Residence hall students are now provided with computers
Penn State Altoona embarked on a pioneering technical journey in the summer of 1998 with a project involving the installation of personal computers in 464 residence hall rooms at the college. The main impetus for the project was to ease overcrowding in the open computer labs at the college. At the time of the project, FTE enrollment at the college was 3,500. The main computer lab contained 155 computers, making a ratio of one computer for every twenty-three students. The addition of a second lab containing thirty units, a third lab with twenty-two units to serve the needs of engineering students, and fifteen units in the library helped ease the overcrowding only minimally. Even extending the operating hours of the open labs did not seem to have much of an impact. The group most severely impacted by overcrowding was commuter students and most especially adult students who had limited time to be on campus.
The pilot project, which began in the fall of 1997 and ran through the academic year, involved placing thirty PC's in the rooms of sixty selected residence hall students (one PC per two-student room). These students were selected by their academic status and/or positions of college leadership, e.g., Student Government President. The computers selected were manufactured by MicroTech Computers, a small company in Lawrence, Kansas. MicroTech was chosen because they had already provided 1,500 units to Northwest Missouri State University, the only other university identified that had provided students not only access but also hardware and software. At the end of the pilot project a decision was made to go ahead with full implementation in all residence halls since there were only a few minor problems encountered with the pilot project, such as one broken monitor and one instance of a student loading another operating system on the computer.
The model for this project was Northwest Missouri State University, a university of 6,200 students. Although NMSU served as a model and a benchmark, there were also many dissimilar points between that university and the Penn State system. The fact that NMSU was a single campus university with centralized resources was the biggest difference.
The heart of the entire Penn State Altoona project is the concept of a removable hard drive. During three separate trips to NMSU, teams from Penn State Altoona took detailed notes as to how NMSU set up their system, implemented the project, maintained the system, and resolved common and ongoing problems.
By creating a hard drive that contains all necessary software, such as an operating system and general academic programs for e-mail, word processing, and internet access, most technical problems, whether software or hardware, can be resolved by the quick replacement of a standard hard drive. A supply of hard drives with a standard load set is kept as the first line of technical repair when a problem is reported by residence hall students.
The down side of this concept is that students cannot keep any files on the hard drive and are warned that they will lose any data stored there once the hard drive is replaced.
Although NMSU served as a model and a benchmark, there were also many dissimilar points between that university and the Penn State system. One important point was that Penn State Altoona did not use MicroTech as the vendor for the project but instead selected IBM. In a project of this size there are literally hundreds of details that need to be controlled and organized for a specific site and the cooperation of all college departments at Penn State Altoona was crucial to the success of the project. Oversight of even one seemingly unimportant detail had the potential to derail the entire project.
Without explaining all of these, examples of detail work would include the disposal of hundreds of cardboard boxes and packing material. Each PC arrived in two large cardboard boxes that contained foam packing and plastic wrap. Dumpsters had to be rented to dispose of the packing material. The dumpsters had to be emptied frequently just to keep up with the volume of disposed material. The cardboard was recycled and the other material disposed. The cost for trash removal was not a consideration in the budgeting for the project and had to be funded from other sources.
In addition there was no space on campus to house a delivery of
464 computers at one time so a "kanban" or just-in-time delivery system had
to be developed so that the volume of delivered material never
overwhelmed the staging area where computers were being assembled and tested. In
the staging area, an area of 20x30 feet, computers were unboxed and set up
on rows of cafeteria tables. A staff of workers day in and day out
assembled the computers and installed necessary boards and the
all-important removable hard drive carrier. To
assure that all PCs were done in exactly the same manner, a checklist
was developed so that no PC left the staging area with a board or other component missing. Then each PC
was tested to assure that it would boot when installed in the residence
|Shown is a residence hall room with a typical computer system setup.|
Other details that needed to be handled included the establishment
of a budget for the project, the procedure of reviewing proposals, orientation
and training of the residence hall students, and establishing policies
and procedures for the project and its ongoing success. More
information about the project and further explanation about details
and procedures, and importantly, how the project is doing after several months
in operation, can be obtained by contacting Tim Wherry
at email@example.com. Overall, the project has been a big success thanks to
planning and the cooperation of all departments at the college. And it might be
added that the project came in on budget and on time. Not a small
accomplishment for the largest technical project
ever attempted at the college.