This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

New humanities lab brings classroom technology into the light

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Bright. Visible. Flexible. These words describe the new Center for Digital Humanities (CDH) Learning Lab @ Rolfe, a new technology-enabled presentation and collaboration space for teaching and learning at UCLA.  
 
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Annelie Rugg welcomed UCLA students, staff and faculty to the new Center for Digital Humanities Learning Lab @ Rolfe during its official grand opening.
The lab, located in Rolfe 2118, has been utilized as a teaching and learning space since September, but it received more traffic than usual during grand-opening celebrations.
 
Students, staff and faculty were treated to lectures by UCLA instructor Yoh Kawano, who spoke about HyperCities Japan, and Elizabeth Pollard, an associate professor of history from who San Diego State University who delivered a talk, via the collaborate web-conferencing platform, about Twitter and collective learning in large classes. Attendees also participated in "Speed Dating With Technology for Faculty," an opportunity to get brief introductions to a variety of technological teaching tools; a Digital Humanities Program Day, where guests learned about UCLA’s minor and a graduate certificate in the emerging field; and demonstrations of programs like Google Sketchup, Hypercities and VoiceThread, among other things.
 
Flexibility and awareness are key when it comes to teaching with technology, said Annelie Rugg, the director and humanities chief information officer at the Center for Digital Humanities, adding that the lab’s former space in the basement of LuValle Commons was less than ideal. In addition to being dark, the space lacked public visibility and was divided into two rooms that accommodated only 20 to 30 students each. In addition, users were bound by rows of computer stations, which, at times, were a marked barrier between teacher and student.
 
"If any instructor wanted to do breakout groups, it was really awkward," said Rugg, adding that instructors often could not see their students beyond the rows of tables and computer monitors. She said that she is pleased with the design of the new lab and its 50 workstations that can accommodate small groups of four to six people each.
 
"As our students work more intensely with digital media and need to work collaboratively to learn basic intellectual and technical skills, the spaces that support interaction and collaboration serve an essential purpose," said Johanna Drucker, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, who teaches Introduction to Digital Humanities in the new lab. "As an instructor, I can shift gears quickly from lecturing and talking to discussion and activities with the workstations. The Rolfe space is beautifully designed and a pleasure to be in, and it adapts to our multiple uses. We love it and are very appreciative of the effort and care that went into planning it."
 
And the benefits don’t end there. Natural light streams in through the large windows into the spacious high-ceilinged room that can comfortably accommodate 50 students. Added to this is its convenient campus location, said Rugg. "It’s ideal. It’s on north campus between the two libraries and right in the midst of where teaching and studying are happening for humanities and digital humanities." Lab hours, which are weekdays from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., are complemented by extended hours in two satellite labs housed in the Young Research Library. These satellite facilities offer workspace, computers, and specialized software for users when the main Rolfe lab is closed, said Rugg.
 
Much of the funding for the lab came from UCLA’s instructional enhancement fee, which has been around since 1997, but was raised in 2012. "I really take that to heart and am careful about making sure that we allocate those funds to instructional use," Rugg said.
 
In addition to serving as classroom and lab space for the 20 or so faculty members who have been using the facility since it opened in September 2012, the CDH Lab can also be used on a more casual basis for teaching or for students who need a place to do computer work or print off assignments or research. It’s also a physical hub where people can work together and meet, regardless of whether or not a computer or technology is needed, Rugg said.
 
"It’s really about teaching and learning elbow to elbow rather than row by row, and emphasizing active learning — the making of knowledge, as well as the learning of it," said Rugg, adding that the technological opportunities and, at times, expectations of teaching and learning in the 21th century are advancing. While Microsoft Office and an Internet connection were once thought of as being cutting-edge classroom resources, today’s options, which are all available at the CDH Lab, include specialized software used for mapping, statistical analysis, 3-D modeling and text analysis, to name just a few.
 
"We really don’t want to push technology for technology’s sake, but rather to keep pace with the interest and needs of students and faculty," Rugg said. "We’re really here for them when they’re ready to take on something new. You learn by making, so we’re trying to make a space that encourages that to happen."
 
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