Arranging your computer labs

One of my labs this year was shoehorned into a side room off of a classroom. While the CAD and electronics classes that primarily used the lab were in this classroom, making the location an obvious choice, 20 desktops just didn't fit well.

One of my labs this year was shoehorned into a side room off of a classroom. While the CAD and electronics classes that primarily used the lab were in this classroom, making the location an obvious choice, 20 desktops just didn't fit well. Not only could teachers not see students' screens easily (or all at once), but the arrangement of several peninsulas to accommodate all of the computers made the room claustrophobic at best for teachers trying to provide one-on-one help.

Which brings up a couple of interesting questions. First of all, given all the space you could want or need, what is the state of the art in terms of computer lab setup? Second, and probably far more relevant for most of us, in the face of serious space constraints, what is an optimal arrangement to improve usability?

Architects will tell you that a series of peninsulas improve collaboration and provide the best use of space. I'm inclined to agree. You can fit a lot of kids into a room and easily hide a lot of wiring through the use of peninsulas.

Peninsulas in a confined space

Even a more traditional setup with all students facing the front of the class often uses a peninsular approach:

Traditional peninsulas

However, as teachers will be happy to tell you, it is very difficult to observe all of your students at once for a quick survey of their screens in either of these scenarios. In the former, many are facing the wrong way. In the latter, many are obstructed. In both cases, actually moving between desks for individual help can be a challenge, at best.

A horseshoe seems to satisfy a lot of needs, but is a terrible use of space, wasting much of what is in the middle of the horseshoe and making it hard for students to see a board or projector.

So what is the best? What is practical? What have you tried that works well? What hasn't worked so well? Talk back and let us know.