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May 6, 2002

Cox Hall lab having reconstructive surgery

Donna Price is communications coordinator for the Information Technology Division


What happens if a new kind of space is created in the heart of campus, one that’s designed with the spirit of shared ideas and inquiry built in with the hard and software? Imagine a space where coffee, conversation and collaboration on research projects connect faculty and students from disciplines across campus.

That’s exactly what a group of project planners from the Information Technology Division (ITD), Emory College and Facilities Management are fashioning for the second floor of Cox Hall—a space where virtual and literal commons intersect.

After months of planning and research that included a look at a model site at the University of Chicago and conducting a survey of Emory faculty, staff and students, an architect has been selected and the opening date set for this fall.

The Cox Computer Lab—that bastion of sterile, white-walled, single-occupancy computer pods—soon will physically reflect what is beginning to be understood about the use of information technology.

As interim Provost Woody Hunter concluded at the recent EduCATE Conference on Academic Technology: “There was a great fear that the development of all the networks would isolate us from each other.

“The whole concept of a university has always been a gathering together of people who work symbiotically in a variety of ways and who learn from each other,” Hunter said. “The redesign, for instance, of the second floor [of Cox Hall] is one example. The Information Commons in the Woodruff Library is another. People do gather together and work collaboratively more than separately, and in fact what has happened is that the conversations that take place in those physical spaces continue day and night and weekends, and continue in very live and real ways that were difficult before, if not impossible.”

As technology has evolved, and particularly with the introduction of more accessible multimedia and wireless technologies, there also has been an organic change in the way coursework is organized and presented by faculty and students. This sea change in modalities requires generative physical spaces that open up collaborative opportunities.

To create this kind of environment, the walls between the Cox Hall Computer Lab and the Customer Support Center will be removed to create a larger, contiguous space for academic computing.

“It’s more of a de-construction project—lots of walls coming down but very few going back up,” said ITD business analyst Marisa Johnson, project manager for the effort.

“Just the sheer fact that people want to be working together should be facilitated by the furniture, the size of the monitors, the overall shape and structure of the space,” said Alan Cattier, director of ITD Academic Technologies. “Are they going to be using Smart boards on the walls to draw diagrams, working on chemical or mathematical equations, trying to work something out with each other and then printing it? We’re imagining ways faculty and students can work with their colleagues. That’s really the heart of the space—knowing that collaborative academic activity will be going on there.”

To that end, quadrants of the new facility will be equipped with computers for assignments requiring joint authorship, and high-end, dedicated workstations will offer groups of students the technology to produce assigned PowerPoint, iMovie or multimedia projects. These specialized workstations will have scanners, graphics and multimedia software, super drives, and CD and DVD burners. In addition, e-mail kiosks will border a coffee bar where faculty and students can have coffee and conversation.

Small pods with plasma screens will allow group plug-and-play previews of class presentations and wireless technology to edit them. Two “electronic” classrooms will give faculty additional access to the advanced technology that is in Smart classrooms in other areas on campus.

“One of the exciting aspects of this project for me is the assumption that we will want to continually reconfigure this space as new technology becomes available and our understanding of collaborative processes improves,” said Vice Provost for Information Technology Don Harris. “The team is doing a great job designing a space that allows for that possibility without additional costs. I can easily see this facility taking on more than one or two lives in the next few years.”

The project website can be accessed at Project planners can be contacted by e-mail at