3.829 designing a lab, cont. (57)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 5 Dec 89 20:02:39 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 829. Tuesday, 5 Dec 1989.

Date: Tuesday, 5 December 1989 8:36am CST
Subject: 3.824 design of a computing lab (John Slatin)

A few more thoughts on the design of a computer lab/classroom facility.

First, I agree with David Bantz that you're better off *not* getting a
dot matrix printer for each workstation (we have such a setup right now,
and it's deafening and distracting). Second, Roy Flannagan's absolutely
right about the importance of decent light and decent seating (again, I
know because we have neither). But I think you want to be careful about
orienting all the workstations so that they're all facing the lectern
and the large viewing screen. Our classroom is set up at the moment to
resemble a conventional classroom (rows of PCs all aimed toward the
front of the room where the old greenboard lives on in dusty
obliviousness)-- but that's not in fact how the *classes* work at all:
text-sharing over the network, which is the bulk of what we do, has
nothing to do with the physical layout. Similarly, the politics of the
networked classroom are, in our experience, very different from the
politics supported by the traditional classroom design. The traditional
classroom is designed to enforce the authority of the instructor as he
(and I say "he" deliberately) presents his scholarly knowledge to a
relatively passive audience of students who write it down and,
occasionally, offer a comment or raise a question (both directed to the
instructor). But a network-based classroom with a "live" messaging
system and full text-sharing capabilities can be designed to enhance the
authority of everyone participating (including the instructor, whose
intellectual and social authority may well be heightened as the result
of increased engagement with a greater number of participating
students). Perhaps, then, the design of the physical space ought to
reflect that. We're about to experiment with new designs for the new
semester, and right now we're leaning toward putting all the
workstations around the perimeter of the room, with a big seminar table
in the center that can be used for face-to-face discussions when those
seem desirable (that's something we can't really accommodate well now);
we'll also have a Datashow handy so people (students and instructors
alike) can demonstrate things to the group as a whole.

I notice I'm assuming a network; I think it'd be foolish *not* to
install one.

Finally, are you designing a lab or a classroom? My remarks assume a
classroom, but they may also apply to a lab.

John Slatin
Computer Research Lab
Dept. of English
University of Texas at Austin