Political Science 2015 (2nd Round Proposal)
The Department of Political Science seeks to upgrade the existing equipment in the Smith Hall general purpose and graduate student computer labs. These labs are managed and operated by the Political Science Department but are open to and used on a daily basis by many students from a wide range of schools and departments on campus. The machines in these labs have recently shown an increased difficulty in meeting students’ computing needs, particularly in the use of memory- and performance-intensive applications. An upgrade to the lab would therefore greatly enhance student experience and would be crucial for continuing to meet the needs of students using these labs.
Thank you for the opportunity to revise our proposal for the second round. We appreciate the feedback from the committee, and understand the committee’s concern that the computer lab in Smith Hall seemed to duplicate other nearby centralized computing resources
Your feedback makes us believe that we made a strategic mistake in our initial proposal. Recognizing that the funds were coming from student fees, we emphasized the many ways that we structure our lab to benefit a wide variety of students, and particularly our efforts to make the lab primarily available as a walk-in location for general student computing needs. That emphasis meant that we failed to highlight some of significant and unique lab features that both serve the interests of our students and distinguish our lab from nearby facilities. We thus now supplement our original proposal with a brief outline of some of the distinctive features of the Smith Lab that provide substantial value to the undergraduate and graduate students in our very large program. (More than 600 majors and 6,000 annual course enrollments.)
First, the machines in the lab are loaded with specialized software that students use in their coursework and research, including statistical programs like Stata and R, as well as the polling software used in our survey lab. These programs are particularly important for our graduate students, including for a required methods class. More generally, specialized computing and programming skills are becoming increasingly important in our discipline, with our faculty often at the cutting edge. The result has been installation of additional specialized software in response to student needs and request. An example is Python, a programming language for data collection and interpretation. Our faculty have also recently developed courses on “Data Visualization” and “Text as Data”, with students regularly making use of specialized software available in the computer lab for assignments. In addition, the lab employs a graduate student assistant with advanced statistical skills who is available to consult with students on statistical and other software. Note also because we are a relatively small lab with a linked community of users, it is easy for us to be responsive to student requests for new resources and tools.
Second, the lab is equipped for use as a computer classroom. It is used for that purpose when our regular classes need to add occasional sessions with hands on instruction in programming, computing, or online research; often using our specialized software. Although the space is not primarily used as a classroom, having it available in a familiar location makes it easier for faculty to offer this valuable form of instruction to students, and easier for students to follow through on instruction in the same location during drop in hours. The classroom space also serves as a location of more impromptu collaborative work and informal instruction among small groups of students during drop in hours.
Finally, during evening hours Political Science has used the computer lab space to run a call center for our Survey Research Center. That center runs the Washington Poll, the highest quality voter opinion survey for Washington State, as well as numerous national polls used in faculty and student research. Students have had their research advanced at huge cost savings because the Survey Center enables them to add their own questions to national surveys. Students in our undergraduate courses on Public Opinion have gained a valuable hands-on learning experience (as well as pay) from work on these polls. In addition, the graduate students who have helped to design polls and manage the calling center have gained work experience that has helped them on the academic job market.
While the classroom and call center uses are not typical uses for spaces funded by student fees, the benefits of those uses for students, together with the minimal impact on general availability of lab resources during regular drop-in hours, make the lab a very good investment for STF funding. It is because we are conscious of the fees coming from students that we work to ensure that the lab space gets frequent use and is equipped to fulfill a variety of different functions that benefit students. While some of those functions are available at other places, others are not, and no other location provides such a useful combination of resources and availability for our students. The information we provided earlier on student usage of the lab indicates how much students use, and value, the space. We do not have an alternative source of funding, so this valuable resource for students would soon be lost without STF funding.
The Smith Hall 220 computer lab has served the undergraduate and graduate students on North Campus since Autumn 1997. This facility was created with the financial support of the Provost, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and prior Student Technology Fee grants. It is open to all UW students 40 hours a week from Monday to Friday and is equipped with 25 desktop computers and monitors, 2 black and white laser printers, and 1 scanner. It is also open to visitors for use on a drop-in basis and UW courses that require computer lab support.
The Political Science Graduate Student Lab in Smith Hall 41 operates alongside the Smith Hall 220 general purpose computer lab and is available 24-hours a day to all Political Science graduate students on a key access basis for completion of assignments, printing, and support for work as Teaching Assistants. It is filled with 5 desktop computers and monitors, 1 black and white laser printer, and 1 computer for imaging and emergency backup.
The general purpose computer lab provides a convenient research and study area for those who frequent the Quad and North Campus and offers general and specialized software for students to complete assignments, analyze data, print materials, and access high-speed internet for web-based activities and email. The lab provides a crucial resource for a diverse set of students, and provides important support for a broad range of purposes, including communication, printing, and graduate and undergraduate research. In addition to standard office and web browsing software, the lab machines offer specialized software applications, including several statistical packages (R, Stata, SPSS), Adobe Suite, ArcGis, and others. This lab is also commonly used as a classroom for courses and lab sessions on research methods and applied statistics at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Benefits to Students and the University
Given the volume and breadth of students using the computer labs, as well as the tools that the lab provides, an upgrade to the lab machines would be of great benefit to the UW community.
