Close the Computer Lab

Let me preface this by saying:  1) In a perfect world every school would have both a computer lab and computers in their classrooms. 2) If you have an innovative teacher like Alice Mercer in your computer lab I would surely keep it open.

But if you have a school with a computer lab like this, it might be time to start rethinking the whole lab concept:

A) The computer lab is relatively shiny and new but the computers in the classroom are non-existant or barely working. B) The computer lab is not staffed or staffed by a person without teaching credentials C) Getting the computer lab unlocked is a hassle and sometimes the computers aren’t working when you get in there.

We want our schools to have both school libraries and classroom libraries.  We should want the same for our technology resources…every classroom should have a working computer AND a working lab.  If we can only have one or the other, let’s put the computers in the classrooms because:

  1. Teachers have constant access to their classroom computers and can make sure that any particular technology is working in advance of any lesson.  (It’s happened to me, you have a web site you want the students to visit, you even preload it on 20 computers, but when you get to the lab and everyone starts it up at once, it doesn’t work.  In the classroom, you can be better prepared for these disasters).
  2. Computers in the classroom can become more of a part of daily teaching and learning life.  Technology in real life is no longer something we go to a special place to use.  It’s all around us in “real life” and the classroom is “real life” so it should resemble real life, no?
  3. Computers don’t get any younger.  A computer’s relevant life is about 3-5 years.  You get much more value out of having those computers in daily use than in shutting them in a lab for occasional use.
  4. We can reframe our PR materials to say we have state of the art computers in every classroom instead of we have a brand new computer lab.

Of course, even my definition of computer in this post is already dated.  iPods and iPads are putting cheaper mobile computers in the hands of students all the time.  Nevertheless, many of us are still scrambling to put together a working computer for our rooms.  Let’s put our limited resources in the hands of teachers and students and not lock them away like Rapunzel in her tower, keeping them safe but out of use.

16 Responses to Close the Computer Lab

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » Close the Computer Lab -- Topsy.com

  2. Hi Matthew,

    This is a great idea. A few years ago when I taught Language Arts I lobbied hard to get 6 extra computers put into my classroom. With the teacher computer (which I allow my students to use) we have 7 PC’s that make up a mini-lab. I couldn’t imagine not having those extra computers in my room. I still have them, as well a Mac Lap-top mini lab we use for video production.

    Another point is that many school computer labs are taken out of use for a large part of the year for various standardized testing and staff development meetings. A few years ago I added up all the times throughout the year the computer labs were not available for different reasons- I figured out that over 30% of the school year our two labs were essentially unavailable.

    I’m with you, break down the labs and spread the computers out collectively into all the classrooms. And the teachers who don’t use them lose them!

  3. I like the mobile labs. You can still use them as a lab if you have the appropriate staff, but they can also be borrowed by a classroom teacher to use for specific projects so all kids have access without needing to worry about outlets. It is an initial expense, but can be worth it for schools that want to enhance flexiblity and provide more options.

  4. Jennifer Hackney

    Mr. Needleman,
    My name is Jennifer Hackney and I am a student in Dr. Stranges EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I think you brought up some good points. I like the idea of having school libraries and classroom libraries. I believe it would be great if all teachers could have computers in their classroom. When I was in high school, I can not even remember how many times I went to lab and the computers didn’t work. That was very frustrating, especially when you are trying to get work done. I look forward to your future post. My personal blog again is http://hackneyjenniferedm310.blogspot.com and my twitter is @jenniferhckny if you would like to check it out.

  5. Mr. Needleman,

    I have chosen your blog to follow as part of a Graduate level technology class assignment. I chose your blog, becuase of posts like this! You make many valid points about technology and the classroom. Our students should always have access to a computer and the only way of doing that is by having computers in the classroom. There are so many tools available for teachers to teach and students to learn all more effectively. Computers have become second nature to our children Computer labs should be a thing of the past and education needs to jump on board so our students will be well prepared for the world. Thank you for your posts!

  6. I absolutely love the idea of mobile labs! They are teacher accessible, and can be available to every classroom in a school building. This will allow the teachers to have access to student projects and papers online that students would not have time to work on outside the classroom. I belive that mobile computer labs are the future of all schools in America! I loved your post!

