CNN or ESPN commentators who parade their control of data by dramatically pushing, pulling, and reorganizing vast amounts of images or data on huge wall screens with mere sweeps of their hands will soon have nothing on the average North Carolina State University student.
A substantial grant awarded through the U.S. Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) will anchor the latest initiative from the NCSU Libraries aimed at transforming how students learn and create in twenty-first century academic libraries. In the Libraries’ new Technology Sandbox, currently under construction in D. H. Hill Library, NC State students will soon be able to put their talents to work at almost any hour of any day on the large-scale display and gesture-based computing technologies that are now revolutionizing the visual display of data and the creation of digital media.
The Technology Sandbox will also serve as a test bed and showcase for technologies that will be available when the new James B. Hunt Jr. Library is completed in 2012, helping to ensure that the iconic building will be one of the most technically stunning academic learning spaces in the country.
The NCSU Libraries has earned an international reputation as a technology incubator for the NC State campus and for academic libraries in general—for understanding how today’s students learn and for encouraging that learning with inspirational spaces. Today’s learners are mobile, deeply sophisticated in visual grammar and navigation, and thoroughly at home in a participatory culture. They learn by doing, and thrive in conditions where a group of friends putting their heads together over the latest technology at 3 a.m. can produce fabulously innovative projects.
Since it opened in 2007, the D. H. Hill Learning Commons has become a global destination for those watching how hands-on, project-based learning and collaboration can become a competitive advantage for a great university and for its graduates. The Tech Sandbox, a 1700-square-foot space down the hall from the Learning Commons, will spur this innovation and student creativity forward at an accelerated speed and anticipate the environment that students and faculty can expect from the Hunt Library, now being built on NC State’s Centennial Campus.
The LSTA grant will allow the Libraries to bring online a Perceptive Pixel display wall to provide the sort of interactive, multi-touch systems that are becoming familiar to the public through large businesses like CNN who make their mark creating visually powerful data. The software development kit that empowers the Perceptive Pixel display will soon begin transforming how students and faculty go about their research, teaching and learning. When the Tech Sandbox opens in the fall of 2010, it will also feature two Microsoft Surface tables that allow multiple users to simultaneously move digital information and objects around the unit’s tabletop by simply touching the screen.
While large-scale visualization and multi-touch equipment is already finding its way into specialized labs around the NC State campus, the Tech Sandbox will make these tools easily available to all comers during the 140+ hours each week that D. H. Hill is open and packed with students and researchers. It will be the go-to place for the NC State community to experiment and play with new and otherwise out-of-reach technologies in an informal area that encourages the peer-to-peer learning and collaboration that have made the NCSU Libraries the most popular student haunt on campus. In addition, the technology incubator will provide a powerful lab for library staff and faculty to prototype and experiment with new types of learning spaces, especially those that specialize in blending the virtual with the physical.
The creative learning spaces that sprout from the work done in the Tech Sandbox will grow into the core of the Hunt Library, where technology immersion will be the norm throughout the building. "We plan for the Hunt Library to be nothing less than the best learning and collaborative space in the nation," says Susan Nutter, vice provost and director of the NCSU Libraries. "In the two years we have before the new building is completed, the Technology Sandbox will be a great incubator for us, filled with our best and brightest helping us evaluate new technologies and shape the Hunt experience. And we plan to have great fun while we are at it."