In-class computers vs. labs

In-class computers vs. labs

Summary: Most of our decisions have come together fairly well on our elementary/middle school tech refreshes, particularly in terms of platform and software. However, there is some debate about using computers in several small lab stations in individual classrooms vs.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Hardware, CXO
13

Most of our decisions have come together fairly well on our elementary/middle school tech refreshes, particularly in terms of platform and software. However, there is some debate about using computers in several small lab stations in individual classrooms vs. using one or two consolidated computer labs.

For example, do we create a whole classroom devoted to computing with 25-30 workstations or spread those workstations out so that every class gets 3-4 computers that students can use anytime (instead of when teachers can sign up for the lab)?

I see value in both, as there are times when individual students could make use of a computer while others are engaged in other activities. The full labs, however, tend to be utilized all the time. Perhaps this reflects my high school experience more, but our labs are in use almost 100% of the time as teachers sign up for them and use them every period of the day.

Computers in the backs of classrooms just don't see as much utilization. My kids report that, with the exception of a few teachers, they didn't make much use of banks of 4-5 computers in the back of every class at the middle school. They weren't enough to support a whole class activity and the short periods prevented much differentiation in what kids were doing (i.e., the entire class tended to be engaged in lecture or a particular activity).

So share your experience with this debate and take the poll below.

[poll id=68]

Topics: Hardware, CXO

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

13 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • what happened to the "teaching"

    Your article left out the teaching aspect. When teaching to a group, via a full lab, isn't attention span better or at least better managed? Isn't individual progress to an assigned task more measurable?

    Didn't Dell have a program where 2-3 clusters of computers would be carted from classroom to classroom thus solving both scenarios?
    justit1234@...
    • The problem is what happens in the group after they start work.

      In every group, you end up with the kid who does it all, the kid who does nothing, the kid who wants to do it, but can't, because the other kid is already doing it; the kid who just wants to mess with the kid in the next group, etc, etc. So groups aren't always the best way to go, especially when the job is to use a computer to research or produce something.
      Not that groups don't serve a purpose, or can't be the best way to do some things; they just have different challenges and issues that individual work.
      ajole
  • RE: In-class computers vs. labs

    Having worked in a education environment previously our solution was to have a PC in every classroom for the teacher to use during lectures, etc, and then to have laptop carts which can come with or without a WAP that were reserved and brought to each classroom with enough laptops for an entire class for when the whole class needed to be able to do tasks on computers. This is a more economical solution as it can be budgeted to add a new cart a year for a few years so that there are a number of them so that multiple classes can use computers at once and valuable building space doesn't need to be dedicated to computer use.
    jfp
  • The problem is the way each gets used.

    With a small set of computers in a class, teachers have to do things a different way than they usually do. They can't give everyone the same thing to do if every person needs the box to do it. You have to figure out ways to have several activities going on, simultaneously; and this adds management and supervision issues that scare some teachers, and don't work with some kids. A teacher that is good at group activities may use the small set much more productively than a teacher that is used to individual stuff.
    Not to mention the issue of space in a classroom; I have seen classes with barely enough room for the kids and their desks; try adding a few boxes and their tables/desks etc. and things get cramped even worse.

    In our area, teachers that want a classroom set get the old ones that were replaced by the new buy; some want them, some don't. But if a teacher doesn't want them, why on earth should we put them in their room?

    I would think that there are enough PC's available to do both labs and a few classroom sets of 4-5; if there aren't; start putting out the word that the school is looking for surplus, the companies that donate get a tax break. We also have had a lot of stuff come from the BLM, state surplus office, and a few non-profit orgs that get old computers into schools for free. Admittedly not the best, but they still work fine for the occasional classroom stuff. MS has a licensing program for those (free, just requires some paperwork), Apple has a lot less restrictive idea about how that works (just use any old OS that will work, they won't bother you) and you can always do the Linux thing.
    All of this adds to the tech dep't workload, but it works for the kids, and that is what this is about...
    ajole
  • RE: In-class computers vs. labs

    For most uses laptop carts do make sense however what we've found with either carts having an access point or having access points littered throughout the building (these are cisco enterprise grade AP's with POE and enterprise grade Cisco switches, running A or G it doesn't matter) that they are a pain in the rear. I absolutely hate supporting wireless laptops for anything more than internet based applications. We have about 2000 out of our 5000 systems as cart based laptops and they are 90% of the support calls. These beasties can be high maintenance and not because of OS problems but because of connectivity. Yes they are nice portable classrooms but they are not suppose to be used for running fat client network applications.

    The idea of having just a few machines in each classrom is aweful as the teachers use it as a reward rather than for teaching. They become game machines rather than learning tools. It also poorly distributes valuable resources.

    Hard wired computer labs provide the best experience but pose scheduling issues and take up value real estate. They also tend to get moved from room to room because someone likes the room layout thus adding a large cost of rewiring every year or two. I swear educators need to learn that rearranging a room is more than moving chairs. Projectors, network cabling, and electrical cost a lot of money to move and waste valuable personnel resources.
    relwolf
  • RE: In-class computers vs. labs

    Why choose between labs or classrooms? Why not have both? I, personally have never been one for compromise. And so, have been trying to find a way to have computers in a clasroom, without it turning into a computer room.

    Using laptop trolleys are one way, but as a previous post stated; these thing can be more trouble than they're worth. Obviously it is useful to have computer resources that are not static. But that is only true when computer access is unavailable in all classrooms. This means that the only way that having computers in classrooms is going to work, is if every classroom has them.

