Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ezones at University of Queensland

Ezones on Level 2 of the Biological Sciences Library Building, University of Queensland After visiting the Teaching and Educational Development Institute (TEDI), I dropped into the new eZones at the Biological Sciences Library Building, University of Queensland (UQ). eZones are UQ's term for a computer equipped area, usually in a library. Most of these are quiet individual study areas, but some in the new library are dual purpose teaching areas. These are in addition to other Collaborative Teaching and Learning Centre Rooms, at UQ.

What follows is a brief description of the computer and room setup of the UQ Biological Sciences Library building. It should be noted that this concentrates on the computer and learning areas, not the other library functions (which still includes loaning books). The building is four floors high, with most of the computers on levels one (ground floor) and two. All levels are advertised as having "Data points for network access and powerpoints are available for connecting laptops", although I did not notice these on my visit. Also Wireless access is available throughout the building. This is in addition to the supplied computers which have Internet access, Microsoft Office and EndNote.

Floor plan of level one of the Biological Sciences Library Building, University of QueenslandLevel one has one long bench around the glassed eastern wall of the building with computer workstations. This bench runs from the north to the south entrances to the library and is overlooked by the welcome desk. One end of the bench has an adjustable height surface installed. There is a shorter island desk between the wall and reception desk. There are also the desks with computers in alcoves at one end of the building.

Level 2 has a computer help desk (the " AskIT desk") , 3 Ezones rooms with projection screens and two open plan areas with plasma screens.

Floor plan of level two of the Biological Sciences Library Building, University of QueenslandE-Zones

The three "E-ZONES" are each approximately 9 x 9 metres. They are arranged in a row with sliding glass partitions between them, so they can be opened out into one long room. There is also a sliding glass partition from the center room to the foyer. The two end rooms also have conventional hinged doors.

When classes are not scheduled, all the partitions and doors are left open, allowing the computers to be used for individual study. The center room has 11 computers arranged on a circular desk with one computer on a higher platform, presumably for an instructor. There is a hole in the middle of the table with one segment missing allowing access to the center. This seems to be for access to the equipment as the center area is too small and lacking in sight line past the computer screens to be used for teaching.

The computers used are DELL Optiplex 745, with Dell 1707FP, 17 inch LCD screens, a standard DELL corded keyboard and corded mouse. The computers are mounted on a custom DELL stand designed to hold the monitor at the front and the processor in a slot behind. The result is that the processor boxes are off the desk and not visible when looked at front on. However, from the side or behind the boxes have the appearance of small attache cases suspended in mid air and are obtrusive, blocking the sight line.

Each end room has 20 computers arranged on two curved desks. One desk starts in the far corner of the room, runs flush along the outer wall and then curves out to form the instructor's desk. The
instructor's desk is elevated and has a telephone and room controls on it, plus a cabinet underneath for audio visual equipment. The other desk starts in the inner far corner of the room and curves to run through the middle of the room, with computers on each side. The result is that all computers are accommodated on only two desks, with all cabling be able to be run from the wall and under the desks. This is a very good arrangement, eliminating the need for posts running cable from the ceiling, or for access up through the floor, but at the same time avoiding having the regimented school classroom look of long straight benches.

Each of the three rooms has two video projectors mounted in the ceiling, facing the front and back walls. The back wall is painted white and appears to form the project screen. The front wall is a movable glass partition and so has a motorized retractable screen lowering from the ceiling.

This room arrangement appears practical and robust. The dual use for scheduled classes and informal use seems workable. The desks appear to be 900 mm deep and so are large enough for adult students, without wasting space.

The biggest problem with the rooms is the computers mounted above the desks on the monitor stands. These create a level of visual clutter, requiring the instructor to be at an elevated desk. Also there are many cables visible behind the computers and a very large tangle of wires under the longer desks which are likely to create a maintenance problem and may be a safety risk in the long term. More integrated units with a computer in the LCD would reduce the wiring and clutter, at the risk of less flexibility.

The arrangement of three rooms appears useful. There are white boards on wheels in the rooms as well. These look like an afterthought and not part of the original design, but add flexibility. They may have also been added to provide a privacy screen behind the instructors consoles in the two end rooms, to make it more difficult for a student to look through the glass behind the instructor and read their screen. Alternatives would have been electronic switchable glass or directional frosted plastic film, or some form of louvers to give the impression of space from a distance but prevent an observer seeing clearly through the glass close up. However, a white board is much simpler, cheaper and more flexible than such options.

The rooms are carpeted with the library's standard carpet.
The desks are a dark laminate. The windows have translucent glare control retractable blinds on windows to control sunlight. It could be argued that the precious views would be better allocated to other rooms and the teaching space could be nearer the core of the building with fixed screens on the walls in place of windows. Internal windows into the open plan areas and though there to the outside would have allowed views without the need for sunlight control.

Open plan areas

An open area of the same floor has Y shaped desks each with nine computers. These are arranged with two computers on each arm of the Y and three in the middle. The desks are not against a wall, with cabling running down a central access point into the floor. Baskets under the desks hold cabling and the power supplies for the DELL desktop computers (the computers being mounted on the LCD stands). It is not clear what this areas is intended for as it is equipped for group instruction but in an open plan area.

On one wall adjacent to these desks are alcoves containing a flat panel wall mounted screen and a triangular desk with three chairs. The desks have audio points for using of the screens. Along the opposite wall is a bench with more computers and one computer mounted higher (for an instructor?).

Floor plan of level three of the Biological Sciences Library Building, University of QueenslandLevel three has four small and two large group rooms, at opposite ends. These have windows on one side and floor to ceiling glass partitions into the open area of the library. These have square desks and are not computer equipped. The center of the open area has an S shaped desk with computers. Most of the floor area is taken up with bookshelves, providing a reasonable level of privacy for those using the glass walled meeting rooms.

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