University of Michigan’s North Quad students, faculty and staff are finding unique ways to take advantage of their new technology-rich environment.

For example, a class is studying building-use patterns to develop virtual heat maps of where people congregate. And LCD tickers are running up walls, across ceilings and around windows to display featured poetry.

The new building tenants also are interacting with students across the world in an environment that is focused on a global experience.

Residents and those from the academic units now located in the new living and learning facility will show some of their work at a Community Open House, scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 31, hosted by President Mary Sue Coleman, Provost Phil Hanlon and Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper.

The North Quadrangle Residential and Academic Complex is the first new UM residence hall to open in more than 40 years. In addition to 450 residents, it is home to the School of Information, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts departments of Screen Arts and Cultures and Communication Studies, the Sweetland Center for Writing, the Global Scholars Program, the Language Resource Center, and the Max Kade House.

Approved by the UM Board of Regents in 2005, the unique living and learning environment was designed to leverage the latest networking technologies and international programs to enhance global learning. It also was envisioned as a place for advancing technology, multidisciplinary collaboration and 24/7 learning.

Capitalizing on the technology of the building is what a course being taught through the School of Information is all about. Pervasive Interactive Design, taught by Mark Newman, focuses in part on how to design systems for interactive devices.

“Six teams of students in the class are trying to design applications that could be used to enhance living and learning in North Quad,” Newman said. Thanks to the network signals emitted by personal devices, such as the Bluetooth, and WiFi traffic from phones and laptops, people moving about the building are essentially “broadcasting their existence to the environment,” he said. So the teams are trying to figure out how to “take advantage of the digital traces people leave” to develop applications that will help users better use the space.

For example, one group is looking at developing a system that will tell people in real time on their devices what spaces are being used and how — so they can seek out a quiet corner for study or jump into a discussion about a class project.

“The students are using observations, interviews and surveys to find out what people are doing now and what’s missing,” Newman said.

Jamie Lausch, North Quad programming coordinator, says Newman’s class is just one example of the exciting activities going on within the building, both in and out of the classroom. Recent and upcoming programs include a collaboratively planned film series, called Egghead ’11, a Return to Mother Earth Festival led by a language instructor, and a poetry and visual art exhibit and reading. For the latter event in April, poems will be beamed on an electronic ticker, covering an entire room.

“They clearly are making use of the Media Gateway and small room spaces,” Lausch said, adding that there is a great deal of excitement over the opening of a new collaborative space that will be up and running for the open house. The long, narrow room that runs along the State Street side of the building features large windows, huge projection surfaces and six LCD flat screens.

When North Quad was conceived it also was envisioned by Coleman “as a new gateway and magnet for the rest of campus,” which LSA student Zachary John-Pillow Petroni said from his perspective is proving true. Petroni lives in a neighborhood to the north of the new building, and says he and many other students like gathering there. 

“People who live near here enjoy it. It is a great place to study,” he said. “The setting is very conducive to getting work done. It is pleasant to be in. It has good lighting, nice lofted ceilings.”

Petroni works in the Language Resource Center as a media assistant. In addition to helping students check out resources, one of his responsibilities is setting up videoconferences, and on the day of his interview for this article UM students were conferencing with others in Chicago for a Korean language course.

“There is a lot of videoconferencing going on,” he said.

Promotional materials for a recent event, Videoconference with Taiwan, asked, “Ever wonder what students across the world are talking about?”  The event in the multicultural lounge encouraged residents to “chat about politics, social issues, pop culture, relationships, and engage with your peers from across the world.”

The videoconference was promoted on a North Quad Web site,, by Helen Li, a senior in neuroscience and a resident of the building. Li works with the staff and resident advisers in North Quad, and on the Diversity Peer Education Program, to try to promote an inclusive environment. She helps organize resident programs like a global-themed masquerade ball, an amazing race, an international theme week, various dialogues on intercultural relations, and an upcoming service learning trip to Peru, among others.

Li says much of the community programming focus early on has been about bringing together the residential side of the building.

“We have tried to create a more comfortable sense of home,” Li said. “At the beginning of the year, people were really excited about the technology and the opportunities,” she said, adding that as the semester has gone on residents have really embraced the global theme, which the community has named “International Impact.”

Inga Shoberg, a resident adviser, says whether videoconferencing with someone around the world or getting to know some of her North Quad neighbors, the global focus has increased her understanding of other people. 

“I live in a hall with people from all different backgrounds, and through conversations with them, as well as having meetings with the hall as a whole, I’ve really gotten to know more about the world around me and the different traditions people have,” Shoberg said.

The dual communications and German studies major is happy with her living arrangement and the proximity to her program.

“North Quad is a really fantastic place to live,” she said. “I love the choices that University Housing made with the furniture in the lounges; it’s all really comfortable and aesthetically it looks great. My room is a single and it’s large enough that I can fit a couch, coffee table, and television inside. It makes coming home to North Quad a great end to my hectic day. Because we also have the academic wing, which houses a few departments including my major of study, the Communication Studies Department, I can make appointments with my advisers and I don’t have to walk far at all. It makes getting work done really simple.”

The March 31 open house is for the entire campus and surrounding community. It will feature refreshments, ongoing tours of the residential and academic spaces, and presentations by the faculty, staff and students who share the building.



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