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Multimedia Zone: Legitimate study space or the latest tech toys?

By Ryan Scalise
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 24, 2003

The new Multimedia Zone located in the information commons of the ILC is indeed a curious and entertaining sight. Its eight new computers boast some of the latest and greatest in info-tech and digital graphic software, which, by the look of it, seems to be quite sophisticated and costly.

However, these new computers do not seem necessary to have in the ILC.

First, all of the computers in the Zone are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and carry no time limitations - which means that a select few students could monopolize the precious resources of the pilot project.

Furthermore, the money spent on these programs could have been used in other ways that would benefit more students. As it stands, those involved in architectural and graphic animation design will benefit the most from the project.

Ryan Scalise

Limell Lawson, the computing manager for multimedia technologies at the Zone, said that the cost of all the networking and server infrastructure was about $100,000. Those funds are provided by Proposition 301, which gave money to all the state universities to improve technology on their campuses.

So why spend this gift from the state on only eight computers? Ms. Lawson made it a point to say that the $100,000 was not only spent on the computer screens, processors and software alone; there was also money spent on programs that will increase capacity and speed for storing large amounts of information, such as that of a virtual reality project.

Instead of spending the money on graphic design software (which was already available in places like Center for Computing and Information Technology's Gila Center), why not buy more of the computers that are already in use and retrofit them with language tutorial software or some other kind of interactive program that could have been of greater utility to a greater proportion of the student body?

There are only eight systems; there could be 16 if every workspace did not have two processors and two screens each. How are students supposed to become familiar with this software and how it can apply to their course work with only eight units? That is not enough to handle the volume of 37,000 students at the school.

The administration, which ultimately gave the nod for this venture, should have waited until it had the funds to make the originally planned 40 computer stations instead of the eight created due to budget cuts ... then at least a class would have been able to fit in there.

Bernard Begay, one of the Zone's new tech-support staff members, told the Wildcat in an interview that "People usually do e-mail. They're really nifty e-mail readers, with two screens." Why is it necessary to have two computer screens and two processors in order to read e-mails? The regular computers are more than efficient in doing that; and while reading e-mail on dual computer screens may be neat and cool, with all due respect, it's not worth $100,000. Chris Johnson, the director of the Digital Media Resource Center, contends that "the Zone is a 'student-friendly' place, and the multimedia systems can be widely applied and used by any student." When asked why this multimedia center is necessary and applicable to all UA students in their scholastic endeavors, Mr. Johnson said, "Multimedia allows students to come up with new ways and means to articulate themselves." He also added that not all students learn in the same ways - there are both visual and audio learners.

But what good is the new "virtual reality software" going to do for the classes of students that are not affiliated with the arts and design fields of study? How are students going to get instruction on how to operate and explore these new software programs? For instance, if I were to create a virtual reality simulation for a political science class, would the classroom be able to accommodate the virtual presentation, or would the professor or the whole class need to crowd around the Zone to see the presentation?

The Midi station, which has digital audio software accompanied by a keyboard, is located in the upper left-hand corner of the Zone. However, there are other partitioned computer terminals that are right next to the Zone and next to this audio station. Someone trying to focus on writing a paper for class could be distracted by someone playing or creating music and rocking out on the keyboard at the Midi station.

All in all, the Zone seems to be a valuable addition for arts and design students, but provides little besides entertainment to regular students.

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