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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

July 20, 2006

Computer monitor

by Anne Krapfl

Julie Hanson said she thrives on variety. From the looks of her office, her job in the classroom services arm of IT Services provides her with lots of it. She has Macs, she has PCs. She has desktop models, she has a laptop. She has new, super-swift computers and a few slightly dated but still reliable ones. She has no fewer than nine computers she watches or works on daily. In part because of it, she works practically in the dark.

Julie Hanson

Julie Hanson

If you think your office warms up in the summer months, imagine what her's can be like. When she arrives at work, several hours before many of us, the thermometer at the back of her desk typically registers in the low 90s. With the fluorescent lights off and a floor box fan on, she can coax her office temperature into the high 70s by late morning.

Another strategy behind the darkness, she points out, is to cut down on glare on the monitor screens.

So, what's with all the computers?

A big part of Hanson's job on the classroom services team is monitoring the video projectors and electronic control panels her group has installed in about 170 of the university's general use classrooms. That includes taking a daily inventory, to make sure nothing has walked away overnight, and tracking usage of the various kinds of equipment. Team members know average lifespan statistics for various pieces and all kinds of projection bulbs. So they know, for example, when a video projector is due for a new lamp or some other kind of preventive maintenance.

Faculty using classroom equipment alert the team, via the phone, to seeming technical problems. During the academic year, her team responds to four or five such calls a day. "My wireless mic isn't working" or "The video projector isn't working" are common ones. Hanson consults her computer for the status of the equipment: Is the projector turned on? What's the volume set at? How many hours are on that lamp -- could it have burned out? From her desk, she can adjust the volume control or turn on a video projector in another campus building.

Sometimes, it takes a quick trip to the classroom to diagnose the problem. It's all part of the job. Hanson helped install new equipment the last four years as part of the university's $14.2 million classrooms and auditoriums upgrade. Pulling wire or setting up scaffolding to reach a ceiling-mounted projector are as familiar to her as resetting a server that has crashed.

"I do whatever needs to be done."

"But I don't know how to solder," she adds almost apologetically.

All that other stuff

As is the case with other ISU employees with some longevity in their units, Hanson has acquired other duties over the years, willingly. On one of her computer stations, she maintains the Web site and a listserv for the Consortium of College and University Media Centers. The executive director of that association until his death last fall was Don Rieck, director of the former Instructional Technology Center. Hanson will hang on to the duties at least until another executive director is hired.

She also has grown into the role of computer support staffer for her colleagues in instructional technologies. Several of the computers, including three servers, in her office fill that part of her job.

It doesn't require a computer monitor, but she also has assumed the role of keeping her colleagues (and herself) caffeinated. So in the office with the nine computers, equipment carts, monitors tracking building security, a portable screen and an assortment of canvas bags for transporting equipment, there also are three coffee makers. She brews three flavors a day and even stocks a few bottles of flavored syrup. Talk about job security. (Coffee drinkers in the unit contribute to a coffee fund.)

Part time turns to full time

Hanson, a Clear Lake native, followed her two brothers to Iowa State and student employment in what then was Media Resources in Exhibit Hall (now the site of Hoover Hall). She arrived early for her freshman year, in the summer months of 1985, and landed a part-time job as secretary to the media production unit. She took classes for 3 1/2 years, first in journalism, later in computer science, then in liberal studies, looking for the right fit for her interests. And she continued to work for Media Resources.

"I decided to stop wasting money because I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up -- I still don't," she said. "I enjoyed my job, and when someone quit (in May 1989), I applied and got the full-time job in classroom services."

It was a simpler world then. Much of the job was checking out equipment --- 16 mm film projectors, slide projectors --- to faculty. Hanson kept up as the technology changed and her duties changed with it. Her primary hobby is electronics and computers, so she has educated herself as the hardware and software evolves.

She maintains her own Mac and PC at home. Hanson and her brothers are several years into a genealogy search, mostly online, to learn more about her grandparents' families in Denmark, Norway and Germany.

"I'm not into instructional manuals," she said of her learning process. "Unless I'm stuck, I try things out and just try to figure out how something works."

She also relies on advice from the software vendors and individuals on campus she calls her "gurus."

She especially enjoys the pilot tests her team conducts on emerging classroom technologies. For example, a year ago, they were testing attendance/assessment "clickers" before faculty asked large numbers of students to purchase them. The team is working with instructional specialists in the College of Veterinary Medicine to pilot a software package called Apreso, which synchronizes an instructor's voice with visual aids being projected in the classroom. The instructor then posts an interactive Web-based version of the lecture to a Web site or course management system.

"There's always something new to learn," she said. "My job is never the same two days in a row."


"I'm not into instructional manuals. Unless I'm stuck, I try things out and just try to figure out how something works."

Julie Hanson