hall. When we were told we were moving there, I assumed working in the building was going to be very different than it actually was. There is a stereotype that the South Oval, which includes Copeland Hall, was the vibrant area of campus because most student classes took classes on the South Oval, and that the North Oval, which includes Old Science Hall, was more administrative.

But then I found out the School of Drama and Film and Media Studies was also in our building.

It was quite normal to walk past two students rehearsing an argument in the hallway and hearing Jaws in 5.1 Dolby surround sound coming from the room above us on the same day. For the first time, I got to spend time around more Fine Arts students which was quite fun and entertaining.

I also was eye witness to a lot of what was happening on the North Oval. For a few years, my window looked directly at the President’s parking spot, so I would see him walk in every morning. I was pretty proud of a joke one day when I asked him if he had a permit for the spot (his response was a laugh and the answer is no).

Because the Oval is dotted by Evans Hall, the main administration building which houses the Office of the President, I saw first hand many marches and demonstrations from my office window. I’ll never forget looking out my window and seeing the Oval completely occupied with news vans in March of 2015 after OU had made national news when fraternity members were filmed performing a racist chant.

Looking out the window at the crowd that gathered at the steps of Evans Hall the morning following the release of the SAE chant video

Or in February 2020 when students staged a sit-in and went on a hunger strike for three days in Evans Hall shortly following an incident where racial slurs had been used by faculty during class.

One other memorable moment was witnessing Jim Gallogly packing up his office. He had briefly served as President from July 2018 to May 2019. Gallogly notified campus of his resignation on a Sunday evening and I saw him with a file box walking to his car when I arrived at my office Monday morning. I remember his collar being loosened and him having a faint smile as he walked towards his car.

That summer, we were relocated from the second floor to the third floor. We only occupied it only shortly before we collectively went to lockdown. We had only been in the space nine months and then spent the next 16 months at home. I would venture to the office occasionally, mostly to retrieve a book or two, and it was a bizarre sight. The office felt frozen in time as whiteboard were covered with important dates from terms that had come and gone. The only sign of life, or lack thereof it, was the fact that all of the office plants had died.

But there are so many fond memories there. It is in that building that the Office of Digital Learning ultimately came to be, and where I, myself, cut my teeth on being a leader. In the early days, we did our best to try to instill a cultural of playfulness and exploration by purchasing a handful of tech items that were popular during the Makerspace boom. This included Legos, a Raspberry Pi, and a Makey Makey.

Anoop and Angie playing games on the Makey Makey in 2015

Those early days helped inform the ethos of the Office that still exists today even as we have formalized and operationalized much of what we do and our focus has shifted more towards online courses instead of academic innovation. Even still, the online courses that we design aim to balance structure with creativity. As I outlined in a blog post about our sample courses, what I love about our work is that all of the courses are uniquely designed by the faculty member and ODL. While we have templates, what we use them for is fairly open ended. Yes, this approach makes our jobs more complex, but the intention is to benefit the student by building courses that aim to prioritize meeting the outcomes and objectives over uniformity.

I have more to say about growth, but I think I’m going to leave that for a separate post since I’ve got a bit of unpacking to do.