Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Redesigning Campus Computer Labs to Meet Students’ Needs

What is the function of the computer labs on your college campus? Do students still stop in to check their email or sit down to write a paper, or do most students have smartphones with email at their fingertips and carry their own notebook computer? Some campuses are phasing out computer labs, while others are rethinking the purpose of the labs and redesigning them with resources that better fit the current needs of students.

Ed Tech Magazine
currently features Temple University’s Sheri Stahler, associate vice president of computer services, and her experience redesigning a computer lab at Temple. According to Stahler, when colleges debate the future of computer labs, “the discussion should be less about phasing out labs and more about rethinking what labs could and should be in this era of wireless notebooks, smartphones, multimedia and collaborative technologies. IT leaders also need to examine why and how students choose to use computer labs over their own notebooks.”

At Temple, the cost for departments to run their own labs with specialized hardware and software became too great, and they couldn't afford to keep the labs open with long hours. “By consolidating into one large megalab, we were able to control costs and offer students what they needed, when they needed it,” Stahler wrote.

Temple’s CIO Timothy O'Rourke said, "We wanted a comfortable space where students would feel safe and could study alone or collaborate in groups. We wanted all the software they might use in their coursework to be available in a single, 24-hour facility."

Temple focused on creating a lab that offers the technologies needed in each major, as well as collaborative tools, a social environment, and more emphasis on student convenience and customer service. The lab they built features:
  • A mixture of Macs and PCs at 700 workstations
  • Breakout rooms where students practice presentations or share research
  • Recording booths where students work on audio projects
  • Wireless access, including wireless printers, for students who bring their own computer
  • Extra electrical outlets to charge portable devices
  • IPTV for students to watch television in the lab workstations

Temple’s flexible lab, called TECH Center (Technology, Education, Collaboration, and Help), has been successful because it meets the needs of students today. “Colleges have to offer a place that's as comfortable for the students who want to study alone or rest for an hour as it is for groups of students who want a place to work collaboratively,” Stahler said.

Instructors, has your campus redesigned computer labs to better meet students’ needs? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.

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