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Our university provides computer lab rooms for the students. We will soon build some new ones, and possibly re-build some of the old ones, and we are looking for new solutions.

What we have now looks like this:

enter image description here

From my experience, and a Google image search on "university computer lab", it seems similar to other universities all around the world.

But we would like to re-think the old ways and provide a better environment for the students, as envisioned in CDIO workspaces ("Workspaces and laboratories that support and encourage hands-on learning of product and system building, disciplinary knowledge, and social learning").

Perhaps a new floor plan with smaller rooms, or new furnishings, something like what is described in New Design and Synergistic Collaboration Revitalize Gallaudet University's Harkin Computer Lab?

We would like to hear from others who can share experiences from some alternatives. What have you tried? Did it work?

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    If students are working as a group, what tends to happen is that they try to arrange themselves in the opposite arrangement from what that link shows: Humans on the inside of the circle, computers on the outside. They want to see each other's screens easily. – trutheality Feb 20 '14 at 22:22
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    I notice wall space that should have whiteboards. Lots of them. – Raphael May 12 '14 at 9:22
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Just a couple of comments from local experience (CS Biased).

  • When building your lab, you have to ask what it is that makes it special. In many universities, you can expect that some very high fraction of the students are going to have their own laptops (this will vary by discipline, of course). Simply providing a generic computer may be a waste of resources -- a desk and a power-plug, with an external monitor and keyboard could be sufficient.

    My take is that a computer lab today should serve a distinct purpose: Teaching a course on computer graphics: Have a lab with beefy hardware that will minimize waiting time when attempting renders. Teaching a physics lab? Perhaps have a data-capture system integrated into the workstations.

    In the same vein, labs get used more when students see the value of going to the lab. A lab with large (or even dual) monitors will get used more, because it's A) less likely the students have that equipment at home B) more likely the students will understand the value of using that lab -- higher productivity for example.

  • Consider a 'virtual lab': If the reason the lab is there is because of a peculiar software requirement, think about providing a virtual machine instance of the lab machine for the students to use at home. This can ease the grading workload on TAs too, by eliminating platform differences as an excuse.

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As Matthew says, many people may have their own laptops. Obviously, this depends on the university. I know of universities that make laptop ownership compulsory. Perhaps you could comment on how common it is for students to have their own laptops and bring them to the university. So you should think about what kind of value you can add for such people.

One possibility is to have laptop docking stations available. Or if not, at least have external keyboard, mice, monitors available that can be plugged into a laptop.

Nice big good-quality monitors (26 inches or larger) are a good idea, and are not that expensive these days.

Good ergonomics is a must. Buy the best workstation chairs you can. I have the Steelcase Leap, which is not perfect but a decent chair. Keyboard trays are probably also a good idea. Humanscale is popular. Of course, there are many other brands, depending on location.

Adding some whiteboards around the room would also be reasonable.

If you are keeping actual computers in the lab, then consider having computers running operating systems different from those students may have encountered. Encouraging people to use the free Unix-like systems that are now common in scientific enterprises is a good idea. E.g. the systems based on the Linux kernels, the various *BSD systems. If such systems are already widely used in your university, this is probably unnecessary.

  • I would hope that at a larger institution, such a lab would have terminals for a large-scale server farm, not workstations. – Raphael May 12 '14 at 9:25

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