An analysis of lab usage during the 2013-2014 academic year shows that there were 1192 unique users of the computer lab, including students from all three UW campuses, staff, and visitors. In Fall Quarter 2013 alone, there were 621 unique users of the lab machines, not including computer lab staff. During the year, there were students from 112 undergraduate majors who used the lab from all across campus, including the College of Arts and Science, the College of Education, the College of Engineering. Students from the Law, Societies & Justice program, the Geography program, and pre-majors were especially well represented. The remaining users were from graduate programs.
The number of majors being represented and the mix of grad and undergrad students using the lab suggest that the computer lab has strong visibility on campus and is accessible to a wide range of students. Thus, an upgrade of the machines would be contributing to the computing needs of a large segment of the UW community and not just one department or school. Given the number of pre-majors using the lab, an upgrade would be especially beneficial to these younger students who have not yet attached themselves to the resources of a specific department.
The usage time was 40 minutes on average per computer, and the median was 18 minutes. These usage times suggest that students are not using the lab machines just to print or check their email but for more constructive academic purposes as well. The lab computers are equipped with all of the software applications that students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels need to succeed as a political science major and other majors. This includes software to help in completing coursework assignments, independent research projects, and data analysis. An upgrade would therefore be essential for maintaining student productivity in the labs and for continued use of the machines as a tool for their academic success for both individual and classroom use.
Finally, as one of the largest undergraduate majors at UW, continued maintenance and support for the labs would help to bring continued attention to the Political Science Department as a hub for promoting interdisciplinary research and scholarship. As students from other schools and departments frequent the computer lab, this helps to improve the visibility of the department.
The Political Science Labs have proven successes as essential teaching and research resources for our undergraduate and graduate students. The Smith 220 Lab is far more than “a computer lab” as evidenced by the extensive teaching use of the lab and the heavy demand by our undergraduate majors (some 1,000 majors; among the largest in the College) and others for access to information, printing, and other support as part of their research and course activities. The Graduate Lab serves as a hub for our graduate students and is very important to their work as teaching assistants.
With the declining availability of computing facilities on campus, these resources are all the more essential. Our Department maintains a strong continuing commitment to supporting the basic operations of these facilities and to future development of innovative uses of new technologies and services that directly benefit the many student users. As noted in the proposal, we devote considerable staff support for maintaining computing equipment in the labs and for staffing the 220 Smith Lab. We also have a strong track record for directing support funds to particularly worthwhile projects. The machines for STATA and SPSS that were obtained through past STF support have now become one of the most popular reasons that our students use the lab.
This proposal builds on these commitments to ensure that these two computer labs include up-to-date hardware and software in order to further enrich student experiences.
Chair, Department of Political Science
My students love the computer lab. I know that they drop in periodically to work on assignments, but they also use it when they take exams. Instead of having students respond to essay questions in a blue book, I have them take the exam in the computer lab. They love it, for all the obvious reasons. Who writes anything important long hand? They are able to easily edit and revise their answers and so turn in to me their best work. Equally important, I'm able to read it (which is not always the case when writing with a pen, especially under time pressure). Though I always give students the option to write their exams in a blue book (even with the promise of extra time), almost no one does. It's easier, better, and faster to write on a computer. I use always use this for my seminars, as well as when I teach smaller classes. I depend on the lab, as do my students. And Steve Dunne makes the whole process incredibly easy.
It's a GREAT resource.
Professor, Department of Political Science
New equipment will be ordered as soon as we receive notification of funding. We hope to have the new equipment ordered as close to the July 1 disbursement date as possible. Once the new equipment arrives, our top priority during the Summer Quarter will be to have a stable workstation model with all of the software and have the lab computers installed by the beginning of Autumn Quarter.
Resources Provided by Department
The Political Science Department offers considerable support for the operation of the computer labs that amounts to over $100,000 a year for staff and equipment. This includes 1 full time Senior Computer Specialist who manages the labs, servers, hardware and software; 1 graduate RA lab assistant; and 3 to 4 undergraduate lab assistants hired on an hourly basis. These individuals are vital to the computer lab's success because they provide available, peer support at all times for any student using the lab facility.
In addition, the Political Science Department provides additional hardware to supplement the needs of the computer lab, including servers and maintenance of Windows network domain controllers and printing software; printing supplies, Ethernet, and additional software as needed; and data projectors for classes and conferences. All basic infrastructure, including security, power, and insurance is also provided by the department. Moreover, all computers are joined to the UW and Political Science networks and can access the resources offered.
The Department also provides graduate students in Political Science and students enrolled in some Political Science classes printing accounts with a quarterly quota of printing, as well as pay-for-print services for all users of the lab (DawgPrints). Political Science graduate students have 24-hour access to dedicated server space to manage and preserve their research and data.
