The New Computer Lab

Walk into any school and you’ll see them.

A room filled with desktops and monitors arranged in rows…the computer lab.  Everyone reading this knows the story:  As a teacher, you decide you need some computers, you sign-up for the lab, take your kids there and they start computing.  Such a model has been in place for years, and suggests that the use of technology is outside of the daily classroom experience and that teachers and students had to “go somewhere else” besides the classroom to use technology.

computerlab_tsakshaugNo surprises in any of that.

With the rapid proliferation of 1:1 programs that place capacity in the hands of students, the future of the computer lab has emerged as a topic in schools.  Do schools need labs anymore?  And if not, what do schools do with the spaces that were occupied by the labs?  I’m sure many are betting that they’ll eventually disappear from schools.

I would disagree.  In fact, if you have a 1:1 program, my guess is that you have many more computer labs than before.

They’re called your classrooms.

Think about it.  Picture a computer lab.  Then take a classroom that has students sitting in desks with their own personal device.  How different are they?

Schools simply have shifted the experience of a computer lab from the lab to the classroom.

Watch Twitter and look for the images of 1:1 programs.  You’ll see traditional classrooms with traditional seating with kids sitting in rows in front of computers.

Meet the new lab, same as the old lab.   

All of this results from a lack of a consideration of the need for a new type of space that supports ubiquitous technology.  Classrooms that use furniture designed in the 1950’s simply cannot support a learning experience that leverages the affordances of contemporary technology to support the development of learning dispositions.  Match that with an outdated curriculum and instructional methodologies from the ditto era and its no wonder that 1:1 programs aren’t as effective as they could be.

Is the sterile, inflexible, rigid, and isolating steel-framed desk so ingrained in the school experience that it is beyond consideration? Seriously, how can anyone think that such a desk is a good thing for kids and their learning?

How many schools have thoughtfully considered space change as part of a 1:1 program or something that should be done prior or in parallel to an implementation so that the potential impact of ubiquitous technology can be maximized in the service of developing skills and learning mindsets?

What is needed is a change model that looks to create an ecology of learning, where everything that is part of learning is considered together and not in isolation, and the realization that everything in a school, and its learning programs, must be connected in purpose, thought and action.

Image courtesy of tsakshaug, Creative Commons Attribution Only










  1. Hi David! I appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Just today, as our second semester began, and I met with my new group of Digital World students in someone else’s classroom, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted to shake up the learning space. And this was a room with tables and rolling chairs. So there’s quite a bit of flexibility. But it’s someone else’s classroom, and my students and I only use it one period, four days a week.

    Last year, when I taught this class for the first time at my new school, we met in my office. I can meet with up to 12 students in my office, and this year’s class has more than that. My office has two long tables pushed together, with plastic chairs arranged around them. But there’s also a couple of bean bags and a small couch. I wish I had a bigger office and even more of the flexible type of seating.

    But since I don’t, and I don’t want to completely rearrange the room in which I’m teaching twice a day, I am going to try my best to convey an attitude of flexibility to the students in the class. I don’t assign seats, and I am fairly confident the kids won’t force me to do so. I’ve made it clear that we leave the classroom as we found it, or better (in terms of cleanliness). But I don’t want them to feel limited any more than that in terms of their use of the space and the furniture. As long as they’re not destroying themselves ergonomically, I am hoping I can just let them do whatever in terms of their self-arrangement and seating choices within the room.

    I should note, these are high school students, and they all bring their own laptops to class.

    I’m just thinking “out loud” here.

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