Mike Osterman ’96, middleware analyst in Whitman College Technology Services, knows project gridlock in front of a computer when he sees it. “I have seen groups of students huddled around a single monitor, which is inefficient,” he said.
The solution, Osterman believes, is “SmartSpaces,” which the WCTS team has installed in three locations at Whitman: a formal study space in Olin Hall, a residence study space in Douglas Hall and an informal study space in the Hall of Science.
“With SmartSpaces, everyone can be active and doing things,” Osterman said.
SmartSpaces use an innovative technology called “TeamSpot,” which allows a group of users to work collaboratively using a large-screen display as an interactive digital work surface. Users can wirelessly connect their laptops to this shared computer. After downloading and installing client software, students can work simultaneously on files or separately and join files later.
Whitman partnered with Vassar and Davidson colleges to test this advanced technology. “TeamSpot” has proved effective at large commuter colleges but has yet to be measured at small residential colleges.
“Other schools will be looking to see the results at Whitman,” said Keiko Pitter, chief technology officer at the college. Of 62 liberal arts schools in the Consortium for Liberal Arts Colleges, none had installed “TeamSpot” before Pitter took up the challenge.
“Technology has become a utility and sits in the background unnoticed,” she said. “We need to make it exciting and demonstrate the value of this kind of investment.”
WCTS will assess student use of SmartSpaces in the project's trial phase and ask for input, weighing these factors against the cost of maintenance. If SmartSpaces work well in Whitman’s campus culture, WCTS will consider installing more of them.
The idea to bring SmartSpaces to Whitman grew out of a Consortium for Independent Colleges workshop on learning spaces attended by Pitter and other staff, where TeamSpot technology was demonstrated.
“I remember [Dean of Students] Chuck Cleveland turned to me and said, ‘We have to have that!’” Pitter said. In the process last fall of designing a new group study space in the Olin Computer Lab, Pitter approached the chief executive officer of Tidebreak, the company that created TeamSpot, and proposed a pilot project. She then recruited Vassar and Davidson to be partners in the trial.
Pitter credits WCTS’s Emerging Technology group with many innovations, including CLEo (Collaboration and Learning Environment [online]) and LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), that have transformed Whitman classrooms. LDAP allows use of a single username and password for multiple accounts and makes possible the People Search feature on Whitman’s Web site.
Pitter created the group two years ago to propel Whitman into innovative uses of technology. “Too often [Information Technology] staff time is completely consumed by routine daily activities,” she said. “Creating staff positions whose job is to focus on new ideas is really paying off.”
“It’s a fun job, and also very challenging,” Osterman added.
The ET team continues to move forward with new technology for the Whitman community. Future projects include Zimbra, a new mail and calendar system, and Portal Project, which will enhance the ability of Whitman students, faculty and staff to personalize their Whitman Web pages.
— Katie Combs ’08
Office of Communications