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Are you up for iBorrowing?

The iBorrow project at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), partly funded by JISC, is one of thirty-nine projects that form part of the second phase of JISC’s Institutional Innovation Programme.

One of the principal goals of the project was to provide 200 thin-client (atom-based) netbooks for students and staff to borrow and use within Augustine House, the University’s new state-of-the-art library and student services centre, as “easily as picking up a book from a shelf”.

When the University embarked upon the Augustine House building programme, which represents the largest single development that the University has ever embarked upon, a lot of research went into the make-up of flexible and adaptable learning spaces. It quickly became apparent that some of the questions about students’ activities within such learning centres, which our building programme raised, did not have authoritative answers.

The iBorrow project provided us with an opportunity to understand how students use mobile versus fixed computing devices within large-scale learning spaces. Furthermore, the project would also provide a demonstration on how an institution could implement software and desktop virtualisation using location-aware technologies and deploying these across a wireless network. The project also touches upon the “green ICT” and “low carbon” agenda.

Moreover, coupled the hardware is location-related information that is overlaid with additional information that can support a better understanding on how the University’s students, academic and support staff have reacted as groups to the way that space, pedagogy and technology have been integrated. One of our aspirations is that it would provide us with valuable intelligence on how resources are being managed within Augustine House, thus allowing us to plan for the future.

Augustine House opened in September 2009 and the iBorrow netbooks went “live” in October 2009. One of our concerns would be that students would simply not use the netbooks – we needn’t have worried, for as soon as the cabinets in which the netbooks were held in were opened, the students flocked towards them and were eager to see what they were all about. The processing power of the servers that were supporting the software and desktop virtualisation of the netbooks literally shot through the roof. On average, we are looking at between 250 and 350 people using the netbooks per working day. One of the affordances of using the netbooks has been to see how the students are using the different spatial configurations with Augustine House. Furthermore, some students are preferring to leave their own laptops at home and use the iBorrow netbooks instead!

Our next big concern was that a number of the netbooks would be disappearing out of the people within the first few days or weeks of the netbooks being available. To our utmost, and pleasant, surprise this has not happened (yet!). An unexpected, or unanticipated, outcome of the “laptop borrowing scheme” is that students are returning the netbooks back to the cabinets to be charged up ready for the next person. The interesting thing here, is that no one has prompted them to do this nor are there any big signs or posters that shout “thou shalt do this” at them; it would seem that they have developed a form of “collegiate pride”.

More information about iBorrow can be found on the project blog, and you can see for yourselves the iBorrow netbooks in action in Augustine House by going over to the project Flickr site. If that has whetted your appetite, then you would be interested to learn that the University will be running a national conference called “Learning Spaces and Technology: The iBorrow Project” which takes place in Augustine House on Thursday 25th March, 2010 from 11:00am until 4:30pm – we would love to see you!

- A special thank you to Wayne Barry, Learning Technologist at Canterbury Christ Church University for the blog post. wayne.barry@canterbury.ac.uk

Picture:A girl sitting at a desk with a white laptop in front of her which reads 'iBorrow'.

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