New format turns Mahar lab into classroom

New limited hours at a Mahar computer lab will see it serve as a classroom during the day and a lab at night as lab usage dwindles in the building.

The computer lab in Mahar 210 will only be open to students after 6 p.m., and with it came concerns that lab assistants would lose their jobs, which would ultimately lead to fewer jobs available for students on campus.

"We may not have filled a couple, but no one was relieved from their job," said Kristine Smith, an employee for the CTS Technology Support Center.

The new format allows the registrar to schedule classes during that time, an effort designed to relieve daytime pressure in the building.

"It’s actually a very simple reason, we have so many classes, so many faculty who want to bring their students for class meetings for a whole variety of reasons," CTS Director Joe Moreau said.

The decision to change the lab from an open lab to a classroom began last spring when CTS did an analysis to see how it was being utilized. Over the summer, the lab was refurbished with new furniture, carpet, paint, electric components and computers. The lab was then reopened in the fall of 2009 with the new format.

"What we found was that Mahar 210 as an open lab was actually substantially underutilized," Moreau said.

CTS is not planning on restoring the lab as a full time open lab, instead they will be issuing a pilot project this spring at the Metro Center to debut "virtual computer labs."

Virtual labs encompass CTS putting a "computer lab on the Internet" so that students can access applications using their Laker net ID and password instead of traveling to computer labs. Virtual labs are more cost effective than actual labs because it means one piece of expensive hardware does the work of 12 pieces of hardware.

"My belief is that if we do a good job on producing virtual computer labs then we may even reduce student demand for general purpose student labs. Then we will look at other kinds of ways to support students," Moreau said.

CTS is looking to put more spaces, such as those in the Campus Center, throughout buildings. The remodeling of Park and Wilbur would include more lounges and spaces for students to have access to.

"If they can get to all of the resources they need to get to virtually then it gives them a lot of freedom to go anywhere," Moreau said.

CTS is concerned with what students prefer. "If students like virtual computer labs then that is the direction we will go at," Moreau said.

Virtual labs would shift jobs from lab to online, meaning students would be able to work straight from their dorm rooms.

"I do not know if virtualizing our labs will limit our work force, but it will give us more flexibility with our work force," Moreau said.

CTS is hoping that students will use the resources more if there are virtual labs, which would increase the demand for lab assistant jobs.