Computer Lab Lockup

So much to say and so little time to say it in…

I keep hearing that we as educators and technology facilitators need to tell our stories. Here is a current story that we as a staff are enduring for the past 2 weeks: Computer Lab Lockup!

With the new online version of the NC Computer Skills Test came unforeseen tie ups of our school’s main computer lab for a 3 week period of time as well as the “lab” in our Media Center for 1 week. I will admit that I am a bit befuddled about how to conduct this review/testing next year. I really hate telling teachers that they’re going to have to wait to do that fabulous Internet activity for a month or that their class can’t blog or create a newsletter for several weeks. There has to be a better way to do this stuff!

We have one “good” lab of machines that is used on a regular basis for projects, online activities, etc. The Media Center computers are used mainly for research but classes can use these machines to do other activities. About half these machines are top quality, with the rest being not so slow. The other lab we have is full of donated machines from Wachovia. They were donated several years back when Wachovia refreshed their own inventory. These Pentium II machines will run our math and language arts remediation program and do a little word processing but that’s about it. Donations like this are wonderful but over time they fall prey to advancing technologies and become increasingly limited in what they can do.

It seems that we are behind when it comes to having updated labs. I’ve heard that other schools have wireless labs–a class set of laptops in a lockable cart with wireless capabilities. I think that would be a great way to bring the technology to the classroom and put it in the students’ hands where it belongs. Come to think of it, outside the school I see technology everywhere, at people’s fingertips. So why is it that technology is in a separate, special location in a school?

I guess this is leading up to a description of my dream classroom. Ok, Mr. P, here’s some futuristic thinking for you: a classroom that has wireless Internet service, every desk/table has a retractable platform for a laptop computer (sort of like the old sewing machine tables where you could close the lid and the sewing machine disappeared inside and all you saw was the cabinet on the outside) so that students can toggle back and forth between using a flat surface or their machine (when not using the laptop it would be safely tucked away), the whiteboard at the front of the room is not just a whiteboard–it’s one huge flat screen monitor, sensitive to the touch (a lot like a Smartboard) but connected to the teacher’s workstation. The whiteboard would act like an erasable whiteboard but at the same time it’s a desktop computer with shortcuts to items the teacher wants to open and use in class. Maybe there are icons to a multimedia presentation or a United Streaming video segment or a web page or outlines typed in Word on this board. The teacher could hop from one activity to the next by just double touching the icons on the board. Maybe students could export their documents or digital projects from their desk laptops to the board for presentation to the class. Imagine a videoconference or live chat with a scientist in another state or country! The scientist (or the chat) is projected on the digital whiteboard and students are typing in questions from their desks. Of course, mixed in with all this high tech education are collaborative activities with partners or groups and all the other hands-on activities or oral discussions that go on in a traditional classroom as well.

Ok, enough dreaming. I have to keep my feet on the ground for now and brainstorm some creative ways to do lab scheduling and find money to update one of our labs so that as technology use increases in our school (as it should), teachers have resources to make that happen. Our students deserve a “no vertical limits” philosophy when it comes to using, integrating, and applying technology at school. They are facing a future where technology is the vehicle for creativity, financial security, convenience, and knowledge. In fact that vehicle is already waiting at the curb.

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