Happy Tenth Birthday
General Access Labs!
By Dr. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, Student Computing Services Manager
One of the most visible examples of student technology fees at work is the convenient location throughout the UNT campus of general access computing labs; a project which marks its tenth anniversary in the year 2000. In these labs UNT students, and to a lesser extent, faculty and staff have available to them the latest in computing technology and printing services at no additional cost. Though all these labs serve the entire university student community, many have unique characteristics, software, and hardware designed to specifically cater to the needs of the colleges and schools in which they are located. The General Access Computing System was formally established in early 1990 utilizing university-applied student course fees to help provide all students in all colleges and departments equity in computing resources. This emphasis on "distributed computing" was crucial to the development of the first general access labs. Before this time all computer labs were purchased from individual college funds and college student fees.
UNT computer labs provide valuable additions to students' computing resources
There are currently thirteen general access labs scattered around campus. These are not to be confused with additional specialty labs where a student might gain access through their major study area. Some of the first labs were established in the College of Business Administration (COBA), the College of Education (COE) and the Willis Library. The most recently built labs include the School of Visual Arts (SOVA), the College of Music Lab (COM) and the Adaptive Lab in Chilton Hall.
Though many students have computers and small printers in their dorm rooms or in off-campus residences, few can pay to upgrade hardware and software regularly, and much equipment as well as many applications are simply too expensive to afford for individual use. For the semi-equipped student, the labs thus provide valuable additional digital peripherals such as CD-ROM burners, a variety of scanners, color and laser printing and the latest creative and statistical software for their class work. For the student who does not have the luxury of owning any computer, the labs are a lifesaver in terms of service and support. Additionally, UNT's general access labs should be considered an almost unlimited pool of digital potential for the creative and innovative "gearhead" as well as a fine "test before you buy" resource for others as yet unsure of their computing needs and goals. The tour of the labs provided in this article will show all interested users that this university asset provides them with options ranging from a quick check of email to the creation of a full-length digital motion picture with sound effects!
Fame and fortune could be a lab visit away
A visit to the College of Music lab and the School of Visual Arts lab provides a potential Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Wendy Carlos, or Danny Elfman with everything needed for creative fame and fortune. Featuring some of the fastest and peripheral-packed Macintosh and Pentium computers on campus, the Music lab provides over 40 workstations with electronic keyboards and several additional stations with scanners and digital audio recording hardware and software. A highlight of the lab is its two multimedia stations for video digitization projects and movie-making. Digital video cameras and digital audio recording equipment are also available for checkout. The School of Visual Arts lab also has an equal mix of powerful Mac and PC machines and the greatest variety of printing and scanning resources on campus. Slide and negative scanners as well as large-scale color printing are featured bonuses and a variety of multimedia software (way beyond PowerPoint!) is available for use. Though primarily utilized by art and music majors, these labs are general access labs and can be shared by everyone. Potential users should keep in mind that some restrictions may apply to more highly specialized and expensive equipment use and occasionally these facilities are reserved for the teaching of classes.
Leveling the playing field for disabled students
Another enhanced general access lab is the Adaptive Lab located in Chilton Hall, room 116. Equipped and staffed to meet the specific needs of UNT students with disabilities, the lab currently includes twelve Pentium II computers with 17-inch monitors, CD-ROM drives and zip drives. Two laser printers, a Braille printer and a scanner for text and pictures are also available. Adaptive equipment includes a Chroma Color TV, ergonomic keyboards and mice, and a screen polarization filter. In addition to the generally available software, specialized software includes JAWS (a screen reader), Megadots (Braille software for texts), Dragon Naturally Speaking (voice recognition), Zoom Text (screen enlarger) and Paperport (scanning and conversion software).
If a student is curious about the buzzwords "Linux" and "Open Source Movement" and what they mean for the future, he or she can check out the machines running the Linux operating system in the Academic Computing Services general access lab (ISB 110 - in the Science and Technology Library). The ACS lab is currently the only lab with Linux machines available for the general student population and plans to add even more to its Linux inventory in the next few months due to increased student demand. The ACS lab also features all currently available statistics software packages (S-Plus, SPSS, SAS) on Pentium III 600 MHz machines for optimal use. The statistics software can also be found in the COBA, COE, Chilton Hall, and many of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) labs. Additional mention should be made of the lab located in the School of Library and Information Science (ISB 205c) which has been specially designated for graduate student use.
All of the labs feature the Microsoft Office Suite, Netscape and Internet Explorer, ftp software, and terminal emulation software as part of their general computer menus. In addition to these resources, students will find an increasing amount of other standard lab features as managers continue to adapt their facilities to changing and expanding student needs. CD-ROM burners are becoming the norm rather than the exception in most labs and accommodation for the multimedia needs of WebCT-based course participants (headphone jacks, browser plug-ins) are provided. Currently the ACS lab and the Chilton labs feature the necessary plug-ins for the viewing, editing, and composing of texts and the internet in multiple language characters (Chinese, Japanese, Arabic to name a few) and the expansion of this type of access is planned in the other labs as practical and appropriate.
The 24-7 lab
This article would not be complete without mentioning one of the favorite lab features on campus: the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week access of the Willis Library lab where even the most ardent procrastinator or night owl can complete his or her project at 3:00 a.m. if needed or desired! The Willis Lab has recently upgraded all of its Pentium-based machines to PIII 800 MHz level with an upgrade of its Macintosh resources planned for next year.
There is a lab just right for you ...
The general access computing accommodations on the UNT campus are so vast and varied that many members of the university community are not even fully aware of all their many features and functions. Various resources are publicly provided for additional information. The official General Access Lab System Website is located at www.gal.unt.edu and contains information such as lab hours, locations, and phone numbers and a complete listing of all lab managers. Information about lab manager meetings (GALMAC, the committee of lab managers meets monthly) is publicly posted and interested students are welcome to attend. Pamphlets located at the Computing Center Help Desk (ISB 119) and in the labs clearly state lab locations, regulations, hours and contact information and include a handy map to each facility.
Additionally, students are urged to visit each of the labs and are strongly encouraged to make hardware, software, and service suggestions to the lab managers and to their student senators. As we begin our second decade of general access lab use, all UNT community members are also asked to be patient and courteous as well as mindful of lab regulations when taking advantage of these valuable facilities so that we may continue to enjoy the resources for many more years to come.
Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner is Student Computing Services Manager for the University of North Texas and the manager of the Academic Computing Services general access lab. She would like to thank the members of GALMAC and Cengiz Capan for much of the information for this article.