Using Technology to Improve Eduction
Although Kingsborough Community College (KCC) serves approximately 18,000 credit and 21,000 continuing education students, most classrooms seat fewer than 30 students. This allows educators to provide a hands-on, discussion-based learning experience using the latest classroom technology.
Previous technology initiatives included equipping all classrooms with interactive whiteboards, providing pan-campus wireless network coverage and supporting all types of mobile devices, according to Asif Hussain, chief information officer for KCC. “One of our primary goals was to make technology transparent to the end users,” he said. “We want our instructors and students to spend their time teaching and learning, not trying to figure out how to work the technology.”
As part of its commitment to using technology to improve education, KCC wanted every student to have access to a computer in every classroom. “We realized that our classroom, labs and computers did not support our students,” Hussain explained. “We didn’t have enough labs to provide computer and internet access to all classes. For example, science classes had access to labs equipped with computers, but English, journalism and history classrooms didn’t,” he said. “These students also needed computer and internet access for in-class exercises and research, and they spent a lot of time moving between the classroom and the computer lab.”
In 2011, KCC developed and implemented a plan to put a computer on every classroom desk—between 6,000 and 7,000 seats dispersed among 197 classrooms and lecture halls. To evaluate the situation and recommend a solution, KCC brought in Custom Computer Specialists (Custom), a vendor they had worked with on previous networking and computing projects. Custom acted as the central point of contact and project manager for the campus-wide computer deployment project.
From Desktop Deployment to Classroom Redesign
KCC’s seemingly simple desktop deployment was, in reality, a complex project. Selecting the desktops was the least complicated decision. Classroom space constraints, security precautions and desk size requirements led the school to ask Custom to also manage the design, development and installation of a customized desk solution for every classroom.
KCC’s 197 classrooms and lectures featured varied capacities, ranging from 25 to 100 seats. Some classrooms had a simple combination desk/chair student desk; others had lab-style tables that seated two to three students. Lecture halls had sloped desk systems that consisted of long bench tables with fixed auditorium seats. Most of these desk systems did not support the placement of a permanent desktop computer. For example, because the lecture hall desks were only 15 inches from front to back, they were too small to mount both a monitor and CPU enclosure.
Customized Desks and Project Management
“When we converted to interactive whiteboards, different staff in my department served as project managers,” said Hussain. “It was a very difficult process because we have limited internal resources, so there was no single point of contact. We had worked with Custom before and we knew they had worked on much larger projects,” he added. “We wanted a project management expert that could take charge and serve as a single point of contact for the electricians, the furniture vendor and all the other vendors, as well as our in-house staff.”
Custom managed all aspects of the project, including desktop deployment and furniture replacement. The desktops selected were a mix of thin client and standard tower solutions from HP and Dell, and in some environments, Apple iMacs. Custom facilitated vendor selection, including procurement using New York State contracts, and managed the purchasing, design and installation process for replacing the furniture, re-designing the classrooms and upgrading electrical systems.
Custom and KCC evaluated multiple desk and chair designs, including flip-top monitors and monitors that were built into desks with glass tops. Ultimately the college selected Spectrum Industries’ Flex Insight, a “hideaway” desk that stores the monitor, keyboard and mouse securely inside the desk when not in use. Custom managed vendor on-boarding, working with Spectrum to design and develop three customized desk designs, including CPU enclosures that accommodated three sizes of CPUs.
At 28”x 25,” the primary desks are streamlined and as small as possible, keeping seat counts in each classroom within five percent of the original number of seats. Custom worked closely with the college’s technology and campus planning committees to review and approve the desk designs and coordinate the classroom redesigns necessitated by the new desks. Finally, Custom facilitated the on-boarding and management of the electrical vendor to install the required electric as the computers and desks were rolled out to each classroom.
To ensure ease of deployment, Custom developed a repeatable process for surveying, designing, procuring and installing desks and technology. “Standardization is important for us, whether it’s the desks or the process,” said Hussain. “If you’re going to repeat a task over and over, it makes sense to create and document a repeatable process so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.”
The project’s biggest challenge was not timing or technology, but how to create an environment that would enable the successful use of technology. To succeed, Custom leveraged a seasoned project management team with experience that extended well beyond K-12 technology deployments, project management and state purchasing contracts to include architecture and construction.
“The desktop deployment, customized desk solution and classroom redesign had to be managed as an integrated project to ensure that our students had the best experience with the technology,” concluded Hussain. “We wanted to have a turnkey project with a single point of contact that took care of everything.”
Custom initiated the project in January 2012 and procurement began four months later. The installation of the first desks started in June; at the time of this writing Hussain expected to complete five or six classrooms in the first year. As more capital funds are made available, KCC will ramp up classroom conversion and expects the entire project to be completed in four or five years.