It is very active at this time of the semester in our Student Computing Labs. In each of the 13 labs located across campus, CAC consultants are stationed to answer users' questions about hardware and software. The Pollock Library location is even open 7 days a week and 24 hours per day.
The User Services Group of the CAC created the lab consultant position in the early 1990's. Previously, attendants were assigned to each lab simply to oversee the security and general upkeep of equipment. However, people who used the labs frequently asked questions the lab attendants had not been formally trained to answer. The need for specialized lab consultants became clear.
This year over 100 students, mainly sophomores and juniors, make up the staff you see in the 13 Student Computing labs which offer regular consulting hours.
Because the lab consultants are often the only contact a user may have with the Center for Academic Computing, the responsibilities of this position are not taken lightly. Applicants are hired based both on the extent of their technical experience and their ability to interact with people.
Consultants receive three days of training at the beginning of each semester. During training, Henry Moeller, the Lab Consultant Supervisor, and his colleagues review the software and hardware installed in the labs with the newly hired consultants. They detail preferred methods for assisting users, make known the best resources for references, and explain the CAC's expectations and policy.
Moeller advises consultants to treat the user as a customer. The lab consultant "should aim to help the user solve his/her problem, or be able to refer him/her to someone who can." But consultants are not simply placed in labs to solve problems. They are reminded to view every request for assistance as an opportunity to educate. Consultants are encouraged to leave the mouse in the hands of the user and to walk him or her through the steps of resolving the problem with verbal and visual cues. Senior consultants know from experience that most people want to solve problems for themselves and that when they teach the user how to solve his/her own problem, it's one less question for the consultant to answer the next time.
Consultants are prepared to answer questions about a myriad of computer-related subjects varying from access accounts to commands in a specific software package or on a specific platform (i.e. How do I set margins in Word? or How do I print on a Mac?).
There are, however, a few limits to the service they provide. Consultants cannot be expected to provide personal software instruction to a user, or obviously, to complete coursework for a student.
The CAC encourages all users to take advantage of the presence of consultants in the labs. Do not hesitate to ask the consultants for assistance; they are there to help you.
For more in-depth instruction on software, programming languages, and a wide range of computer-related topics, visit the Technology Training Group (see related article in this issue of the newsletter) available online at http://cac.psu.edu/training. This group is dedicated to providing high quality, convenient technology training through a variety of channels to Penn State faculty, staff and students in order to facilitate teaching, working, and learning effectiveness.
You may also visit the University Learning Center located in room 7 Sparks Building (For more information call 863-4392, e-mail email@example.com, or visit http://www.ulrc.psu.edu).
Please direct comments regarding lab consulting service to Henry Moeller, firstname.lastname@example.org.