Last week I accepted an invitation from Professor Mark Frydenberg of Bentley University to attend the open house for their new CIS Learning and Technology Sandbox. I’d been invited before but once I posted about perfect computer labs last week it seemed like this was an invitation I should really accept. So I took a drive down to Waltham and the beautiful Bentley campus. I’m glad I did as the CIS Sandbox is a very nice facility. It comes equipped with the latest hardware and software as you’d expect. There is an Xbox and a Kinect and there are systems running Windows 8 Developer Preview for example. But the layout and supporting setup really make it different from most computer labs I have visited. It is really set up for tutoring (a principle goal of Sandbox from what I can see) as well as team projects and exploring new technologies.
Here you can see one of several workspaces. The table comfortably sits at least five people for team projects or one to one tutoring. The large screen monitor can be connected to student laptops via an easily accessible VGA cable. There are plugs for both power and wired Internet in the center of the table. There are several of these workspaces in the Sandbox. Oh and the chairs are comfortable as well. People may discount that but I have found that a confortable chair is a big plus for a serious work session. It just removes a needless distraction of uncomfortable chairs. On the Sandbox website there is a list of staff and the courses they are prepared to tutor in. This is pretty exciting as it really makes it easy for students to get help with their classes. I think this (the facility and the tutorial set up) shows a real commitment by the university to help their students succeed. That is something I think one really wants in a good university.
Also in the room is a casual area with decidedly un-office like seating, a very large screen and an attached Xbox 360. This is not a goof off area though I can imagine some people taking a “study break” here. In this picture students are demonstrating an Xbox game that they wrote themselves. Last month Microsoft ran an XNA workshop for students and several of them are working on interesting games. The book shelves on the left of the picture have reference materials on them BTW. So if you want to study from you textbook comfortably and have additional resources – including well you know actual people – around this is a great place for it.
Of course there is a ceiling mounted projector with a large section of wall to project onto. Here you see students trying out one of the demo programs that comes with the Kinect for Windows SDK. There is also a smart board in the room. In fact pretty much everything you’d want. Bring your own laptop or use one of the desktop systems there if you want to. The desktops in the Sandbox are running a mix of Windows 7, some flavor of Linux, and (when I was there ) two systems running Widows 8 Developer Preview. One of the Windows 8 systems has a touch screen which means one can really try out the new user interface easily. All in all a good place to try out new technology. A place to explore and try new things is a huge plus. Especially where there is a staff of helpful and qualified people to help you out.
Is this the future of student learning spaces? Well perhaps for some. For now it is the present at Bentley and I suspect they will keep moving forward.