Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Eliminate or Re-invent? The Future of the Computer Lab

The traditional elementary computer lab design has been around for years. So much has changed in educational technology and I just have to wonder, "is it time to put this model to rest?"

I'm not sure if we are ready for the drastic move of eliminating the computer lab.  The existing set up of 24 computers enables us to have designated time and space for teaching keyboarding, software basics and hardware/navigation fundamentals. My issue with it is that when I walk into the computer lab, I just don't see a 21st century learning space. There is nothing in here that says we value collaboration, inquiry or and problem solving. I'm wondering if we really get a return on our investment for this space as it is. Is there another way for us to meet our needs for keyboarding and instruction on basic technology concepts?

I am going to experiment with the structure of this space. We had budgeted to replace computers in our lab this coming year. The only installed programs our elementary students use are Kidspiration and Microsoft Office. I don't think those 2 programs warrant the investment of a full blown desktop computer. Instead of purchasing 24 new desktop computers we are going to purchase a set of Chrome Books. Students can learn the basics of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations with Google Docs. Kidspiration is coming out with an app this summer that we can install on all of our classroom iPads. ( we have 1:1 in 3-5 and 2 shared carts in Jr. K-2) We use learning.com as our technology curriculum and this works just fine on the Chrome Books. The Chrome Books will give us added flexibility. We can reconfigure the room space as needed and will not be tethered by power and network cables. Teachers could also check out the Chrome Books to use in their classrooms during times when the technology lab is not scheduled.

Another change I am going to try –– dispensing with students in rows along the perimeter. Instead, I am using some half circle tables that were destined for storage. I can seat 4-5 students along the curved edge of the table with the flat side to the wall. I think this will facilitate discussion and collaboration activities. Since I will be saving by getting Chrome Books instead of desktop computers, I am going to get 6 iMacs; 1 for each group that will be positioned on the wall side of the table and facing the group. These will be used for group projects using tools in the iLife Suite or other collaborations. I would like to add small whiteboards to each station as well for brainstorming or concept mapping.

Ultimately, my goal is to create a more flexible learning space; one that meets our need for direct instruction of specific technology skills but also allows for movement, collaboration, communication, and project work. As with all new models, I'm sure we will have to do some tweaking along the way. If this proves to be a successful design, I would eventually want furniture that is easily configured for different purposes such as Steelcase's Verb line.  I will blog about how it is going throughout the year.

Another possibility for the future is to completely eliminate the computer lab and have technology specific objectives taught in the classroom. This would require a huge buy in from teachers who are used to dropping students off for 30 minutes of technology lab each week. I think I will hold off on tackling that one for later.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas!

Death of the K-5 Computer Lab
The Death of the Computer Lab
Turning Elementary Computer Labs into STEM Labs