Students re-think PSU, part one

Earlier this year, Portland State allocated $3 million for the Provost’s Challenge, part of President Wim Wiewel’s reTHINK PSU initiative.  The initiative asked faculty and departments, with a few student advisers, to “re-think” PSU through proposals for new technology initiatives.

What if the university asked the 28,000 students here—the students who pay 70 percent of the cost of their education now through tuition—to re-think PSU?

Today we begin a countdown of 10 ways to improve PSU students’ academic and campus life through amenities, good practices and a new structure.

Brown bag it. Students who would like to bring their lunch from home have virtually no place to keep it refrigerated. I know of two student groups with their own small fridges, but even several more of those could hardly accommodate 28,000 of us.

Procuring a small battalion of full-size refrigerators for students would be a relatively small expense, but it would support students immensely and could bring about more nutritious eating and better student health.

Why copy that document in two seconds when you can spend two hours learning to scan it? PSU has eliminated copy machines for student use on campus in the name of going green and being sustainable. Instead, the university suggests we should scan our documents and print them.

PSU’s scanning software may have dozens of beautiful functions, but making simple copies is often not one of them. You can spend 45 minutes or more figuring out PSU’s scanning software. Or you could use a copy machine and take two seconds.

“Arg! That is so true,” said a senior French major. “And really annoying.”

We tried out a scanner on an iMac in the library’s first floor computer lab, first using the scanning software intuitively, then following the online help, then bringing over the OIT staff person to our workstation.

After 45 minutes, we still had no copy of our single piece of paper. But we were green and sustainable.

PSU should restore a copying service for students. Remember, whenever any large organization talks about going green, they are also talking about going cheap. PSU can employ copy machines with economies of scale, using toner and paper more cheaply than we can at home with our inkjet printers.
Where have all the power naps gone? You can get better grades and refresh your brain if you take 20-30 minute naps, according to the National Sleep Foundation and other researchers.

But where can Viking sleepyheads go except for the kink-inducing vinyl chairs on the second floor of Smith Memorial Student Union?  Now, at least, the new Quiet Study Lounge on Smith’s fourth floor has some soft furniture that can be arranged to let you stretch out a little bit, with the Park Block trees rustling in your ears. But these chairs aren’t all that big or cushy. We are far from having a real crash lounge like there are at some other universities.

The University of Chicago has an enviable list online of their top 10 favorite napping spots. There’s a tea room with leather couches, grassy quads shaded by walls covered in ivy, a lounge with couches by a fireplace, a trophy room and even a point just off campus with a view of Lake Michigan. Jealous yet?

At Arizona State University, there is an exquisite crash lounge in the Memorial Union. The lounge has slit windows of stained glass, many cushy couches and chairs with big pillows that can be dumped onto the carpet, and a baby grand piano. Music majors come by and play quiet classical music or jazz.

But nothing beats the University of California Davis, which has a sleep research center! The center has produced a four-year napping campaign to boost academic performance, where sleep researchers and health professionals hand out nap kits and team up with the campus newspaper and student government to tout the benefits of naps. There’s even a UC Davis Nap Map online, showing dozens of prime napping spots.

Earlier this year, students at Harvard submitted a proposal to create a napping spot in the college’s famous Yard. What about us, Vikings? Let’s begin our napping campaign now and demand the money for it. The Davis researchers would say it could make us smarter.

Buy a clue on computer ergonomics. You could easily get carpal tunnel syndrome or back or neck pain at PSU computer labs.

You are reaching up too high to use your keyboard. It should be below the desk on a keyboard tray so that your forearms are parallel to the floor.

Your monitor is too close to your eyeballs. It should be two to four feet away from you—four feet for eyeglasses wearers.

Computer mice are one of the top five contributors to carpal tunnel syndrome in society. Wherever possible, they should be replaced by touchpads or trackballs. Apple makes a freestanding bluetooth trackpad that could run the iMacs elegantly with the gestures commands.

Right now, if a student attempts to arrange her workstation ergonomically during a work session, she’ll get comical results. The cables to the keyboards and mice are locked and don’t yield enough slack to place them properly. Rarely can students push the monitor back to its proper distance without risking knocking it off its perch. And most of the keyboards OIT uses for the iMacs are tiny, with tiny keys resembling Fisher Price models for four-year-olds.

Keyboard trays and trackpads would go a long way toward solving this, as would simple adjustments to cable lengths and monitor distance.  The money should be lying around; after all, we now have new color monitors in many of the computer labs, showing us the obvious and observable—which seats are occupied and which ones are not. If we have money to waste on that silliness, then we have money to
spend on the basic tools to keep students free of carpel tunnel syndrome and eyestrain.

The right to know what the heck is going on. How many times have you gone into the eighth, ninth or 10th week of the term without being completely sure of your tabulated scores in a class, your current grade standing or what you need to do on the final to get the grade you want?

Probably most of the time. Some teachers post this information on D2L; most do not. Unless you are keeping your own spreadsheet of every score you’ve received, you may have an incomplete understanding of where you stand in the class.

To this end, instructors should be required to provide a progress report after the eighth week. Students should also be entitled to automatic notification of the score on their final exam or final paper.

I propose this for any class that uses a point system in its syllabus, which covers many departments, colleges and disciplines. Some creative classes, such as writing classes, have a different way of grading that does not rely on a weighted points structure. I give them a pass.

Check out next week’s issue of the Vanguard for the top five ways to improve PSU for students.