Seeing is Believing in Bowling Green State University's Video/Multimedia Lab

In 1996, Ohio's Bowling Green State University (BGSU) made its initial investment in the creation of a combined teaching and training laboratory for video editing and multimedia education. The university entered into a collaborative agreement with Media 100, a leading manufacturer of video editing hardware and software, and the campus now has a large number of Media 100's high-end machines. At the same time, BGSU began work on a well-equipped video and multimedia laboratory where the school's National Institute for the Study of Digital Media (NISDM) could offer workshops.

The new laboratory was carefully planned so students could gain max-imum benefit from the equipment. The room was laid out with 20 computer workstations for students, as well as group work areas for collaboration. Other design features included special lighting for room flexibility, acoustical paneling, a projection system with track lighting, special floor-based wiring for electrical connections, as well as a built-in wireless microphone and speakers.

Each student workstation was equipped with a computer with dual monitors, a VCR, a PCTV monitor and a tower video breakout box. Desks measuring 6' x 3' were used to accommodate all of this equipment.

One Major Consideration Overlooked

But after having set the video editing and multimedia equipment in place, we realized that we had overlooked one major consideration: the machines had literally built a wall around the student workstations. Even the tallest student could barely see over the mountain of hardware.

Although the equipment met the training needs of virtually every student and instructor, the lack of visibility prevented the lab from being as effective a learning center as it could be. The institute's clients verified our conclusion in evaluations. They gave the facility high marks for its training resources but affirmed that visibility was not adequate.

Both students and teachers were affected by the lack of a line of sight between them. Students tended to become distracted because they had difficulty making visual contact with the instructors, seeing PowerPoint slides and videos, and following instructions. Trainers, unable to see their trainees, had no access to non-verbal clues to their instruction's effectiveness. For both students and teachers, communication was made more difficult by the workstation walls that blocked the line of sight, impeded sound waves, and reduced the ability to hear or lip-read - serious implications for people with hearing challenges.

Issues of Monitor Size and Multimedia Education

These problems are not unique to the NISDM. Issues relating to monitor size are the bane of virtually every computer-based instructional facility, ranging from K-12 to higher education to adult learning centers. Today's 17" and 19" monitors are not only a visual block, but also uncomfortable. Computer users must look up at them, causing neck and shoulder strain - a particular problem for adults who wear bifocals.

Multimedia education creates an additional ergonomic issue because of its shift from the keyboard to the mouse. And pullout keyboard trays require the computer user's arm to be further extended and slightly raised, an uncomfortable posture that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

Workstation Developed to Achieve Objectives

At the NISDM, our first step was to move existing desks apart to help give students side views around the equipment. This was intended only as a temporary fix; however, it did nothing to improve forward visibility. Our true focus was on providing workstations that fully addressed the issues of visibility and ergonomics within the framework of multimedia education.

Working in collaboration with BioFit Engineered Products, a manufacturer of ergonomic furniture products, we developed an instructional computer technology workstation that achieves these objectives:

  • Line-of-sight visibility. The computer desk features a semi-recessed monitor design that lowers the overall workstation profile almost 6". The desk has a sloping shelf that enables the monitor to sit at an angle that emulates the natural position a person uses when reading a book. Students and instructors are given a clear view of each other, and students can easily see visual presentations.
  • Ergonomic functionalism. With the desk's semi-recessed monitor design, students don't have to look up at monitors. The issues of the keyboard and mouse are also addressed by having them on a single surface, providing forearm and wrist support.
  • Equipment flexibility. We needed a computer desk that could adapt to a single monitor, dual monitors, raid arrays, new VCRs, any future conversion to flat-panel monitors, plus advancements in technology. BioFit developed a system of inserts that enables platforms of various widths and heights to be set into the desk's recessed area. The workstation can be customized easily to accommodate large amounts of equipment and meet changing needs.
  • User-friendly wire management. Perhaps no other computer application has as many wires as a fully equipped video workstation. We designed our computer desk with an easily accessible tray that securely holds wires and passes power cables from one machine to the next - keeping wires organized, out of sight and out of the way.

A More Positive Learning Environment

Students and faculty alike agree that the computer technology workstations have created a more positive learning environment within the NISDM. Students can see, faculty can hear and everyone is more comfortable. One professor with bifocals told me that he normally uses his computer for only about 20 minutes because of neck strain caused by looking up at the monitor. With the semi-recessed monitor design of our desk, his neck never bothered him during a two-day, 16-hour workshop.

The video/multimedia laboratory's positive experience with its new workstations captured BGSU's attention. Sample prototypes of the desk were tested at one of the school's regular computer labs and gained positive reviews among students and faculty. As a result, the university installed more than 200 BioFit computer desks into classrooms in five of its buildings.

Larry Hatch, Ph.D.
Bowling Green State University

Contact Info
BioFit Engineered Products
Waterville, OH
(800) 597-0246

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.