Remembering the Support in IT Support

To say that I have noticed an increase in the number of laptops students are bringing to the campus would be an understatement. During my first few years in the Faculty of Education (I started here in 2000), there were probably only a handful of laptops brought on campus by students regularly. In recent years, there are so many students bringing laptops that many IT departments are running into a problem. Students are looking for power, and will unplug whatever they have to in order to get it.

A member of the Central IT department sent out an email to other Lab Support staff in other universities, specifically asking how to prevent students from unplugging the computers. Apparently only one of the responses actually suggested buying power bars to let students plug in without affecting the lab computers. The other responses were simply methods to prevent students from accessing the power plugs.

Proposed solution to preventing students from unplugging lab computers to plug in personal laptops.

Sadly, this is a typical response by many IT support staff, and it doesn't "support" what the clearly identified need is.

Unfortunately, students unplugging lab computers is a real problem. In many cases, the computers will be unplugged while the computer is running (very bad). The other problem associated with this is it interferes with lab software management. Most managed labs will use software that enables the IT staff to remotely install updates and new software. The software will even allow a lab computer to be started if it is turned off. Obviously, this doesn't work if the computer is unplugged, and the IT staff member now has to spend time going to the lab to figure out why the computer isn't starting up. This becomes a bigger issue when trying to initiate a task on an entire lab of computers. It reaches a point where it's not worth writing down the list of computers that aren't responding, and you just go over to the lab and manually check any computer with nothing on the monitor.

Fortunately, we have people who recognize that it is important to find solutions that address a need rather than simply "fixing the problem". Sean, who works with me part-time, came up with a proposal to rearrange the lab in a way that provides table space with easy access to power, and without introducing any tripping hazards. The instructors that use the lab supported the change, and Maria, the Director of Facilities, purchased what we needed to make it happen.

To start, some of the computers that used to face the wall were moved so that they would extend out from the wall in groups of three. This slight change still left plenty of table space for students to work at when not using a lab computer.
Groups of computers extend from the wall to avoid power cables on the floor.
By extending them out from the wall, we ensured there wouldn't be any cables running along the floor for people to trip on. A 12-outlet power bar was mounted to the top of the three computer desks. Only 6 of the 12 outlets are needed, so there are 6 spare outlets a very short distance from a table that was added to the end. This was done on both the left and right side of the room, with a total of 6 groups of three computers.
There are 6 spare outlets for student devices at each of the 6 additional tables.
Of course, I'm not convinced that there still won't be instances of people unplugging computers. People will always do unexpected things. I also know that our specific solution won't be universal. What should be universal though is the desire to find real solutions, not just additional challenges for our users to overcome. I am actually looking forward to seeing what unique "solutions" the end-users in the "lock down lab" come up with for getting at the power they need. I'm already thinking of one method that would probably work, but I'm not going to share it here.