A New Approach to Collaborative Learning

Article excerpt

Here's a solution to structuring a campus computer center that helps prepare students for life on the outside --- and possibly serves as a revenue generator for universities when leased as a "Smart Room" to external organizations for training, planning, demonstration and development sessions.

Much has been written about the utility of computer labs in an educational environment. While no one argues the importance of computer literacy, more discussion is required on how to prepare students to be skilled and literate users of the technologies they will find in the new workplace.

According to the International Facility Managers Association (IFMA), the need to redesign office space to accommodate team environments is the most common alternative work strategy. Spaces that cannot accommodate new technologies and multiple uses run the risk of rapid obsolescence.

This commentary suggests a change from the "Dilbertesque" cubicle and water-cooler chitchat to a more flexible, open workplace supporting the team environment, whether it be for collaborative training sessions through lecture and hands-on breakout, or group problem solving.

It is clear that educational institutions intent on preparing students to function in the post-graduate world should set an objective to structure facilities and curricula mirroring the realities of this world. It is a world where employee empowerment and the teamwork approach to analysis, innovation and problem solving are making the "fixed office" an endangered species. It is a world where people gather, plug in, boot up and collaborate. Today, the desktop is in the laptop and the meeting room can be anywhere.

Creating the new workplace presents challenges to university administrators and corporate planners. It requires re-engineering the way we access information and interact with each other.

Fortunately, solutions are becoming available to help achieve this objective. The solutions resolve what until now have been two seemingly incompatible issues -- connectivity and flexibility.

The Cable Management Roadblock

The connectivity issue has plagued both institution and industry. Tom Buchsbaum of Dell Computer Corp. alluded to it in the February 1999 issue of T.H.E. Journal by noting "schools must make sure their network and support infrastructure can handle the influx of technology. Routers, hubs, servers and wiring may need upgrading..."

Easily said, but until now it has been difficult to achieve, both on the university campus and corporate campus. The problem is expressed as a cable management roadblock that thwarts users' abilities to maximize connectivity on an ad-hoc basis. Fixed network wiring impedes task mobility and the ability of work teams to gather on short notice, plug in and interact not only with each other but also with campus-wide and external Internet resources.

One common solution --using raised access flooring or the space above ceiling tiles as a repository for what rapidly becomes a wire maze -- is no longer viable. Not only does it become unmanageable, but moves, adds and changes, when attempted, become very costly. R. Jane Livingston of ADC Telecommunications' Broadband Connectivity Group says that over the lifetime of a structured cabling system, the greatest ongoing cost is associated with moves, adds and changes. Indeed, one estimate suggests that the cost to add a single cable drop can be $200 or more. This can be discouraging to institutions where programs to upgrade are hamstrung by budget constraints.

The Connect Center Concept: A "Smart Room"

Technology advances even in the most mundane areas of cable management. …