Technology broadcasts school life

Author: Angie Roberts
Whether they’re in hotel lobbies or airport terminals, many of us have benefitted from self-service kiosks that alerted us to special events and pointed us to the nearest coffee bar. Now, visitors to Grissom Hall can benefit from the same technology.

Alvaro VillanuevaEarlier this year, the School of Industrial Engineering installed two touch screens in strategic locations on the first and second floors. Hung on the walls, the 42-inch Samsung screens provide rapid access to everything from professors’ photos to poster session overviews. The school has dubbed its new additions the “Nimble” display, pointing to the agile way in which information can be communicated.

“Suppose alumni walk in and want to find a faculty member. They can navigate through the screens and find that person,” says John Burr, knowledge management director, e-Enterprise Center. Potential students, as well, can locate academic advisors or see the nature of current students’ projects.

High-tech wayfinding is typically used to help us find places and access information. Displays such as those recently installed by IE take the idea beyond that navigational purpose, helping people visualize what Grissom Hall’s architecture does not allow. Constructed in 1905, Grissom was built long before modern design methods allowed for the openness that’s a hallmark of university buildings today.

“In Neil Armstrong Hall, you see a lot of life going on because windows allow people to see what is happening in labs and classrooms. If you walk into Grissom, there are a lot of laboratories behind closed doors,” Burr says. “Our intent is to electronify or Web-enable some of the posters or other media that really show what’s happening in the IE curriculum.”

The Nimble technology also promotes collaboration. “Across campus, faculty may not know of someone else’s research expertise, because everybody’s areas are specialized. There may be an opportunity to collaborate, but you have to find that person and know their skill set. It is important to push that research out there somehow. A nimble display allows dynamic presentations of research with a user’s ability to dig deeper where interested,” Burr says.

To set up the screens, Alvaro Villanueva (MSIE ’09), IE webmaster and graduate student, handled the layout. Brian Brinegar, Engineering Computer Network Web services coordinator, managed the coding. The screens overlap with some of IE’s Web content, but the layout is different. Instead of the patchwork of columns and rows that make up the pages of the IE Web site, the screens display either one or two major items on each page.

“There are some distinctions with going from a computer to a touch screen without navigation bars; you have to format for that size, and you have to be parsimonious with the material to fit the media,” Burr says.

Grissom Hall will soon be renovated to open up public areas more. “Nimble is one step toward bringing a new look to the building,” says Villanueva. “You see this big display, very bright, all the information you need to have; it really brings our community closer together.”