The “Perfect Educational Computer Lab”

As is many times the case when I have nothing profound to write about I write about somebody else’s profoundness.  Alfred Thompson is always good for profound tidbits.  His latest blog entry is on “The Perfect Educational Computer Lab”.  My school has one true computer lab; twenty three computers in two long rows and on the two side walls.  It is a small room so there are not a whole lot of choices available.  It does make it easy to see what all the kids are doing from one point in the room.  From my techie perspective it also makes the power and network cabling reasonably easy.  We have three classrooms with computers wrapped around the walls.  Again easy to monitor and construct.  My goal is to get rid of all of them.  My “Perfect Educational Computer Lab” is no labs at all.  Students would bring their own device to school, be it laptop or tablet, and perform all needed work in the classroom on that device.  A lab would be more of a lounge where students can gather in small teams to do joint work.  The lounge would be filled with movable desks and tables and lots of power outlets.  The walls would be white boards with several ceiling mounted projectors that students could access through the wireless network.  Traditional computer labs were a necessity back in the days when computers were not a common student owned piece of equipment.  Laptop prices and quality are reaching a point where a school requiring a student to bring in a computer device is not unthinkable.  Schools providing laptops to students that do not have the economic means is also a budgetary possibility.  $300 buys a pretty nice piece of equipment now.  As a self described CS futurist I see this as an idea goal.  As the present day high school one-man-show techie I think it is an absolutely insane idea.  A dozen different brands and models, different OSs, different platforms – my head hurts just thinking about the tech issues.  Just thinking about getting an iPad to print to my present setup gives me a panic attack.  I like my lab; all the computers are the same with the same software.  If one dies I go grab a spare and plug it in.  (OK, so I don’t have any spares but the thought is there.)  I am familiar with the computer brand and the OS and can troubleshoot pretty quickly.  My “Perfect Educational Computer Lab” would be the biggest pain in the rear I could possible imagine for a school techie but I think it is not far away.

We are going to start a 1-1 initiative in the 5th grade next year.  We are less than prepared but figure we would start small and then troubleshoot as events occur.  It is the beginning of a “Perfect Educational Computer Lab”.  I do not think I will be teaching Math next year.  Keeping 40 5th grader laptops alive might add to the techie load.

The local University has started designing lounges to accommodate student laptops.  The chairs are on casters and most of the chairs have a small swing away table surface.  The lounges have big screen TV’s that the students can plug a laptop into.  One of the classrooms in the new Education building has four wireless projectors, one pointing at each white board wall, and all the two person tables are on casters.  It is a very large room.

I have more and more kids bringing their own devices to school since we got wireless school wide.  I am absolutely amazed at the number of kids that have no idea how to do anything but a few apps on them.  If there is any kind of tech issue they are lost.  They can drive the car but cannot change the tire (or even find the jack for that matter).  My “Perfect Educational Computer Lab” would require they learn something about that device other than some apps.  I was talking to a CS instructor from the University the other day.  He sees the same issues in COMPUTER SCIENCE students!  Having traditional computer labs and not allowing kids to bring their own devices is not preparing them for college or life.  There are some tricky issues with a BYOD or a 1-1 program but they need to be over come to have the “Perfect Educational Computer Lab”.

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