Creating better environments for learning

Posted: November 15, 2022
Instructor and student in computer lab
Computer Science and Engineering Lecturer Catherine McKinley assists a student in the modeling and problem solving with spreadsheets course.

Faculty and students are excited to teach and learn in two renovated computer labs on the fourth floor of the Baker Systems Engineering Building. The modern spaces are increasing capacity and enhancing access to technology.

During prime-time weekday hours, the new spaces are shared equally for classes by the Departments of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) and Integrated Systems Engineering (ISE). Before the new labs opened in autumn 2021, both departments had course sections that had to be repeated multiple times due to a lack of available seats.

“The new labs provide an exceptional opportunity to improve how we teach a number of classes and significantly expand our teaching capabilities,” said Integrated Systems Engineering Professor Guzin Bayraksan. “They also enhance our research by adding state-of-the-art computers and software.”

Baker Systems Engineering room 470 features 80 computer workstations, while the Michael, Dina and Cesare Morell Computer Lab next door in room 480 has 40 workstations. Those 120 new seats are also crucial for the CSE department, which has grown tremendously over the last two decades and now has the largest undergraduate enrollment in the College of Engineering.

“The labs add 480 seats a day for us, which is crucial,” said Computer Science and Engineering Professor Rafe Wenger. “We were bursting at capacity and didn’t have enough labs to service our students.”

While planning to turn the former IT equipment storage rooms into shared computer labs began four years ago, a generous donation from industrial and systems engineering alumnus Michael Morell ’93 and his wife, Dina, provided critical funding to ensure the project could move ahead.

“This was a rare opportunity to express our gratitude to the university for providing the foundation for a career in technology while providing access to a facility for the next generation of the best and brightest innovators to thrive and reach their fullest potential,” said Michael Morell. “We hope this gift positively impacts the learning experience for current and future students.”

Designed for in-person, distance and hybrid learning, both labs feature video and audio capabilities throughout. Big-screen monitors mounted along the perimeter of each room enable shared content viewing from any angle. Zoom cameras are preset to easily allow instructors to make class recordings that students can refer to later.

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“As instructors, it’s important to have a modern lab space where we can easily alternate between lecturing and going over examples to presenting an overview of the topic and then assisting students individually as they have questions or encounter problems,” said CSE Senior Lecturer Naomi Zweben. “These renovated labs provide the perfect tools for giving students an ideal lab experience.”

Courses taught in the new labs autumn semester include introductory programming in C++, Java and Python; modeling and problem-solving with spreadsheets and databases; software development and design; engineering project management; stochastic modeling and simulation; and visual analytics and sensemaking.

The labs are also equipped with advanced features such as classroom management and monitoring software that allows instructors to instantaneously broadcast, view student screens and collaborate.

“This new computer lab has been an absolute joy to teach in and has enabled me to thread in much more hands-on computing activities together with immersive, interactive lessons,” said ISE Assistant Professor Mike Rayo. “The combination of having workstations for 80 students and an open, spacious classroom facilitates both planned and impromptu individual and group activities. These activities cement what I'm teaching by allowing students to practice utilizing visual analytics concepts immediately after we learn them together.”

The rooms were also designed to allow more space between workstations so instructors can easily walk around the room, view students’ work and provide one-on-one assistance.

“Baker Systems Engineering 470 has a great layout that allows for both working alone and in groups. The aisles are open enough for larger groups to congregate around a single computer if needed for the projects we worked on,” said Xandra Taskey, an ISE major. “I truly enjoyed using room 470 for my course. The open space and many screens made learning and collaboration easier than a traditional room.”

During evenings and weekends, the labs are also available to all undergraduate and graduate ISE students to work on projects and research.

“It was nice coming into this space and collaborating with my peers on different group assignments. A lot of students would meet here, hang out and do our work,” said Olivia Weatherly, an ISE major. “This room was great for group work, in-class collaboration, independent work and research."

 

Originally posted at the College of Engineering website.