By Matt Benoit
Contributed to this story
The Student Access Lab, or SAL computer lab located in Cascade Hall, will move to Heiner Center in the summer of 2010. The move is the first step in creating a temporary “Learning Commons,” a place where students can go to for tutoring, library resources, and computers, all in one place.
The move from Cascade Hall has stirred both opposition and support from students and staff.
SAL’s move from Cascade to Heiner was scheduled to take place in summer 2009, but more information and further discussion was needed by the planning committee because of the economic climate, said Ray White, vice president of administrative services at Whatcom.
The committee decided to postpone SAL’s move into the first floor of Heiner until summer 2010. Two of Heiner’s 35-seat classrooms will be converted for the SAL, while Cascade will gain a 26-seat classroom and a 45-seat classroom. The move is projected to cost $61,000 and will be paid from Whatcom’s student technology fees.
After opposition to the move was expressed at a student council meeting in mid-October, White gave an overview about the SAL move at the next council meeting. He said that five years of survey information taken from students and faculty concluded that more access to computer labs and more centrally located computer labs were needed at Whatcom.
Some students do not want the learning access computer lab moved away from the close proximity of the tutoring labs. However, council members also reported that some of their constituents say tutoring labs have been overcrowded and not conducive to learning.
Dean Hagin, director of the Learning Center, said moving the SAL could result in the computers they house for students being more occupied.
“This might have both positive aspects and not-so-positive aspects,” said Hagin. On the plus side, students might try to access the computers and wind up discovering all the student support services the center has. However, there will also be fewer computers near the center for students to use while they prepare or await tutoring sessions.
Linda Lambert, library director, said that the library would work with the learning center to cover the research needs of students, adding that there would still be a “first floor librarian presence” that would be limited unless the library budget expands.
Although the SAL lab, will move to Heiner, the Learning Center and IT department will stay in Cascade. Ward Naf, director of the IT department—which will plan and implement the move—said moving the lab will greatly benefit students.
“The basement of the Heiner building promises to be a better location to efficiently expand the number of computers available for students,” said Naf, adding that the lab’s current location makes expansion not feasible.
Other benefits of the move, said Naf, would be giving students an efficient and accessible way to get checkout materials from the library, as well as providing a start towards establishing the Learning Commons, a two-story, 69,210 square foot building that will be centrally located on Whatcom’s campus.
The building is expected to be completed by 2018 at a cost of nearly $40 million, and will provide eLearning support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
With the SAL move, Heiner would become the de facto “learning commons,” synergizing library resources, tutoring, learning access labs, computers labs, study areas, computer kiosks, wireless connectivity and student collaborations (study groups) until the official Learning Commons Center is built.
The thinking, said White, is that students working on homework in SAL could seek impromptu help at the tutoring center which is just next door, head upstairs to the library for further research, or prepare to meet a study group.
A small test demonstration of how a learning lab could work in Heiner was set up by introducing comfortable chairs, vending machines, and open work areas with tables instead of desks in the first floor commons area and observing usage.
Anyone who has been to the first floor of Heiner can see that the common area is well used by students and study groups.
Computer logistics also come into play with the move. “SAL sharing technologies like printers and servers, and human resources like monitors and tutors all in one place also makes more dollar sense,” said White.
So what do students think?
Chandler Batiste, the executive vice president for the student council who is also chair of student advocacy, said she polled around 146 students, a majority of whom were in favor of the move. Batiste did say 95 percent of the survey was taken in the Syre Student Center, leading her to believe that the students spent at least some of their time near Heiner.
The other 5 percent of the survey, taken across campus, showed slim margins but overall was still in favor of the move. Batiste said students who do oppose the move do so at least in part to the convenience of where the lab is currently located, but added that the move is the first step to “slighting decreasing convenience for some in hopes of vastly increasing convenience for all.”
As for her personal stance, Batiste said she has an office as a student government member and, like many students, a laptop, and thus never uses the lab.
One student proposed a compromise. Casey Lockhart, 22, is a Whatcom student who uses the SAL lab two days a week as part of his English 101 class, which splits their time evenly between the classroom and the lab. He says he thinks it would be nicer to have the labs in two different places than just one central location. “It seems more efficient,” he said.
Library director Linda Lambert, though, cast doubt on such a compromise, saying she didn’t know if the resources were available for two separate labs.
Sean Radwanski, 15, a full-time Running Start student who uses the lab almost every day to do homework, check e-mail, and write stories, said the lab move is helpful to students because it not only brings the lab closer to the library, but to other buildings as well.
“It’s more in the middle of everything,” Radwanski said of the future Heiner location.
Arturo Camejo, 19, works in the International Programs office and uses the SAL lab an average of four times a week to write essays and more. “I’m for it,” he said of the move to Heiner. “It’s more in the core of the campus.”
Josh Clark, 28, says he uses the computers in the library often, and thinks it’s a good idea to move the lab because it means he won’t have far to go to find other computers, and thus, he can avoid waiting in lines more often.
Clark recalls that in previous years at Whatcom, wait lines for computers used to be shorter. “This year’s not been like that, at all,” he said.
The opposite view was expressed by Crystal Bohm, 40, who seemed disappointed by the move, saying she enjoyed the access of the Cascade SAL lab due to the amount of time she spent in the science labs on that side of the campus.
“They were handy,” Bohm said of the SAL computers in Cascade.
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