|Technology à Go-Go
Penn State CAC and Architecture Students Get Technology Rolling
Al Williams, director of the Distributed Systems Group in Penn State's Center for Academic Computing (CAC) had a logistical puzzle to solve.
Penn State, like every large university, has a growing need for computing access, but limited space and resources. Williams and his group wanted to be able to deliver computer technology to classrooms upon demand. But, they wanted to do it without incurring the expense and inconvenience of the infrastructure usually required to support a computer lab.
Fortune was on Williams' side.
He had thirty Thinkpad 600Xs (plus a few spares) loaded with zippy 500 MHz Pentium III processors, 128 MB RAM, 12 GB hard drives and CD-ROMs coming to him from IBM. If he could just find a way to make the Thinkpads, extra batteries with chargers, and wireless base station mobile, he'd be well on his way to realizing the envisioned "Lab on Demand."
Still, getting the equipment on a roll was no small task. Williams however, found a creative solution to the problem by recruiting local talent. This past spring, the CAC sponsored a group of students in an Architecture 103 class to work with Williams to solve this and several other technology-related logistical dilemmas.
Realizing that they didn't have to reinvent the wheel, the architecture students ingeniously adapted a commercial steel pushcart on pneumatic tires to their purpose and the Technology Classroom in a Cart was born. Classroom in a Cart is a sleek-looking piece of equipment as avant-garde aesthetically as is the idea of a "Lab on Demand." It features holding slots for the Thinkpads and spares, batteries and chargers, and space designated for the wireless base station.
Though there are a few practical issues to resolvesecurity, power consumption of thirty battery chargers on the systembefore Classroom in a Cart becomes functional, the classrooms in the Thomas Building are ready to receive the portable lab. They were built for classes that use technology and are equipped with Ethernet ports at the rear and front of the rooms, which the CAC will be able to adapt for use with the cart.
When the machines are connected to the Penn State network, students and instructors will be required to log-on following normal Penn State procedure. The portable lab machines will make the standard Penn State lab software available including graphics and layout applications, Web browsers, FTP and e-mail clients, and the Microsoft Office software suite.
Penn State students and instructors won't have to wait too long to see the roving computing lab materialize from the transformed steel pushcart. The Technology Classroom in a Cart will begin making its rounds to bring portable computing access to enthusiastic classes in the Thomas Building beginning next fall.
Also see a related article, "Students Design Information Technology Architecture."