CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | May 2013 27
BY MATT SOMMA
The Computer Information Systems department at Bentley
University ( MA) transformed an old computer lab into a
collaborative learning space known as the CIS Learning and
Technology Sandbox. Matt Somma, a senior at Bentley and tutor
in the Sandbox, explains the rationale behind the transformation.
AS SOCIETY becomes more heavily tech- oriented, Bentley’s CIS
department recognized the need for a welcoming venue where
students could learn about — and experiment with — technology.
The CIS Sandbox fulfills that need. Today, the Sandbox not only
tutors students in CIS and IT courses, but also introduces students
to tech tools they will need in their lives and careers.
An old computer lab was selected to house the new space. Out
went the old equipment and in came brighter lights, new cabinets,
collaboration workstations for group projects, networking
equipment, projectors, a brighter paint job, and — last but not
least — a set of comfy chairs.
As for technology, the Sandbox features touchscreen Windows
8 machines, an Xbox Kinect, a Smart Board, three Google TVs, and
much more. Although we redid the entire room, it would have been
possible to make significant alterations on a smaller budget, too.
Simply rearranging the tables and chairs can do wonders to make
a room more comfortable for learning.
Creating an innovative tech space is no guarantee of success,
however. You also need to change the culture. That’s what professor
Mark Frydenberg set out to do when he took control of the CIS
Tutoring Lab in 2010. His remit to us tutors was simple: Ask
ourselves what students need and how we could fill that need. Our
role was no longer just to tutor students and help with their
assignments. Instead, we were to help them truly understand what
they were doing and to provide learning opportunities outside the
The third change involved developing an online presence. Today,
we are equipped with a social media tool belt including Facebook,
Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Ustream. In addition, we have built
a WordPress blog that posts automatically to these social outlets.
All content is entirely student created, and we add posts every
week about new technologies and what students are learning.
Our final innovation was using the Sandbox to host events, with
a view to attracting students even when they didn’t have questions
for a class. In the fall semester alone, we staged several career
events involving companies ranging from Vistaprint to Microsoft.
So how have we done? Because students have to swipe their ID
cards and fill out a form after each tutoring session, we have
benchmarked data going back two years. In that period, the
Sandbox has seen exponential increases in student attendance
and engagement across all classes.
IN THE SANDBOX
L E A R N I N G E N V I RONMENTS
VIDEO: A time- lapse video shows the
transformation of an old computer lab into
the CIS Sandbox.
VIDEO: A time- lapse video shows how
the CIS Sandbox is used during the course
of a day.
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