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Digging Up Treasure in the CIS Sandbox

Technology

Digging Up Treasure in the CIS Sandbox

A new lab offers real-world computing opportunities.

“BYOD” (bring your own device) is becoming a popular policy in the workplace and educational institutions. It provides the power to access institutional computing resources from your own device. With it comes an important shift on college campuses: Most people don’t go to computer labs to use computers. Wireless access allow students to use their own laptops, tablets and phones to get online almost anywhere.This point hit home when I accepted the challenge to transform Bentley’s CIS Lab into a learning space enhanced with a dynamic social media presence and varied social activities. The design replaced 36 computers facing the walls with several collaborative study spaces. The impact went well beyond physical change. Students took matters into their own hands, providing an unexpected but welcome and valuable learning experience for themselves and other students.The CIS Learning and Technology Sandbox (a “sandbox” is the software industry’s term for a work environment that encourages experimentation without fear of breaking other parts of the system) is all about interaction. Whether for Sandbox tutors, software tools, special talks, or social times, students interacting with each other in a space supporting technology experimentation and innovation creates a collaborative learning community. More than 12,000 visits have been logged in four semesters.That’s not even the best part. Since the CIS Sandbox opened in fall 2011, two unexpected things have happened:

  • Companies have started using the space for presentations and workshops for students
  • Independently, students have been shaping and improving its day-to-day operations

The CIS Sandbox has become a campus destination to learn about real-world computing opportunities. When Bentley alum Vic Mahillon of Mashery recently presented on programming interfaces, the company, and job opportunities, the place was packed. There was a full house when Microsoft sponsored a Windows 8 launch party and workshops on making computer games. Bentley alumni and recruiters from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Deloitte, Epsilon, Ernst and Young, KPMG, Medullan, and VistaPrint visited the CIS Sandbox to talk about their companies, technology topics, and career opportunities.Students have stepped up their level of involvement. Conner Charlebois and Nick Hentschel are writing a web app that will integrate sign-ins and the report form that tutors complete to summarize tutoring activities. Streamlining administrative responsibilities of tutors will provide more time to help students.To help address the high number of IT 101 students coming in for help, tutor Matt Somma proposed holding back-to-back end-of-semester Crunch Sessions to prepare for final exams. Students signed up via an events page on Facebook, where they could let their friends know they were attending.Somma encouraged active participation: “No Questions = Lame Session.” Projecting images such as the Crunch Session logo on the back wall helped create an immersive experience at the event.We have been able to reach students whose minds often are tuned into iPads and iPhones: A collaborative working space integrated with a social media presence promotes informal learning about technology. Companies and students shape activities and services beyond tutoring in an age where BYOD requires us to offer more than just access. This is a new paradigm for engaging students in IT learning.Mark Frydenberg is senior lecturer in computer information systems and director of the CIS Sandbox. In December 2012, he received Bentley’s Innovation in Teaching award, recognizing the positive impact of the CIS Sandbox on teaching and learning at Bentley.

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