Column: For your InfoCommons

Column: For your InfoCommons

By Rachel Slajda

It is 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, and the InfoCommons is emptier than I’ve ever seen it. Entire rows of computer monitors stand black. Chairs swivel in the slight breeze of central heating. Only two people stand waiting at the printout counter.

I feel like a kid at Disney World, and there’s no line at Space Mountain.

At godlier hours of the day, one isn’t so lucky. The place is packed at, say, noon. The new screen at the sign-on desk displays two entirely blue pie charts, which means both InfoCommons and the lesser-known but increasingly popular InfoCommons II are full. At noon, I usually have to hover for a seat.

I become a vulture, silently moving up and down the rows, eyes darting and claws out, ready to disembowel anyone who dares check Facebook while I have important work to do.

Once I find an open computer and abandon the freshman carcass I’ve been devouring, I find I’ve become the prey. I’m better off than those still lurking in the aisles, but it sure ain’t easy to read articles or write papers with Betty Jo Student staring hungrily over my shoulder.

That goddamn Betty Jo.

You know the rest. Finish what you’re doing, hit print and then stand around and wait with the other scavengers, who’ve printed essays or notes or the 1,260,734 pages of slides from their neurobiorithmetic class (in 20-page increments, of course. Let’s not destroy any more forests than necessary).

According to Bob Weir, vice president of Information Services (IS), students swipe into the InfoCommons about 14,000 times a week. That number hasn’t substantially increased over the last couple years, Weir said, so if you’ve been bitching to your roommate about it getting worse, you’re probably wrong.

But new or not, overcrowding is a definite problem. Weir and his IS minions are not only doing something about it in time for finals, but they found a virtually free solution.

For the last two weeks of the semester, notoriously the most neurosis-inducing time for InfoCommons patrons, three Dell-filled classrooms in Snell will be open to students. It will add 90 computers to the 190 already available in InfoCommons I and II.

“The challenge we have is, I could go build more labs,” Weir said of overcrowding, but “you all pay for the labs.”

Opening the classrooms will only cost IS – and by extension you, dear readers, who supply the department with its yearly $24 million budget – the hourly pay of the work-study who has to sit there and make sure you don’t make off with a monitor, you thieving scoundrel. The screen at the proctor station in the InfoCommons will display which of the new workstations are available so students know where to go.

Beautiful, right?

More improvements may follow. SGA formed a committee in the fall to help tackle various techie issues, from the over-crowding of InfoCommons to redesigning myNEU and Blackboard. The committee, whose official (read: verbose) name is the ad hoc Academic Technological Resource Committee, has been meeting with Weir and company every other week or so. The 10 to 15 students on the committee will present a report to the Faculty Senate today.

Weir didn’t want to steal the students’ spotlight by giving away details, so you’ll have to check in with them later to find out what they offer and how those crazy cats in the Senate react.

On its own, IS barrels on with plans to make wireless internet available in every nook and cranny on campus by summer. Weir said they’re also planning to deal with what they call “squatters,” those jerks who bounce from InfoCommons for lunch or more nefarious deeds, leaving their crap on the desk and their name logged in. The plan is to let the login time out, then move said crap to some sort of bucket where the squatter can find it later.

So would you look at that? A powerful, well-funded and well-staffed arm of the administration is actually doing something to improve things for the students who keep it rolling in millions. (If you do the math, the price tag is somewhere around $1,200 a student.) I started this column thinking, “Hey, InfoCommons sorta sucks lately, and I’m sick of freshman carcasses. Wonder if anyone’s doing anything about it.”

Turns out, they are.

-Rachel Slajda can be reached at [email protected]

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