Saturday, September 29, 2007

Minor Frustrations: Vent! (People given the task of designing things who have never actually done that thing)

To its credit, the school district opened up a new computer lab at the main headquarters building where I work. A brand new room with 40 computers. When I first heard about it, I was quite excited because I've been delivering my trainings using laptops in a conference room. Using the laptops means a lot of setting up including rearranging tables and laying out electrical cords and powerstrips for the adapters since the batteries on the laptops don't carry a sufficient charge anymore. The conference room also feels very crowded when there are more than 15 participants. The computer training room must be reserved in advance and there's a bit of a procedure for that, but nothing insurmountable.

In any case, I walked into the room for the first time a few weeks ago when I first heard about it to see what the accomodations were like. It's a beautiful room of course and it even has a side alcove with a kitchen area that can be used for breaks. So what's the rant? I look up and there isn't an LCD projector hanging from the ceiling, nor a screen to project anything on. Just a couple of white boards hanging at the front of the room! Can any of you imagine creating a computer training room in the year 2007 without an LCD projector and screen? Of course not! But you weren't asked for suggestions when somebody decided that having a training room would be a good thing. Now it's not like there aren't other training rooms in the headquarters. Other departments have created small rooms for their use where they do training, just as I have done using laptops. And in every single one, there's an LCD projector hanging from the ceiling! It's just the brand spankin' new one that doesn't have one...

Now that I've given my first training in the room (yesterday) I have a few added comments. The rows of tables are too close together so that the presenter has a hard time walking between them when people are actually sitting down and using the computers. The tables themselves are arranged in long rows of 8 stations across with no center aisle and one end of the tables pushed up all the way against the wall so that the electrical and internet connections go directly from the wall to the computers without an aisle. For the presenter, this means that to take a look at a computer screen or to provide assistance means walking all the way to the other end of the row to the aisle and then returning the same way. Did I mention the rows are too close together already? So not only do you have to walk all of that distance you have to keep bumping people and saying "excuse me" the whole way!

Finally, the computers themselves are "old-style" large CPUs sitting right on top of the tables taking up space and blocking the line of sight.

Is using the room easier to make use of than setting up laptops on a conference table and running electrical cords? Yes it is, but not by a lot. Could it have been designed to be much much better? Yes again. I did get a chance to talk to the guy who was in charge of design and installation. He did say that there are plans to go back and install a screen and an LCD projector but that hasn't happened yet. I haven't had a chance to talk with him about the aisle issue or having the rows of tables too close together. I don't know what can be done about that at this point without re-doing all of the cabling. Nowadays, it seems like the installation method involves tying down every bit of cable without an inch of slack. Even if I wanted to move the tables (they're on wheels) there's no leeway to be had. I had a hard time moving a keyboard more than a few inches away from the monitor much less trying to move an entire row of tables...

Would it have hurt to try to find any of the individuals in the school district who provide training in lab situations and ask what makes a good training room?

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