    • I also like the IDEA of mobile labs but in actuality mobile labs are very heavy to move and likely can only be used in one or two classrooms. Because they’re difficult to move, many teachers just don’t bother and that leads me back to my original post…put the computers in the classroom. If you are purchasing a mobile lab to remain permanently in one classroom then I’m all for it.

  7. I suppose it all depends on how you transport them. I never had trouble moving them and laptops have not gotten larger since I used them in my classroom. Not all classrooms are wired to handle more computers. Until that happens they are of limited use.

  8. I fully agree. One way to make this cost-effective is to make a laptop cart that goes from room to room. Schools can put this on the outlook calendar so teachers can reserve the cart in advance. Although, in a perfect world there is a set in every classroom. Maybe the funding could come from cutting cost through eliminating hardcover textbooks and using only digital sources for text.

  9. Pingback: It’s the mobility that counts | Malcolm Bellamy's Lifelong Learning Blog

  10. Mathew,

    I am so glad to see this. I have been saying the same thing for almost ten years and get incredulous stares almost every time. I have put in three labs during my career and have not seen that create more oppourtunities for students to use technology. I have a donated lab and mini mobile labs at my school now and there is till little use of them, for different reasons than you mentioned earlier, but I do believe you are correct.

    When looking for ways to get students and technology together, it is better to do it classroom by classroom.

  11. This is very good idea. Adding computer in classroom can make the students and teacher easier to find anything they need for the lesson. Also, they do not need to move to the computer lab.

  12. I most definitely agree that classroom computers are much more useful than computer labs. The building that I teach in has several labs that are in partial working order. As a middle school math teacher, computer lab days can be engaging for each and every student. The downside of computer lab days are the, as you mentioned, the websites, programs, or computers that do not work as planned.

    I support the placement of three to five student computers in each classroom because it allows for computer lab days for a few students at any time. I have a very wide variety of math ability in my classes, so having a computer lab for the advanced student or the struggling students that is available at any time would support the needs of my students. I believe in differentiation and the possession of five computers in my classroom would provide me opportunities to create and oversee advanced work. These computers would provide me with remediation days for my struggling students, but they would still be within reach while I worked with the rest of my students on other material.

    Why do so few math classrooms have a few student computers? So often English teachers get extra computers because they need them to allow students to type assignment and assessments.

  13. I too, like the idea of mobile labs. My home district just got a grant for a set amount of ipads for the elementary school and the impact that it has made is just astounding.

    I’m also a big fan of classroom computers when you have students who are working with supplemental reading software such as Lexia- where they need to still be in the classroom, but now they can get their work done.

    Plus who doesn’t love a good technology center? Can you do that with a computer lab?

  14. This is a great posting and I agree with the comments made previously. If a school cannot afford computers both in the classroom and in a computer lab, choices do need to be made. A computer lab without a technology educator is pointless. There is no one to monitor equipment, no one to clean up after students leave the room, and no one available to problem-solve on the spot. While I think that all teachers should be able to do this, reality shows me that teachers have a wide range of experience and comfort with technology. I would like this to change; however, until it does, computer labs (if they must exist) should have a technology educator available.

    In addition, I thought one of the most interesting aspects of the argument for putting computers in the classroom was point number two, particularly the following sentence: “Technology in real life is no longer something we go to a special place to use.” For me, this connects to the dialog around 21st Century Skills (http://www.p21.org/). I think it is critically important for educators to reexamine how students lives outside of school are dominated by technology and how their lives inside schools are not. I’m not advocating for the removal of person to person contact and conversation from learning environments nor do I think students should spend their entire K-12 educational experience glued to a computer; however, I think it is important to consider how technologically behind our educational environments are relative to students’ out of school environments. In the 1980s and for even most of the 1990s, going to the some place, ie: the computer lab to use technology made sense. Those days are behind us and our schools need to make the change most people made in their personal lives a decade ago.

  15. I totally agree with getting rid of the lab for the reasons you’ve state and many others. The big thing for me is that I think tech should just be a normal part of life. To set it apart and use it on special occasions isn’t how the rest of the world uses computers. If we want to prepare students for life, we need computer use to be a normal part of our research and problem solving and not something that just happens on the rare day we can get the lab reserved.

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