Computing Commons gets a subtle but important makeover

Above: Students now have more space to use their own laptops in the Computing Commons in the William Small Centre

If you’ve visited the Computing Commons in the William Small Centre lately, that feeling you got that something has changed wasn’t your imagination. The largest single computer workspace on Keele campus was given a modest makeover during the summer. While the changes aren’t major – mostly paint and some new soft furniture in a revamped informal work area – they have made a difference to the way the space is used by students, says Karen Wash, manager of client services in York’s University Information Technology department.

One of the changes, simply removing some desktop computers from the traditional workstation benches, has created more room for students who have their own laptops but need a place to log on to the York network, either by direct or wireless connection.

Left: Justin Mac Neil and Sandi Milicevic, ACE student volunteers in the Computing Commons, check out the comfy new furniture

The other significant change was even more subtle and involved just rearranging the furniture to help alter the way students use the space. Wash explains that, with the former layout, students who wanted to collaborate on projects or just have a discussion would often gather around one workstation in a row of terminals, disrupting students beside them who were working independently. Now, with ordinary wooden tables and chairs, couches and easy chairs grouped on the west side of the Commons, the social use of the space has been moved away from the more formal work areas.

“People are of two minds,” says Wash. “Some like to sit up at a desk and others like the easy chairs and couches.”

The printers have also been moved to the same side, closer to the front desk, further reducing noise and distractions in the centre of the space. Students seem to enjoy the plain tables and chairs where they can simply sit down with their laptops and work independently or in groups. “The wireless network is pretty good here,” says Wash, “and we have the capacity for a lot more laptops.”

The one change that took the most work and expense, however, is one that won’t get more than a moment’s notice from most users. “The big thing is we painted the whole place,” says Wash. “It’s a big space and, after seven years, it was looking a bit tired.”

To give the room a new look, Facilities Services staff came up with a new multi-tone brown paint scheme and cleaned dust from all light fixtures and ceilings. “It has made a big difference and it seems like it’s a popular space,” Wash says.

The Computing Commons is located on the first level of the William Small Centre. For information on hours and services, visit the Computing Commons Labs Web page.