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Tag: computer lab

No Question: Time to Kill the Lab!

There are many reasons why I’m looking forward to the bring-your-own-device project we will be trying in some of our schools this fall. One of the biggest is that maybe – just maybe – it will lead to us finally killing the computer lab.

I’ve ranted about this before, and the conversation usually stirs up a lot of strong feelings, but the more I see how they are used in schools, the more convinced I am that we will never get to the point where computing devices are, in the words of someone wiser than me, “like oxygen – ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible” unless the labs disappear and are replaced with devices that are available to students anytime, anywhere.

Those feelings were reinforced in the past few weeks in discussions with some of our trainers as they plan for the new schools year. Especially concerning one elementary school where the teachers are lobbying the administration to use the lab as a drop off point for their students in order to increase their planning time. In the same way music, art, PE, the library and other “pull out” programs are used (also incorrectly).

Now I certainly believe the teachers in our elementary schools need more time to plan their lessons. All teachers need regular, meaningful opportunities to plan, collaborate with their peers, and to reflect on their practice.

However, using technology in this way (and it’s not at all uncommon in other schools around here as well) only reinforces the idea that computer use is for special occasions, a nice-to-have extra, and not especially necessary. Computers are something we do, not a tool to improve learning. A once-in-a-while treat, not oxygen.

If we get to the point where a large number of students are bringing their own devices, labs full of identically configured equipment becomes unnecessary and even impossible to justify.

And, with any luck, are removed from the school experience forever.

No, It’s Not a Computer

For those schools who look at the iPad and see a computer, Fraser Speirs suggests a rather Zen approach by understanding how that device wants to be used.

The iPad is an intensely personal device. In its design intent it is, truly, much more like a “big iPhone” than a “small laptop”. The iPad isn’t something you pass around. It’s not really designed to be a “resource” that many people take advantage of. It’s designed to be owned, configured to your taste, invested in and curated.

Which goes completely against the standard way we use computers in most schools: cloned to function identically, organized into labs (or carts), and used identically by students (also organized into labs).

However, it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at units running Apple’s iOS or any number of competing products.  All of them in this category are designed to be personal communication devices, not traditional computers.

And trying to make them fit into that mold is only going to frustrate a lot of educators (not to mention their IT support partners) and waste a lot of money in the process.

Speaking of Computer Labs

Do you have those little things tucked away in the back of your mind that other people don’t find particularly annoying but which drive you almost over the brink?

This picture illustrates of one of mine.


First, laptops are about twice the cost of desktops (at least these are), have smaller screens, hobbled graphics, a shorter life span, and less power* over all.

Which is fine since being able to carry around the power they do have, far beyond what was available even five years ago, makes up for all that.

However, lining them up on tables and locking them down totally and completely defeats the whole concept of wireless, portable computing and communications.

Of being able to use the machines wherever and whenever learning occurs, not just in this contrived, regimented space.

I suppose the situation that will send me completely over the cliff is when (and I’m afraid it will be when, not if) I walk into a similar room and find iPads or other tablets in place of the laptops.

While I’m complaining about computer labs, that wall down the middle of the room stands out as another stupid feature built into the labs in most of our schools.

One more element of the space that inhibits collaboration, and almost all other interactions between students.

And the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room? That’s a long rant for another day.

*Although not very much less power. Certainly not enough for most people to worry about.

Time to Kill the Lab?

In a post from a couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked for help with setting up a computer lab at his school.

He was looking for something other than the “conventional wisdom” - 30 machines lined up inside a rectangular space in such a way to make it easy for the teacher to have everyone to work on the same assignment.

Over the past few months as I’ve been working with some of our school-based trainers, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the idea of computers labs.

Not so much the arrangement of the room but whether they are an impediment to the process of technology integration and need to disappear.

When I watch what goes on in the computers labs at most schools, regardless of the level, it’s rather depressing.

Rote lessons in which students are all doing the same activity (“open the map of Virginia and draw the four regions of the state”), as a reward for kids getting their real work done, to take tests (lots and lots of tests), or just to make sure we get our technology requirement checked off.

It seems as if very little about the way kids use the technology in their lab time is integrated into the learning that occurs back in their “regular” classroom, and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to the concept of a “lab”, a place in which experimentation occurs.

So what about mobile labs, those big carts full of laptops are rolled in and out of classrooms, that many of our schools have been putting in place over the past few years?

Well, the potential to do something better is there. But what I usually see looks very much like a traditional computer lab, often complete with the teacher machine projecting to an interactive whiteboard with no interactivity going on.

So, is this a chicken-and-egg situation?

If the lab went away (or the arrangement changed) would the way teachers use computers in their instruction change? Or if teachers wanted to change their instruction, would labs disappear?

Either way, I think it’s about time to kill the concept of the traditional school computer lab.

Am I wrong? Missing something?

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