Montana State University
TitleComputer Science Active Learning Laboratory Request Date2012-11-27
DepartmentComputer Science
RequestorJohn Paxton Phone994-5979
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts In the future, this pilot project will serve as a model for all College of Engineering departments.
Proposed Dates Start: May 6, 2013 End: June 21, 2013
The Computer Science Department seeks $74,534 in one-time funding to remodel a traditional computer laboratory (EPS 254) into an active learning laboratory. The benefits are (1) to provide CS students with a better space in which to work thereby fostering learning and improving retention, (2) to save money in the long run by not needing to replace as many computers through the CFAC process and (3) to serve as a model for other College of Engineering departments to convert traditional computer labs into active learning ones.
This proposal aligns with the objective in MSUís learning goal to increase the graduation rate of MSU students from 51% to 65% by 2019. The Computer Science Department is implementing several strategies to increase the graduation rate of our students such as new and improved courses, launching a student tutoring center, making our curriculum more female friendly and examining our advising process. Converting EPS 254 into an active learning laboratory will provide our students with a comfortable work environment that fosters collaboration and should lead to higher retention.

Furthermore, an active learning laboratory will provide us with a better venue for our student tutoring center that is being piloted this semester. In our tutoring center, upper division undergraduates are available during specified hours to help lower division undergraduates in their computing courses. Studies show that peer mentoring is an effective technique for helping lower division students. It also provides lower division students with role models to emulate. The problem with our current tutoring center is that the only appropriate room we have for this activity is our student success room; a room that comfortably holds 6-8 students. On days before large assignments are due, it is not uncommon for 30-40 students to simultaneously seek help. By remodeling EPS 254 into an active learning space, we would have a superior venue for our student tutoring center. Furthermore, it would also facilitate lower division students helping one another.

Finally, a remodeled EPS 254 would be an ideal location for supplemental instruction sessions that are offered by CS faculty, teaching assistants and/or tutoring center undergraduates.

All of these activities should lead to higher retention rates for students taking computer science courses.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Materials & Supplies 58120             
Contracted Services 16414             
Other Operations              
TOTAL 74534     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

Joe Bleehash of Facilities Planning, Design & Construction provided an estimate of probable cost on November 19, 2012. The information below summarizes the information. The full estimate is available upon request.

Materials and Supplies Breakdown - $58,120

Access floor: $25,530
Carpet: $7,590
Furniture: $10,000
IT/AV equipment: $15,000

Contracted Services Breakdown - $16,414

Moving/Demolition: $2,000
Painting: $4,900
General Contractor: $5,202
Design Fee: $2,812
Contingency: $1,500

Describe the Proposal

The Computer Science Department began working with Joe Bleehash of Facilities Planning, Design & Construction in the early part of Fall Semester 2012 to develop a design and cost estimate for the remodel of EPS 254.  If funded, the remodel would take place during the first six week summer session of 2013 so that the room is ready for use in Academic Year 2013-2014.

EPS 254 has been in operation since 1997 as a traditional computer laboratory that accommodates 45 students.  The room is currently arranged in rows of tables where each seat contains a computer.  When EPS 254 is not in use as a supervised laboratory to accompany a computer science course, it is an open laboratory where students can work 24/7.

Although it received heavy use during non-scheduled hours during the late 1990s and early 2000s, fewer and fewer students now choose to use the room for unscheduled work.  The reason for this phenomenon is that the room no longer lends itself to the preferred work style of students.  First, the arrangement of the room is not conducive to collaborative learning since the rows all point the same direction.  Second, most students now have computing devices.  Since the room is configured with one computer per desk, it is awkward to use one’s own computing device.  Finally, today’s students prefer informal, comfortable workspaces to institutional ones.  Our goal is to remodel EPS 254 into a heavily used, comfortable, active learning lab that fosters active learning and collaboration.

