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Out With Computer Labs, in With Mobile

| November 18, 2010 | 4 Comments
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Mobile cart carrying iTouch and netbooks

Imagine if at your workplace, you had to sign up to use a computer during an allotted time in a computer lab.

Sounds bizarre when you think of it in those terms, but that’s the system that some say we’ve set up for most of our middle school and high school students who don’t have access to computers in the classroom, where most of the work is done.

“Computer labs are outdated, as is the idea that computers are something separate from learning, like typewriter labs,” said Joel Rose, CEO of New York’s School of One at the Education Nation conference in September. “Learning technology is not a vocation. Technology is not the ‘it.’ Technology is the fundamental enabler of education.”

At the Acalanes School District in the Bay Area, there are labs specifically allotted for computer-dependent classes such as video production, photography, and computer-aided design that accommodate students in those elective classes. But for teachers who want students to use computers for work in English, world languages, science, or history, there are not enough slots in the drop-in computer labs to accommodate everyone. So district leaders have found a way to deliver the technology to students with the use of mobile carts.

“The lab was becoming more like a classroom,” says Cheryl Davis, the district’s Curriculum & Instruction Technology Specialist. “With technology being used more and more — like doing collaborative projects on Google Docs — you had to stop everything and go ‘do technology’ for two periods, and there was a whole school depending on just the one lab.”

Now the district is using the equivalent of a mobile lab, bringing the devices to students. “It’s not instant,” Davis says. “They still have to be rolled over sidewalks. But it’s better than saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to do technology today.’ That makes the use of technology inflexible, and we’re trying to make it more flexible.”

This is a prime example of how schools are trying to update outdated infrastructure as best they can with the resources they have.

“The problem for schools is that we’re in buildings that are outdated,” she says. “I hope eventually it gets to the point where students all have access to the kind of technology they need for schools so they can use technology and integrate it with what’s going on in class without stopping and signing up for lab time. But I don’t know if it’ll happen in my lifetime.”

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  • http://twitter.com/MusingMaven Craig McLeod

    This is the problem when people see ICT as something extra to teaching. We don’t see the pen or pencil, paper or whiteboard as an extra. It is a part of our teaching. ICT should be used as naturally as possible within the classroom. This shift in thinking is more pedagogical than technical.

  • MN

    This is interesting. I teach in a lab where we have desktops and teachers have set times to come down. While we have progressed from tech time being connected to teaches’ prep time to the tech time being more collaborative with skills embedded into grade-level curriculum, we still do have set times for classes to use the lab. I would love, and hopefully we are headed in this direction, to have the lab be a classroom where the teacher and the students bring laptops (we have 3 carts of laptops) so that the StarBoard can be used for interactive lessons and for demonstrations, global interactions (Skype) and so forth. My role would be more of a facilitator and coteacher rather than the teacher of information literacy skills at a set time and place.

    • Anonymous

      That seems to be the way things are moving, however slowly the progress. Once students master the technology (which typically doesn’t take too long), they can be free to start using it for creating and communicating with teachers as coaches.

  • Kcphillips1124

    Personally, I like this idea. It brings the tech to the student. I know it is a lot of work to have lab time because teachers are competing for computer time. Well, they will be competing for the tech, but there is a better chance it could be spread out more. Also, now there will be more time allotted for learning. It also allows the teacher to maintain control of the class because they are in the classroom, where the teacher can control the students better than if they were in a computer lab.