Maximizing Technology Adoption
There are five key elements that must be addressed to encourage the adoption of new technology. We focused on these elements throughout the design and implementation of computer labs with our community partners.
- Observability – For technology to be used, it must be observable. The four computers we installed in the ice cream parlor are positioned to attract attention when you first enter the room.
- Trialability – The computers have been configured with a range of software and bookmarked web sites, all available from the start menu or web browser. The immediate availability of these resources, and the decision not to password protect the main user account, combined with the central location of the computers, leads to their immediate accessibility and draws interested customers to the computers to play with the software.
- Complexity – While there is no way to entirely do away with the complexity involved with computer technology, we approached this in a way to minimize the inherent difficulty. Most of the use these computers will receive is probably going to occur through the web browser. By configuring Firefox with custom user profiles specifically designed for this site (see below), we minimized much of the difficulty in navigating the Internet and finding information. We also provided many links to technical support documentation so that when problems do arise, there is a chance they can be dealt with directly on site from the computers.
- Compatibility – We chose Microsoft Windows XP Professional and Microsoft Office 2003 as the centerpiece of the site’s computer network because these are the applications most users will be familiar with. We supplemented these with a range of software and links that are relevant to the needs of this community. Above all, we tried to build with the community in mind, seeking to understand and meet their needs and expectations regarding the technology.
- Relative Advantage – We equipped these computers to be as powerful and efficient as possible within our means. This included configuring the software loaded when the computer boots into Windows and changing application defaults to make sure that as many resources as possible are directed toward fulfilling the requirements of the computer user. As a result, the computers will continue to provide good service for years to come.
After acquiring the donated computers, we ran a series of tests to ensure that the components were stable and reliable. This included an extensive burn-in period, tests on the memory and hard drive/storage, audio, optical drives, and USB ports. We also configured the computers with one gigabyte of RAM to improve the user experience.
We configured each machine with three user accounts: an administrator account for LIS 451 students to work on the computers, an administrator account for our community partners, and a standard user account for the site users. The two administrator accounts were password protected, while the user account was not, to permit ease of use.
The user account should be used as much as possible for the everyday use of the machines. It has important restrictions which help prevent the machine from getting cluttered up with unused software or catching viruses. When logged in to the user account, you can run existing programs, save files, and do most or all of what you’ll want to do in a normal computer session. The main things it prevents you from doing are installing new software and changing important system settings. By using this account, you ensure that the only major changes to the software will be ones that you intended to make.
Viruses and malware are always a concern in a public computer lab environment, but we think we have taken good precautions that should prevent the vast majority of problems in these areas. As part of our configuration process, we set the operating system and software application defaults to be as secure as possible while still allowing the widest possible range of uses. This involved configuring the Windows Firewall, adding antivirus and anti-malware programs (please see Justification of Technology Choices for details), configuring and password protecting the BIOS, and configuring the web browsers for safe default operation.
The first line of defense is the user account system. Running the machines as “Pirtle’s User” as much as possible will prevent a lot of potential problems from ever having a chance to happen. The next most important thing is keeping software updated (discussed below). Using Firefox as the primary web browser is the next step. Firefox is much less vulnerable than Internet Explorer by design, and we’ve also added some protection in the form of something called Adblock, which should take care of most advertisements and popups while you surf in Firefox. Finally, we’ve installed three varieties of antivirus or anti-malware software to take care of the remaining routes for infection with a virus or other malware.
We configured the operating system and all applicable software to automatically download and install software updates, to keep the computers up to date. This relieves the burden of administering individual software from the community partners as much as possible. Software updates mostly exist to fix the bugs and vulnerabilities that hackers exploit to make viruses and malware, and so the more up to date you are, the fewer weak spots you are going to have that are vulnerable to attack.
Because the web browser is likely to be the primary platform on these machines, we devoted a lot of time and consideration to customizing the web browsing experience. To accomplish this, we created a custom Firefox profile with specialized privacy settings, over 100 bookmarks that should be relevant and helpful to the likely patrons of the lab (people interested in starting a small business, and residents of the nearby transitional housing facility) and custom search engines with sources likely to be of use for those same audiences. We then copied that profile to each machine, so as to have a consistent and identical setup across the whole lab.
With lots of different people using the machines, there are bound to be worries about people potentially entering personal information while surfing the web that the next person to use the computer could then see and take advantage of. We’ve taken precautions against this by setting the web browsers to not save any personal data, including browsing history, search history, passwords, form data, basically anything you might type while browsing the web. Once you close your browser window or log off of your account, everything you’ve just done disappears without a trace.
Because of the physical space layout of Pirtle’s, the existing Ice Cream counter, the condition of the floors, and that Mr. Pirtle indicated that he didn’t need movable desks, our group decided to design a custom counter for the network. Using measurements taken by our team members, we designed two 7.5 ft. counters on the west wall in the Ice Cream shop. The counter features under-counter shelves for each of the computer towers, beveled edges, and a melamine top for durability and easy cleaning. The initial build took place at Martin’s workshop during the week before Thanksgiving. Martin also ordered six stools, four for the counter, and two for the back Ice Cream counter at Pirtles. The countertop and accompanying parts were all then shipped unassembled to the site. Lastly, the counter was designed with plaster anchors holding up the rear of the counter. Due to an unexpected setback in the unevenness of the floor, the final counter was not completely level, but Mr. Pirtle was nonetheless pleased with the end product.
We also built, primed, and painted three movable computer desks for the word cafe, as well as helped build the other nine desks for other sites during the time spent at Martin’s workshop. Those that were to be used at the local site (The New Free Will Baptist Church) were finished, while all desks going to East St. Louis were left dissassembled for easy transport downstate. In East St. Louis members of various teams assembled the desks at Pirtle’s, and then transported them to their respective sites.
Cigarette Shop Deconstruction and Reconstruction
The work in the old cigarette shop involved several phases. First, we removed all of the furniture, papers, and miscellaneous items being stored in the shop and disposed of many unnecessary items. We then removed the interior lighting, paneling, plaster, and slats, and pulled nails. This work took several trips to accomplish. After finishing with the work we cleaned up the interior and reorganized the furniture to simplify the interior reconstruction.