Of Kiosks and Campuses

Article excerpt

In this article we explore the educational significance of an application of information technology growing in popularity very rapidly: the information kiosk. By "kiosk" we mean a station or stand, usually in a public setting, where information is made available to anyone. Modern electronics have given kiosks new potential. They are being deployed in a wide range of settings, from tourist hotels in Europe to South Africa, where kiosks were used in the recent national election to inform voters in areas where the majority had little access to outside information.

Our approach discusses the general significance and impact of kiosks on campuses in the context of an account about the development of our own kiosk for the Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI (Indiana University, Purdue University at Indianapolis). In the process of planning and developing a kiosk, we have had to confront fundamental issues about the nature and role of information kiosks in educational settings.

* Unique Nature of Educational Kiosks

The first and most basic consideration we confronted was the most obvious: What should a kiosk do? We concluded that it should offer as much information as possible about the staff, faculty, programs and degrees of a school.

A kiosk for example, could provide a student with information about course requirements for a particular degree, when the courses are offered, and who will teach them. Course syllabi could give students an idea whether a particular course will meet their expectations and needs. With the multimedia capabilities of today's computers virtually any information - from photos of students, faculty and staff, to textual data about programs and degrees, to motion-video sequences with voice explanations - can can be presented by a kiosk.

A network of kiosks on campus can run as clients of a remote server, or even extend to off-campus sites such as shopping centers. With an Internet connection kiosks could be accessible to virtually any country in the world, although they are not typically given such a connection.

This was the range of possibilities con@ fronting us. Our decision was to develop our kiosk as a stand-alone unit. There are good reasons for networking kiosks, but for two individuals working on the project part-time, a stand-alone seemed ambitious enough!

We decided to organize and display the information about our school in nine categories, each with its own button on the opening screen. Five were grouped as "Resources" and included: Indiana Clearinghouse for Educational Technology, Computer Labs, Distance Learning Classrooms, Curriculum Resource Center and Professional Development Schools. The remaining four were: Degree Programs; Faculty, Staff and Administration; Education Offices and Facilities Map; and IUPUI Campus Map.

One constraint was the need to keep the number of options on the opening menu brief, so that the screen would not be confusing fusing or intimidating. Throughout the project we gave a high priority to the criterion that the user interface should not be intimidating or require any special expertise.

A basic characteristic of kiosks on campuses is that they are public in the sense that anyone seeking information should be able to access and use them. Several things follow from this criterion of public access. Above all a kiosk should be located where it is accessible for long and convenient hours. In our case the options were the "Commons," the open area common to all offices in the School office complex, or an entrance to the building itself. A location that affords public access raises security issues. Is it possible to make a kiosk both accessible to the public and secure from vandalism and theft? For outdoor kiosks, the need for protection from vandalism is even greater.

The ease-of-use criterion requires that a kiosk provide an intuitive and non-intimidating interface so that no one is excluded or discouraged by a lack of experience with electronic information retrieval. …