    Cost. With most schools i know, money isn't just shloshing about for projects like this. And trying to fit 20-30 computers into every classroom you can squeeze them in, is going to cost, alot.

    Well, you can't be running fat clients - they're just to expensive, and with the numbers you'd be dealing with, just makes maintenance unfeasible. So it's the thin client option, but really that's two options.

    Thin client A: The Sun Ray 2 - A fantasic little terminal, that only consumes 4 watts, is completely silent, and has a Mean Time Between failure (MTBF) of 22 years.

    Thin client B: Your old PCs - Don't throw old/redundant PCs away. Ressurect them as thin clients. Strip everything that's not needed out of them, so all you've got left is a CPU, RAM and a floppy drive. These are never going to be silent, but by under-clocking the CPU you can rip out the fans as well.

    Which option you go for will all be down to finances. The Sun terminal setup is without doubt what you should be aiming for, but to start things off, reusing old kit is going to cost you nothing. Getting the large numbers of PCs you need normally involves just asking nearby schools for their old PCs. Most schools (i've found) will gladly give them away for free.

    Linux is your ownly real option for an OS, for so many reasons that i won't get into right now. Ubuntu, or its educational brother Edubuntu is a favourite of mine. It just works!! Give me a medium spec'd system, 6 over the hill PCs, a switch and a bunch of patch leads. And in 30 minutes you'll have a working set of terminals.

    Now here's the tricky bit. How do you get all that hardware into a classroom, without turning it into a computer room? The convention has always been, that the cabling goes around the room, and the PCs follow the cabling. But that doesn't look much like a classroom to me..?!? The cables need to run along the side walls of the classroom, and the computer desks should protude from the walls. Repeat this down the walls as many times as you can, and then mirror it to the opposing wall. Most rooms will fit 32 systems in, no problems.

    4 x 4 x 2
    ┌------========------┐
    \ ▄▄▄▄|
    | |
    |=|=|=|=| |=|=|=|=|
    | |
    |=|=|=|=| |=|=|=|=|
    | |
    |=|=|=|=| |=|=|=|=|
    | |
    |=|=|=|=| |=|=|=|=|
    | |
    └--------------------┘
    At least this way they're all facing the same way..
    What do you think?
    a.read13@...
    • New diagram

      The diagram was supposed to look like this...
      ┌------========------┐
      \? ▄▄▄▄|
      | |
      |=|=|=|=| |=|=|=|=|
      | |
      |=|=|=|=| |=|=|=|=|
      | |
      |=|=|=|=| |=|=|=|=|
      | |
      |=|=|=|=| |=|=|=|=|
      | |
      └--------------------┘
      a.read13@...
  • RE: In-class computers vs. labs

    I voted for the small groups in the classroom, but your
    response needs qualification. The placement of the
    computers in the class must coincide with thorough staff
    development in the use of computer stations. Some
    developers offer workshops called, for example, "the two
    computer classroom" or something along those lines. The
    effective teaching of students to use computers as tools is
    essential. Whole class instruction, be it in a regular classroom
    or a computer lab, just isn't always the right approach.
    TechTeach_z
    • Depends

      Some teachers do use these machines a lot but they also set around a lot. With a lab the class can show up, everybody gets a machine and they all get to work and get through faster. You are more likely to get full use of the machines.

      It is up to the teacher to make sure group projects don't become one person projects.

      An issue is that teachers are going to fight for those computers in the back of the room. Mine, mine, mine just like a terrible two year old. The heck of it is that some almost never use them and some have kid on them most of the time.
      deowll
  • RE: In-class computers vs. labs

    I'm curious how the mobile-lab got distributed to the requesting classroom. Did a tech department have to deliver the cart before class and remove at the end of class? Were the teachers responsible for making sure the laptops were properly placed back into the cart and plugged in ready for charging? If this becomes the responsibility of the tech integrator it could be very demanding.
    rmathews@...
  • RE: In-class computers vs. labs

    In my science lab, the in-class computer is very much needed, beneficial, desired, and used. My students can research, compile lab reports, and interface with science equipment without leaving the room. 'Real world' lab research uses computers to perform many different tasks. An excellent example concerns data collection during an experiment. The Vernier Software and Technology Probeware system is an excellent example of the possibilities available to school science students. True a calculator can be used to 'collect' the data during an experiment, but the computer can help the student transform and extend that collected data to gain a more complete understanding of the 'results.' The calculator is much better suited for the few 'outside' lab experiences like a field trip to a local pond for collection of data. Then when the student returns to the science room, the data can be downloaded to the in-class lab computers which already have the interfacing software. The problem I have had is that administrators and others sometimes can't see the obvious--science and technology are impossible without each other.
    lahorne@...
    • Forgot something(s)

      The student with that reading problem can use the cd with the textbook to have the book 'read' aloud or the non-native English speaking student can have headphones to hear the textbook content. Online test-prep Internet sites (www.usatestprep.com an example), after school tutoring, my class website with resource information, and even taking tests online with results available instantly are all tasks that in-class computers can help solve without resulting to moving the whole class or sending a few students to the school based lab.
      lahorne@...
  • RE: In-class computers vs. labs

    Our middle school has two complete classroom sets of laptops on carts which can be utilized in the classroom. We also have two computer classrooms which get used just as much. Both are on a check out basis except during state testing.
    nfred@...