Based on 2015 historical data gathered from the annual UofU Learning Spaces-Student Computing Fees Award Process (LS-SCF), it was estimated there were at least 226 individual student computer labs across the University of Utah campus. These labs are employed by classes requiring computer stations for students as well as for individual student study and software utilization. The actual number of computer labs is likely greater; the Learning Spaces-Student Computing Fees Awards Process only identifies computer labs for which colleges, libraries, and centers submit funding proposals to the LS-SCF.
Because of the decentralized nature of lab operations and maintenance on our campus, several conditions have emerged over the years...
- Computer labs operated by different colleges each request funding for software packages similarly used by other labs.
- Some computer labs are very specialized; they require higher-end computer stations to run more complex software that places greater demands on computer processors and displays.
- A variety of computer types and operating systems are in play across different labs.
- Different labs use different refresh cycles for their labs, some rotating portions of their inventory each year, others preferring a complete refresh for labs all-at-once every 3 to 5 years.
- Different computer labs have different capabilities, e.g., number and type of printers, peripherals, audio-visual devices, and data projection or large flat-panel displays for rooms.
- Students are unaware of the locations and hours of operation for computer labs across the entirety of campus.
- Students are unaware of the software available in different labs.
- Actual software usage is not necessarily tracked.
- Actual logins by users may not be extensively tracked.
- Average time that users spend in a session is not always known.
- When labs typically reach capacity, it is not necessarily known or communicated to the campus.
- In recent years, actual installation of software packages on workstations in physical computer labs is being replaced by virtual deployments of software to workstations as well as personal computers and laptops owned by students themselves (software anywhere, on demand). Many have referred to the two approaches as "Physical Computer Labs" and "Virtual Computer Labs."
While encouraging more effective and cost-conscious operations and software deployment in both Physical and Virtual Computer Labs, improving accountability, responsibility, reliability, and transparency are key objectives that the University and the LS-SCF Award Process fully appreciate and advance. Working toward increased data collection about our computer lab capacities, capabilities, and performance can better inform the campus of the valuable resources that are offered by the various colleges, libraries, and centers.
Data Collection Initiative
In mid-Spring 2017, the ANTC: Architecture and New Technology Committee for IT Governance within the University of Utah recommended enhanced efforts to collect and analyze data about campus student computer labs and software distribution. A "Lab Statistics Task Force" was formed as a working group in order to detail the requirements and procedures for this initiative. The SITC: Strategic IT Committee likewise approved the initiative with an intent to ask colleges, libraries and centers to collect computer lab usage statistics in the latter half of the Fall 2017 semester. A message was sent to all college deans and associate deans about the initiative and an introductory presentation was made at the July 2, 2017 IT Professionals meeting.
A similar round of data collection occurred during Fall Semester 2018. In July 2018 communications were sent to college deans, associate deans, assistant deans, and department chairs, as well as a follow-up notification to the UIT mailing list subscribers. The memo highlighted changes to the 2018 data collection initiative, noting that "in order to be eligible to receive funds during the 2019 award cycle [for the Learning Spaces-Student Computing Fees process] applicants will be required to provide statistics for their student computer lab usage for Fall Semester 2018."
What is asked of all computer lab managers and operations, as well as virtual software deployment environments, is to gather and supply data so that analysis and aggregation can be conducted to produce snapshot profiles of the University's computer "labs," both physical and virtual, as used by our students.
To facilitate the data collection and decision-making, the University has purchased and licensed on behalf of participating colleges, libraries and centers a primary lab statistics gathering package called LabStats:
- LabStats (https://labstats.com for additional company info)
- LabStats offers data gathering capabilities for both Windows and Macintosh-based computer labs using Windows and Macintosh operating systems.
- Overview quoted from the LabStats website:
- Provides a simple cloud-based solution for measuring technology usage in computer labs. Customized reports make visualizing usage data quick and easy.
- Determine which computers are being used the most/least.
- Analyze extent of software usage.
- Back up funding requests with hard numbers and prove that hardware and software resources are being fully utilized.
- Recent updates to the LabStats data gathering tool offer group access restrictions, meaning one college or department cannot see data from another college or department.
- For more information about licensing and using LabStats, refer to these resources:
The University is also licensing data gathering software for virtual environments called K2-Server (from Sassafras):
- Sassafras K2 Server (https://sassafras.com for additional company info)
- Sassafras offers data gathering capabilities in virtual computing environments where virtual software deployments are used by colleges and departments. Logs are gathered from the K2 Server installation.
- Overview quoted from the Sassafras website:
- Computer inventory data
- Software product recognition
- Policy-driven software licensing
- Usage and optimization reports
Other data collection methods can be used, depending on your computing environments:
- Unix/Linux Scripting
- For computer labs in which the operating systems are Unix/Linux, scripting is often required to gather data. Various college and department IT groups devise their own customized scripts.
- Installation or implementation of LabStats is not a requirement for the collection of the needed data. It is understood and expected that some departments/colleges have existing, alternative procedures for collecting computer lab usage statistics.
What Data should be Collected?
Please see this article SCLU: What Data Should be Collected for the Computer Lab Statistics Initiative? for specific data points that are of interest to the initiative.
Getting Started with LabStats
Consult this getting started guide to become familiar with the steps to implement LabStats. But be sure to contact the Marriott Library first (see above SCLU article) for assistance in configurations and licensing (which is already paid for).
Who to Contact | the Task Force
If you have questions about the Student Computer Lab Usage & Software Deployment initiative please contact any of the members of the Task Force:
Jon Thomas - Teaching & Learning Technologies > firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Burrows - Teaching & Learning Technologies > email@example.com
Andrae Meyer - Teaching & Learning Technologies > firstname.lastname@example.org
Demian Hanks - College of Social & Behavioral Science > email@example.com
Steven Jeffs - College of Social & Behavioral Science > firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob White - CECE / Undergraduate Studies > email@example.com
Jeff Folsom - Eccles Health Sciences Library / Health Sciences Education Library > firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Irsik - Marriott Library > email@example.com