The proposal is to remodel EPS 254 from a traditional computer laboratory into an active learning laboratory.  The elements of the remodel include

  • A Japanese motif.  We want to provide a comfortable, desirable environment for our students.  Japan Studies is the most common minor of CS students.  Thus, we will choose the carpet, paint colors, (fake) plants and artwork to provide a Japanese feel.  In speaking with students, we have received strong feedback that they prefer an environment that is not institutional.
  • Dual lighting.  Student feedback indicates that they would prefer bright lighting when the room is being used as a supervised laboratory, but a softer lighting option otherwise.
  • Two comfortable, informal workspaces.  EPS 254 is large enough to accommodate two informal workspaces.  Each workspace would be near a wall with proximity to a glass whiteboard (see below) and contain a sofa, two or three chairs and a table.
  • Glass whiteboards.  Glass whiteboards have a high-tech look and are of superior quality compared to standard whiteboards.  Glass whiteboards will be placed at convenient locations around the room to enable students to share ideas.
  • One floor-to-ceiling painted whiteboard.  Such whiteboards are common at Google or even locally in high-tech companies such as Golden Helix.  This large space is well-suited for designing solutions to more complicated problems and building community.
  • A carpeted, raised floor.  This enables the room to be easily reconfigured and makes it easy to supply power to where it is needed without trip hazards.
  • Five round tables.  Each table will seat nine students in ergonomic chairs.  Every third seat will have a computer with a large monitor and possibly a docking station.  The other seats will contain power sources for students who bring their own devices.  (This will cut down the number of computers that we supply for the room from 45 to 15, reducing future CFAC needs.)
  • Wall-mounted screens.  Some of the round tables will be able to display the contents of a computer monitor onto a wall-mounted screen.  This is a useful capability when several students need to see what is displayed on a particular screen.  It can be useful in a formal lab setting, in a tutoring session, in a supplemental instruction session and when several students are collaborating on a programming assignment.
  • Strong wireless capabilities. 


Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

The benefits of the proposal are (1) to provide CS students with a better space in which to work thereby fostering learning and improving retention, (2) to save money in the long run by not needing to replace as many computers through the CFAC process and (3) to serve as a model for other College of Engineering departments to convert traditional computer labs into active learning ones.

The broader impacts of the proposal might include (1) serving as a model for MSU regarding how to implement an active learning laboratory and (2) helping the CS Department to better recruit and retain student populations such as women that are currently underrepresented in Computer Science by providing a more comfortable, collaborative work environment.

Implementation Plan

The Computer Science Department will continue to work with Joe Bleehash of Facilities Planning, Design & Construction to finalize the details of the remodel during Spring Semester 2013.  The remodel itself will take place during the first six week summer session of 2013.  The room will be operational by Fall Semester 2013.

In the event that there are cost overruns, the Computer Science Department and the College of Engineering are prepared to find the necessary additional monies from other sources.

Assessment Plan

We will monitor the utilization of EPS 254 during both Spring Semester 2013 (before the remodel takes place) and Spring Semester 2014 (after the remodel takes place) outside of supervised laboratory times to determine the additional amount of utilization the room receives.  We will monitor the total hours of computer usage (this can be done automatically) and the number of students using the room at different times of the day.

As a side note, when we upgraded our small student success room four years ago by adding a sofa, two computers, whiteboards, comfortable chairs and carpet, we saw a dramatic increase of student usage.  We anticipate a similar result with a remodeled EPS 254.

In addition, we will measure the retention rates of our undergraduate students as they progress through our curriculum.  We anticipate that we will see an increase in our retention rates as a result of being able to provide an active learning laboratory (in addition to other strategies we are implementing such as the student tutoring center, developing new courses, improving existing courses, improving our advising process, etc.)

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

Not applicable.  This is a one-time funding proposal to remodel a computer laboratory into an active learning laboratory.

Department Head: John Paxton (
Dean/Director: Brett Gunnink (
Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (