Wireless Integration: A New Kind of Computer Lab

The second renovation that affected the planning and implementation of the Hybrid Lab was the construction in the same building of the "UCR Collaboratory," a graduate statistics lab that is a cooperative effort among several of the schools at UCR. It was apparent that plans for this high-end graduate-computing lab would profoundly impact the basic infrastructure of the Sproul Hall (power, air conditioning, and wired network). We participated in the Collaboratory Advisory Committee to develop concurrent and complementary plans, and to collectively engage the administration in budget discussions about infrastructure in Sproul Hall.

Since the GS'E built their first formal instructional computer lab in 1995, many lessons have been learned about delivering content in a computer lab. At several points during the planning process for the new Hybrid Lab, faculty was consulted about effective teaching strategies in such spaces, and we developed a "faculty wish list" of desirable features.

The Need and Purpose
In the past several years, the GS'E has acquired several "mobile labs," collections of laptops used for instruction and data collection at various locations. These mobile labs include: (1) the iBook Cart, a set of 14 iBook laptops and Airport located on a cart, (2) Title VII Dell Laptops, a set of ten maintained for use in Bilingual Teaching seminars and for bilingual education research, and (3) Classroom Technology Kits, mobile kits used by student teachers in their K-12 classrooms and for collecting and creating artifacts used for their electronic portfolios. There are also several student teachers and GS'E graduate students using their own personal "guest" laptops on campus on a regular basis. It is a significant challenge to set up mobile labs when power and network are required, as in multimedia work—particularly in older buildings where these are sparse commodities at best. There was a clear need for a location for collaborative work on laptops where power, network, printing, and a projector could be made easily available.

Various programs have technology requirements that draw on the Hybrid Lab. GS'E has entered into agreements to deliver graduate course content to other university campuses using video conferencing as part of a joint doctoral program. The integration of elements to support video conferencing (i.e., light and sound control, flexible seating, and good sight lines for displays and camera) was an important outcome of the planning of the Hybrid Lab and also important in long-range inter-campus collaborations.

The GS'E is also in its third year of using electronic portfolios in its Teaching Credential program, and creating ePortfolios is now the culmination of the 3-quarter credential technology course. ePortfolios, as practiced at UCR, are media-rich collections of teaching artifacts for evaluation and career development. The intensive activity involved in their development, which includes digital video, has outpaced the capacity of the original computer lab, which was designed primarily for instruction in statistics. A space accommodating greater computing capacity, various pieces of equipment, and higher levels of noise was required.

Design Specifications
The room design process for the Hybrid Lab spanned for several months. Several consultations with Computing and Communication administrators, the campus architect, and representatives of Academic Planning and Budget served to translate the articulated needs into specific features. Many iterations of a basic design followed, and the one chosen offered the most flexibility in meeting the purposes of the space.

Computer tables around the walls of the room would be home to the standard desktop computers. Corner units were essential to this plan, creating "collaboration clusters" anchored by desktops in each corner. The center of the room was planned to have four tables, for various groupings that would accommodate laptop users. These could be moved around the room toward the corners for small groups or to the center for video conferences. Power and network connections were placed together on the floor for use by laptops, but also along the walls and in the ceiling for projection.

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