Access Restrictions (if any)
The computer lab in Smith Hall 220 is open to all UW students and visitors Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm during the academic year (with after-hours access for Political Science graduate students) and 10am–3pm during the Summer Quarter.
The only time restrictions during regular lab hours are reserved class time, which comprises less than 20% of hours during any given quarter. Even when classes are scheduled but not using all the stations, non-class related students are often allowed to stay and use computers in the back of the room.
The Graduate Student Lab in Smith Hall 41 has key access given to Political Science graduate students with no time restrictions.
For the last three years I have used the computer equipment at Smith Hall lab for most of my school and professional needs. I have relied on the lab for research, printing, editing documents, and extensive writing. I have also enjoyed the help and resourcefulness of dedicated staffs.
As a student committed to excellence, I ask your help to better equip the Smith Hall lab so that many students, like me, can benefit from crucial and improved technology.
Ana Alice Block
I regularly make use of the computer lab on the second floor of Smith. It is conveniently located by my Autumn quarter classes, and it will be likewise in Winter. And so, if any equipment updates are being considered, and if anyone is interested in a student's endorsement, I can offer mine.
I am writing you today to express my gratitude at the level of service I always receive when I work in the Smith 220 computer lab. The staff has always been exceedingly friendly to me. As a graduate student last year, I was able to finish most of my final projects using your lab, and if I ever became a little too engrossed in my work, and lost track of time, your staff would often (very generously!) allow me to stay a bit beyond the official closing time to finish up and save my work. I began coming to this lab because of its convenient location, and I kept coming due to the genial atmosphere, helpful service, and the quality of the technology. Lately, however, I have noticed that some of the computers have begun to show their age. I know that the replacement of computers is not entirely under your control, but, if possible, could you please check with the relevant university authorities to ensure that the technological hardware continues to keep apace with the demands of the most recent programs?
I'm e-mailing to express my support for upgrading the Political Science computer lab in Smith Hall. I use the lab often as I find it to be the most centrally located because the majority of my classes are near Red Square or on the Quad and most of them are in Smith. Given the amount of work I do using the computers at the lab, I think having PCs with faster systems would help me to work more efficiently, especially when I am doing work involving multimedia (video, audio, and graphics). The lab is especially important for me as I do not have a laptop computer that I can easily bring to class (due to its age and size) so I find myself disadvantaged compared to students who can easily transport more recent, lightweight models. Having access to the most up-to-date technology available would greatly enhance my educational experience. I have also noted the use of the lab for special class sessions and final exams and I think that better equipment would improve classroom and testing environments by helping them to run more smoothly.
I am very appreciative of all the work that you do running the lab and making it a conducive work environment for students. I've written many 4.0 papers, designed several projects, taken part in many online course discussions, and planned and coordinated events for the RSOs I belong to thanks to the computer lab.
Senior, Medical Anthropology and Global Health
My name is Kierra Elfalan and I am a student here at the University of Washington in the Communication Department. I use the computer science lab in Smith on a daily basis because it is quiet and there are always computers available for homework and printers to print with. I know the equipment is paid for with the student technology fee and I think that more money should be used to contribute to new equipment for this computer lab.
I know a lot of students who use this computer lab and updated, newer equipment would be so much more satisfying for the student experience in the lab. New equipment will overcome the limitations that the older computer equipment has. For example maybe newer equipment also includes newer programs that students use in their classes and it would be helpful if students could get that here instead of having to go to another building.
I have been a regular student in this lab for three years and the equipment is definitely due for an upgrade. The wonderful staff and students in this building would deeply appreciate the contribution to student education and the computer experience. I am sure students who occasionally visit the lab would agree.
KING 5 Morning News Intern
I am Indy, a caregiver who takes care of a UW student named Morgan Cain. In the fall quarter of 2014, I have been using the lab computers in Smith Hall. I like this lab, because easy to reach it and so good for me to handle my emails, and some stuff in computer matters. I hope your lab still will be going on for next quarters.
I talked also to Morgan Cain about this UW Political Science lab facility, and I am sure he also needs this lab (for emails, assignments, and printings) for the next quarters if he has classes in this building.
HP Elite Desktop 800 Small Form Factor Desktop computers from CDWG:
HP 23 inch monitors.Justification
Replacement of older computers and monitors from 2011 STF in computer lab.
HP Scanjet N6310 USB scanner.
Replacement of aging scanner for student computer lab.
Upgrade from 2010/2011 version. A useful, and very often necessary, statistical program for transferring data between formats and different statistical programs. Serves student research needs.
Stata Corp. quote (Stata product, sold seprately).Justification
Upgrade to Stat Transfer 12 software. New version works with newer Windows Office versions and has added support for more formats.
This program was requested but unavailable via STF keyserver due to licensing method.
HP Laserjet 600 M602dn networked printers for Graduate Student printing (24 hour access) and main computer lab use.
Replacement of aging HP Laserjet printers from 2009 STF, used by grad students.
Tax for items listed.Justification
Total requested: $35,571.27
Total funded: $24,868.27
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