Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The following notes were taken in the College Library 2nd floor computer lab between 12:30PM and 1:30PM on Tuesday February 17th 2004.

The Lab Visually
The computer lab is large, with wall-sized windows on one side. The rest of the décor is “academic” in style as brick walls interspersed with pegboards and glass-fronted offices make up the rest of the surrounding structure. There are at least three sets of furniture owing most likely to concessions to various budgetary constraints and unexpected growth spurts in terms of the volume of computing power necessary. The lab is divided into three main areas: Macintoshes, Windows computers, and “DV” stations – the latter no doubt indicating the machines have more power and the extra input devices necessary to process digital video. There are roughly twice as many windows machines as there are Macs, with a grand total of a probably 100 individual computers. At this time, almost every Windows machine is taken and approximately two-thirds of the Macs are being used.

The Sounds of the Lab
The whole room has the same auditory feel as does a snowy night. The white noise generated by the hundred-or-so workstations has the effect of dampening all sounds emanating from a distance greater than a few meters. There is very little conversation occurring anywhere in the room. Unlike most other rooms I’ve been in on campus lately, there are very few people sneezing or coughing. Possibly the humming computers are limiting the range from which I can hear such noises. Aside from the computers themselves the rest of the audioscape is composed almost entirely of mouse clicks and keystrokes, with the occasional rustling of a backpack as someone gets up to leave.

The People Themselves
The lab users are almost entirely made up of members of the undergraduate population at the UW, falling most likely into the age range of 19-24 years old. Some of the people don’t bothered to take off their coats or backpacks. These people are generally in for a quick email check and then leave right away. At least one of these individuals however was there for the full hour of my observations. He was browsing the Web for most of that time.

What are They Doing?
The lab occupants are almost all browsing the Web. Some of the most common sites include: My Yahoo!, Wiscmail (not technically Web browsing, but they are using a Web browser to access the content), Madcat, various “Bulletin Boards,” and one woman was noticeably shopping for knee-high boots on an ecommerce site. Those students not working on the Web were almost all using Microsoft Word. There were a few individuals using graphics software such as Adobe Photoshop or page-layout software like Adobe InDesign. I didn’t observe any students using instant messaging software, but my view was limited to roughly half of the students at a time.

Who’s in Charge?
The lab monitors were almost entirely doing homework or reading books during the hour I spent in the lab. Occasionally someone would go to the desk and ask a question, but either technical help was never needed or the question only necessitated a short response as the monitors never left their desk. There appeared to be a floating “administrator” who would wander from one “out of order” computer to another. He appeared to have gotten through five machines in need of repair during my time in the lab. I did not see any computers with out of order signs on them when I left.


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