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ITS builds community, flexibility in new ITS Labs

ITS builds community, flexibility in new ITS Labs
ITS students Patrick Evans (left) and Ken Maglosky (right) review temperature and light readings from Paris, France and Boston, Massachusetts during Assistant Professor Dr. Julio Arauz’s Internet of Things (ITS 4900) class in the ITS Lab 002 on Friday, Fe

ATHENS, Ohio—Students in the J. Warren McClure School of Information and Telecommunication Systems take courses where they progressively learn a foundation of technology and software that build upon one another. The Information and Telecommunication Systems (ITS) Labs are where students pick up these hands-on skills and training that employers and internship coordinators look for when choosing qualified candidates.

The three ITS Labs (002, 004, and 006) and the Data Center are located in the Schoonover Center for Communication on the Lower Level. The technology and hardware in labs 002 and 006 are used for upper level instruction courses, while ITS Lab 004 is meant for introductory classes and general ITS student project use.

“For ITS Lab 006 the technology matches what corporations use to create business solutions, solve whatever they need to solve, create whatever process they need to put in place,” said Hans Kruse, director of the J. Warren McClure School of Information and Telecommunication Systems. “What those labs [002 and 006] have is essentially small scale duplicates of what the students will see when they walk into their first job, or second, or third, or fourth job. So that’s what’s unique, this is what you will do, this is what you will see once you graduate. It’s a matter of figuring out, on a small scale, how to replicate the experience the student will have when they actually go out into their first job.”

Before moving to the new ITS Labs in Schoonover Center the school previously had three labs, but they were spread out across the Ohio University campus. The school had a lab in the Radio-Television Center (RTV 115) which also contained their Data Center, a section that contains all of the servers, computer systems and components needed for their specialized courses. The school also had a lab in the Central Classroom Building and a very small lab in Stocker Center, which was a shared space with the Russ College of Engineering and Technology. ITS officially moved into their brand new lab spaces in Schoonover Center during the summer of 2014 and were able to use two of the labs, 004 and 006, and the Data Center for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Kruse recalls with a smile, “Since all three labs weren’t completed there was construction all around. We were this little island, with people pouring flooring outside the door as we were teaching.”

While they may not have picked up a sledgehammer themselves, Kruse and three other ITS faculty members provided input and helped to design the layout plans for the new ITS Labs and Data Center, even picking out furniture and decor.

Kruse and Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Director Philip Campbell co-designed the layout for ITS Lab 006 which seats 16, Assistant Professor Dr. Julio Arauz created the layout for ITS Lab 004 that seats 16, and Associate Professor Dr. John Hoag designed the layout for ITS Lab 002 which seats 12.

“We sat down with the architects, with OHIO construction, and not everything ended up the way we wanted it, but close enough to be really awesome,” said Kruse. “We had the chance to sit down with a blueprint and we had a good chance to ask for what we wanted. We got most of it. It’s an awesome space.”
The Data Center is a restricted access, card-swipe only room, that houses the “brains” of the ITS Labs, if you will. Students never actually physically enter this room, but they are able to remotely access the capabilities of the Data Center. This area has two supplemental cooling units, four high capacity electrical feeds, two battery back-up units for short power outages, and five back-end infrastructure units that were donated to ITS, among other items.

“Our Data Center is unique because the equipment that we have in there now, if we turned all of that on when we were in RTV it would have blown the breakers, and we did a few times,” said Kruse. “So we have, massive amounts of power, massive amounts of cooling on our scale, not on a corporate scale or even Ohio University IT’s scale, but on our Data Center scale. We can run the kinds of equipment that our students need to work with and we had the equipment before, but we just couldn’t run it because we didn’t have the power and didn’t have the cooling.”

Campbell agrees that their new lab spaces are much improved from their previous locations.

“Everything was done as a collaboration to design these new labs,” said Campbell. “The biggest difference from what we used to have over in RTV is that we have more space. It can be a more specialized space. The lab in 006 is more versatile and more advanced. We are much more focused, much more organized here in the new lab space.”

Arauz said he specifically designed the ITS Lab 004 so that the computer stations are arranged along the outer walls of the room, with students facing the walls and the group tables and instructor speaking location in the center of the room. In this layout, the instructor can be in the middle and see all of the computer screens at once, so he or she can easily identify if a student is struggling with a problem to help.

Arauz even went through a lengthy process to select artwork for the walls of the lab space. He admits that his plan was for bold and dramatic architecture artwork to hang on the walls, but the images currently in the lab were picked out with some help by his wife, Aubrei.

“The artwork in the lab is very intentional,” said Arauz. “Since these labs are in the basement, there is no outside. So the subject matter is weird colors, or nice colors, or natural colors. There is no technical subject matter, the most technical thing is a toy plastic phone that is yellow. The other reason is that we wanted the room to be very welcoming. Technical majors usually struggle to have a population from both genders, it’s not at all equal between male and female. So if you show up to a lab and all of the artwork is science fiction or technical posters you’re probably not going to feel that comfortable there.”

Another unique addition to ITS Lab 004 is something you wouldn’t expect to see, an interactive LEGO installation on the wall. A series of blue LEGO plates lay flat vertically on the wall in a square with various figures, blocks and LEGO pieces strewn on the surface. The intent is that students and faculty can mull over a technical issue in their head, or just take a break, while making a 3-D artwork on the wall installation. At the time of this article some unnamed artist had created the Ohio University Marching 110 logo on the surface.  

“The goal was to have a space we can become a community, where people can come when they are bored or when something doesn’t work and they can create something on the LEGO wall,” said Arauz. “The wall has changed a lot in terms of the content there. It has evolved over time. People do interact on it, you don’t see it, but it’s like “National Geographic”, you go down the next morning and it’s there!”

In comparison, ITS Lab 006 and the old RTV 115 Lab are about the same size, except that RTV 115 contained the Data Center inside the room, where today the Data Center is a completely separate room. Even students are taking note of these changes, comparing the labs to a “night and day” difference.

“This is my fourth year, and I started out in the old lab in RTV, so I had class in there for two years,” said Dylan Maloni, a senior studying ITS. “We had one table with just computers around it and then our professors would have to improvise and set things up for every lab and tear it down. There was also one time where there were two classes using the same lab at the same time, so it was just really difficult to work in that same space. So this new ITS Lab 006 is great because we have a couple of different set-ups so we can kind of separate it and use different spaces for different reasons. It’s nice that the Data Center is in a separate room from the lab, because before it was in the same room and it was so loud with all of the fans and everything. It’s just so much space, it’s really cool.”

The ITS Lab co-designers took suggestions from Lynnette Clouse, Ohio University director for interior layout & design, to use tables with wheels on the bottom to make the spaces more versatile for instruction and other uses.

“ITS Lab 006 is the only one I’ve actually used for class so far, I have Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in there,” said Maloni. “It’s just nice that we have the tables. We can sit around the table at the beginning of the lab, and then Phil will give a little lecture and then we will split off to do work.”

ITS students have access to ITS Lab 004 nearly every afternoon of the week, as it is open for students to utilize for class and student projects and is staffed by an ITS graduate student during that time. The lab is also made available to ITS student organizations in the evening and it occasionally hosts guest speakers and events. The ITS Labs have even hosted events for the Scripps College of Communication Bobcat Student Orientation (BSO) in the summer.

To reserve ITS Lab 004 in the evening, email Barbara Moran at moran@ohio.edu or call 593-4890.

See more photos of the ITS Labs.