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Collaboration | Feature

A Tech Sandbox for Collaborative Learning

This story appears in the May 2013 digital edition of Campus Technology.

A time-lapse video shows the transformation of an old computer lab into the CIS Sandbox.

The Computer Information Systems department at Bentley University (MA) transformed an old computer lab into a collaborative learning space known as the CIS Learning and Technology Sandbox. Matt Somma, a senior at Bentley and tutor in the Sandbox, explains the rationale behind the transformation.

As society becomes more heavily tech-oriented, Bentley's CIS department recognized the need for a welcoming venue where students could learn about--and experiment with--technology. The CIS Sandbox fulfills that need. Today, the Sandbox not only tutors students in CIS and IT courses, but also introduces students to tech tools they will need in their lives and careers.

An old computer lab was selected to house the new space. Out went the old equipment and in came brighter lights, new cabinets, collaboration workstations for group projects, networking equipment, projectors, a brighter paint job, and--last but not least--a set of comfy chairs.

As for technology, the Sandbox features touchscreen Windows 8 machines, an Xbox Kinect, a Smart Board, three Google TVs, and much more. Although we redid the entire room, it would have been possible to make significant alterations on a smaller budget, too. Simply rearranging the tables and chairs can do wonders to make a room more comfortable for learning.

A time-lapse video shows how the CIS Sandbox is used during the course of a day.

Creating an innovative tech space is no guarantee of success, however. You also need to change the culture. That's what professor Mark Frydenberg set out to do when he took control of the CIS Tutoring Lab in 2010. His remit to us tutors was simple: Ask ourselves what students need and how we could fill that need. Our role was no longer just to tutor students and help with their assignments. Instead, we were to help them truly understand what they were doing and to provide learning opportunities outside the classroom.

The third change involved developing an online presence. Today, we are equipped with a social media tool belt including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Ustream. In addition, we have built a WordPress blog that posts automatically to these social outlets. All content is entirely student created, and we add posts every week about new technologies and what students are learning.

Our final innovation was using the Sandbox to host events, with a view to attracting students even when they didn't have questions for a class. In the fall semester alone, we staged several career events involving companies ranging from Vistaprint to Microsoft.

So how have we done? Because students have to swipe their ID cards and fill out a form after each tutoring session, we have benchmarked data going back two years. In that period, the Sandbox has seen exponential increases in student attendance and engagement across all classes.

About the Author

Matt Somma is a senior at Bentley University.

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