Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Alternative Approaches to Configuring Computing Labs

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Alternative Approaches to Configuring Computing Labs

Article excerpt

Introduction

Within a matter of a few decades the computing function within the business, as well as non-business, environment has evolved from a support function to an essential function. One would be hard pressed to name an industry that does not rely on computer systems to support its operations and decision-making. This reliance has resulted in increased demand for personnel with computer science and management information systems backgrounds. While large colleges and universities already have had such programs in place for quite some time, many small U.S. and international colleges and universities are just undertaking such endeavors. Introducing such programs mandates that the institutions must put in place the necessary computing labs to support the programs being introduced. However, in creating such labs, the institutions usually encounter significant obstacles, such as budgetary constraints, lack of physical space to house the labs, conflicting needs of different courses, and rapid obsolescence of technology (Andleman et al., 2003; Belles & Miller, 2002; Dubose, 2000; Jones, 2000; Kumar, 2003; Lovgren, 2000; Walter, 1993; Wilson, 2002). The Management Information Systems (MIS) program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) faced the same daunting challenges when the program was introduced in late 90s. This paper presents the alternate computing lab configurations that were evolved to provide a cost-effective, flexible and versatile lab support for the MIS program within budgetary and space constraints.

Computing Lab Support Challenges to UHCL/MIS Program

University of Houston Clear Lake (UHCL) comprises four schools and offers graduate and undergraduate programs to more than 7000 students. The School of Business is the largest school in the university and includes a management information systems program, introduced in the mid 90s, as a major discipline.

Since its inception, one of the challenges the UHCL/MIS department has been coping with is the lack of adequate dedicated computing labs. The problem resulted from budgetary constraints and lack of sufficient physical space to house the computing labs. A new building that is currently under construction will alleviate this problem and house four computing labs to support the MIS program. In the meantime, however, the MIS faculty and university computing personnel have had to devise some pragmatic solutions to provide computing lab support to the program in limited space and within budgetary constraints.

The following section presents the three primary categories of graduate MIS courses at UHCL and describes the computing resources required by each category for the students to complete course assignments, exercises, projects, etc. These computing requirements provided the catalyst for different lab configurations.

MIS Course Categories and their Computing Requirements

The UHCL/MIS graduate courses can be grouped into the following three broad categories: (1) general computing courses, (2) advanced computing courses, and (3) special projects.

General Computing Courses

This category is comprised of courses that introduce students to a specific skill, technology or subject area. Typically, these courses don't have a pre-requisite in the same skill, technology or subject area; however, by themselves, directly or indirectly, they form pre-requisites to one or more courses. This category includes courses such as Introduction to Management Information Systems, Introduction to Computer Networks, Fundamentals of Database Design and Development, and Introduction to Business Applications Programming.

Advanced Computing Courses

The courses in this category include System Administration, Network Security, Advanced Database Applications, Database Administration, Advanced Business Applications Programming, and E-Commerce Applications. One of the distinguishing characteristics of these courses is that the students in these courses generally require administrative access and privileges on the workstations and servers to work on course assignments and projects. …

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