Focus: Information Technology


February 2, 2004

Concept behind Cox computing center design

Don Harris is vice provost for information technology.

This month marks the first anniversary of the Computing Center at Cox Hall. From the day it opened, undergraduates give their stamp of approval on the center by pronouncing it "way cool"; graduate students make use of group areas for study sessions; faculty use classrooms and presentation technology; and the admissions office made the center a prominent stop on its campus tours for prospective students and their parents. The center also has received a steady stream of visitors from other universities who want to see the space and talk to staff about how it is being used.

But how does one judge the success of such a major renovation project? Is success measured by its popularity, as evidenced by more than 100,000 student and faculty entrances in its first year? Or by the utilization of classrooms by 18 courses that met regularly in the center last semester? Or is it judged by comments from prospective students and visitors that, with the center, Emory is offering something unmatched by its peer institutions?

Without a doubt the lab--more information about it can be found at very popular. And it offers access to resources used continually by faculty and students from across the University. Yet the concept behind the lab went beyond creating a cool space or simply putting cutting-edge technology into the hands of faculty and students. The concept was very much about enhancing the quality of teaching and research at Emory. It was all about helping Emory to become a "destination university," to quote our new Vision Statement.

Central to the concept was the creation of a space that facilitated and even encouraged collaboration. The Emory team that designed the center realized this goal could only be reached when all elements in the design (floor plan, furniture, lighting, technology, etc.) worked together toward this end.

Inquiry-driven learning and research often take place in group settings, and the center needed to support this activity. These types of collaborative efforts are what help develop communities of inquiry and learning--essential components of our institutional vision.

So given this criteria, how can we measure the center's success? Certainly we are off to a good start. The center has become a "destination location" for students seeking to work together in collaborative fashion. Faculty are engaging students with course material in new and exciting ways. And both faculty and students are rethinking pedagogical issues related to both teaching and learning because of the resources the center provides.

So while the center provides a "way cool" space that everyone likes to be in, it also receives passing grades as a space that supports collaboration and new approaches to group learning–the focus of the design team all along.

President Jim Wagner recently remarked that leading universities need to experiment and try new approaches. We believe the creation of the Computer Center at Cox Hall is just such an attempt, not only to create a new type of space, but also to experiment with support for collaboration within learning communities. We're off to a great start.