Wishlist – Computer Availability

iPhonePCFinder2
Posted under: Uni iPhoneApp Reviews 12th of August, 2011

Arriving on campus with 30 minutes to hand an assignment, I rush to one of the buildings full of computer labs , hoping there will be a free computer to print out my assignment and make the deadline. After entering the building, I enter the first lab to find, to my dismay, the room full of other students also doing last minute work on their assignments. The second lab was the same as the first, minus the few guys playing games instead of working.  The third lab had a couple spots left, which I was quick to snatch up as more students were coming in.  After logging in and loading my assignment from my portable drive, I realise as I hit print that there was no printer in this room. After checking with some of the other students, I found out it was back in the first lab I had checked.  Afraid I would lose my computer if I left it alone for too long, I basically sprinted back to the first lab to grab my assignment from the printer. I got to assignment minder, lined up and got my assignment scanned in, with 1 minute to spare. As I was leaving, I noticed a computer lab near assignment minder that was only half full as well as access to printers and scanners.  Had I known before I’d arrived on campus which computer lab wasn’t packed, the time I could’ve saved from stressing out over my assignment.

Computer Availability, while not a “required” function of a university app, it is a very important aspect of a student’s life on campus.  Providing students with quick and easy access to available computers reduces the time spent, by the student, searching for an available computer, thus improving their overall campus experience.

The purpose of Computer Availability is to provide users with information regarding the amount of computer available on campus, in each lab, in each building.  Other information that may be provided includes total number of computer and available software on the computers.  To analyse computer availability, some important aspects to cover are: the layout (specifically how the labs are displayed), search filters and “location details”.

The Layout

The single biggest issue, that I’ve noticed with all university that have incorporated computer availability into their app or as a standalone app, is that they attempt to clutter a single screen with too much information.  All apps reviewed so far, separate their computer labs by campus but then have all of the computer labs from a particular campus to be displayed on the same screen.  In particular, Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus, has 106 computer labs (yes I counted) all displayed in the same list.  Due to the size of the iPhone screen, it is too much information for the user to sift through to find a single lab.  UniSA (University of South Australia) app “PC Finder” attempts to remedy this problem, by organising the labs to be shown in order of their proximity to the user, meaning labs that are closer to the student when on campus, are placed higher.  Sorting the labs by the building they are in, thus reducing the amount of clutter. For some buildings in particular, they may need to be further compartmentalise by floors if there is are . S block (Faculty of Science and Technology) at QUT (Queensland University of Technology) Garden Point campus is a good example, because there is as many as 12 labs on some of the  floors.  Now the downside of having sub-menus, means that the user has to go back and forth between several menus just to check each individual lab, however instead of creating separate menus, collapsible would be more appropriate.  So, rather than having to flick between menus, being able to expand and collapse parts of the menus, allows for ease of use.

Searching

When picking a lab, some students will require certain software that won’t be available everywhere, while other students might only want to use labs in certain buildings.  There are many options here, all of which can be useful for students.  Aside from the UniSA app, none of the other universities have touched on this yet either of including a different way of organising a list of computer labs.  UniSA’s PC Finder app, uses the iPhone’s built-in GPS to locate the student when they’re on campus and order all available computer labs in order of proximity to the student.  Adding the option to refine searches, while for more advanced users, will help users to pinpoint the labs that they wish to use.  Filters can include: building, availability, software, printers which narrows the amount of labs shown.  This includes ordering by the filters as well, i.e. the number of computers available (highest first).

Location Details

I stole the name from UniSA’s PC Finder, basically the Location Details cover everything a user might need to know about the lab and the building its in.  The UniSA app “Location Details” contains the Opening Hours, Location, Printers, Software and Hardware.  A fairly important addition that I believe could of been added to the Location Details is the floor plan of each building, because again, some floors have multiple labs on them.


University that have included this feature:

UniSA’s PC Finder -
Pros – Standalone app, provides “Location Details” for all labs and buildings.
Cons –

Griffith University’s Griffith App -
Pros – Campus specific for comp labs. Selecting a lab, opens the map with a marker on the building.
Cons – Shows all labs (approximately 100) for the campus on the same page, inefficient. Marker is broken, multiplies when zooming in and out of campus map

Curtin University’s Curtin Library -
Pros – shows total number of computers available on each level, as well as total number of computers.
Cons – only provided for 1 building. Doesn’t show individual labs.