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Study group formed to determine future of PSU computer labs

Earlier this year, the Academic Computer Lab Study Group (ACLSG)  was created to review the existing computer laboratories’ scope and use and make recommendations for the future of computer labs on campus. 

Angela Neria, chief information officer of Information Technology Services, serves as chair of the study group.  

“Due to growing funding pressures, increasing numbers of students bringing their own devices to campus, and rapidly emerging information technology options … the study group is charged with the mission of researching current lab use,” Neria said. “… An anticipated outcome of this work is a significant reduction in the number and scope of these labs.” 

Members of the ACLSG team are looking into multiple components as part of their research, including what may be the appropriate number of labs, the best way to distribute university owned software to individuals on campus, and more efficient utilization of computer lab services.  

“The key goal of this group is to identify how labs are being used on this campus and if underutilization is taking place,” Gena Coomes, nursing instructor at PSU and ACLSG committee member, said.  

The study group began its work in September and is evaluating all university computer labs. Results from the study are expected after the close of the spring 2019 semester.  

The committee has taken a three-pronged approach to the research. Firstly, they have conducted a survey on the future of computer labs by asking each individual who directs a computer lab to complete a survey sharing information about their future plans for each lab in their respective area. The survey also asked if any of their respective areas would be willing to reduce or eliminate a lab. 

“We did have some willing hearts that had already seen a reduction in use in labs because students are using their own machines,” Coomes said. “They felt that the savings from unused computers in computer labs could be used more effectively in different ways.” 

Secondly, a lab monitoring software (LabStats) has been installed on each Windows and Macintosh lab computer. The software helps the committee understand the use level of each lab, the days and times computers are utilized, software used on campus, and more. 

David Nance, library systems manager, said that although the software will monitor what applications are being used on the computer, it will not be able to specifically see what the user is accessing on the applications. 

“We know how long people log into the machines, the applications they use, but we don’t monitor web traffic or anything like that, there’s no real monitoring of usage or anything like that,” Nance said. “Just like ‘they were using Chrome, or Internet Explorer, or launched Adobe creative cloud,’ or something like that.” 

The third step is distributing lab owner surveys. A survey was sent to each campus lab owner requesting information beyond what LabStats may be able to tell the committee. They are looking for information such as specialized software and specialized peripherals connected to computers.  

The ACLSG also recognizes that not all students are able to afford to purchase a laptop or other electronic devices and may depend on the campus computer labs. 

“Certainly, we recognize that not all students can afford to purchase a laptop for college nor have access to one at home, so we are exploring ways to support those students,” John Thompson, associate professor and chair in automotive technology, said. “We do not want a lack of technology to be a barrier for our current or future students.”  

The committee is also researching the possibility of checkout machines for students that may need a certain type of machine to perform coursework on. Checkout machines could give students more flexibility within a PSU facility to work on the machine. 

“PSU is already a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) campus and has been for eight plus years with the setup and configuration of Gus net allowing  anyone who is on our campus, student or not, to access the PSU wireless network with their personal device,” Coomes said.  

Once the committee submits their findings at the end of the study, initial recommendations will be made to the Provost Leadership Council for comment and consideration. Next, a final set of recommendations will made to the President’s Council. Campus academic areas will also be involved in the specifics based on student and program needs.  

“To date, we have had 26 points of communication with campus constituents regarding the committee’s work,” Neria said.  

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