Welcome to the Sandbox!

I was asked to write about why we created the Sandbox, its goals and purposes, how students will be using it, and what other universities have similar facilities. As we prepare for our grand opening on Monday, September 26, here are some insights into what we were thinking.

The CIS Learning and Technology Sandbox is the newly remodeled and re-envisioned “CIS Lab” located in Smith 234.

beforeThe term “Sandbox” in industry refers to an environment for experimentation and trying new things. That’s our vision – to create an inviting, collaborative space for exploring and learning new technologies, and to support student learning for our courses, in ways that resonate with today’s digital students. Outfitted so far with Google TVs, collaborative study spaces, large-screen TVS, a smart board, specialized networking equipment, as well as experimental software environments (such as Windows 8, and Linux) we have designed an appealing space for students to interact with new technologies. Microsoft, in support of our plans for this new facility, donated an Xbox and several software titles for students to use here. We hope this will further their interest in Information Technology.

afterThe Sandbox marks a formal transition from the individualized “computer lab” layout with computers around the perimeter of the room and students facing the walls, popular in the design of computer labs of the 1980’s and 1990s, to a more informal space where learning takes place around small tables or in a lounge setting.


The Sandbox is more than a physical space, however; it exists on the web at http://cis.bentley.edu/sandbox as a Website where students can learn more about the facility, view a growing list of technology resources compiled by their peers, chat with lab staff on duty for help, and learn from the blog posts of their fellow students, and connect via social networks. The Sandbox also hints at our new approach for running a learning facility like a startup business: when they are not tutoring, both undergraduate and graduate students are responsible for the publicity, management, software support, and day-to-day operations necessary to maintain the new facility. The Sandbox Website models the use of open-source software tools, integrating industry standard web-based applications (such as Google calendar), and provides student workers the opportunity to learn about how to use these applications in an enterprise setting.

Recognizing the growth of mobile and portable computing devices, we reduced the number of desktop computers in the room from thirty-six to twelve, making more room for laptops, and providing the ability for students to share on large screen TV’s from laptops, iPads and other tablets, and other devices. The Sandbox will rely heavily on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to reach students. An interactive smartboard nestled between working tables creates a casual learning area for small class activities, presentations and workshops.

The Sandbox will become the hub of student tutoring for all CIS and IT courses on campus. With over 100 hours a week of student coverage for tutoring, students enrolled in IT 101, other undergrad and grad CIS courses, ITCA, and other courses can visit the Sandbox for tutoring, one on one, or in small groups at the four study tables.

Sandbox student tutors are already planning workshops for other students on new technologies to be held in the Sandbox. They are working on sessions introducing new features of Office, making the most of your laptop, and using social media to promote student organizations. These “events” will take place in the Sandbox.

Students in our undergraduate and graduate networking classes will use the specialized networking equipment to learn about configuring and creating computer networks.

Educause reports that “Today’s students mix academic and social activities. Some see their multitasking as a troublesome lack of ability to concentrate, but it is a logical strategy for students who grew up in a world with media in many formats at their fingertips 24 hours a day. Information commons, with their large numbers of computers, range of software, and spaces configured for groups, provide an ideal environment for students to collaborate with others and multitask. Developing spaces where students can collaborate outside class provides support for an increased emphasis on teamwork, both in and outside higher education.”

The design includes elements from learning spaces found in other specialty labs at Bentley and other universities, but adapted for learning and exploring technology and computer systems. University of Arkansas recently opened a Technology Lounge with informal seating and a gaming area, for students to interact with “technology … not always compatible with the focus of their [academic] computing labs, such as gaming, Facebooking, or uploading Youtube videos.” This space is not designed for tutoring, but for social computing.  Rutgers University opened a Computing Alcove where “students can work together on projects in a comfortable, roomy, and pleasant environment using state-of-the-art equipment.” University of South Carolina involved students in the design of their new Technology Lounge, and found that students wanted “good lighting, comfortable chairs, new carpet, new paint colors, group study areas, more desk space and privacy screens for individual computers, more multimedia software, more scanners, and flexible seating.”

Bentley’s CIS Learning and Technology Sandbox embraces the lessons learned from these facilities, and the successes from Bentley’s other campus learning spaces, adapting them to the needs of CIS students and Bentley’s culture. This space supports students by providing tutoring as well as through opportunities to explore new software and hardware. It makes the most of the space we have (Smith 234 is a dark, corner, basement room with no windows) and turns it into a welcoming place that brings visibility to the CIS department, its students, and courses. “Sandbox” is a playful term in a business context, and fits well as the name of our new facility.

 We invite you to visit us in Smith 234. Our grand opening is Monday, Sept. 26. at noon.