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Wouldnt It Be Nice to Have a Computer Lab With Working Computers?


Voice of Experience

In this weeks Voice of Experience essay, educator Kathleen Modenbach says she would love to have access to a computer lab with 25 working computers. She also wonders why so little money in the school budget is devoted to maintaining such a large technology investment. But she is making the best of the situation Included: Modenbach searches for the silver lining!

Recently I was planning a major research project for my English students. As I planned, I realized our schools technology situation would require me to make some adjustments. You see, even with three computer labs in our school, I have been forced to carefully consider the way I schedule my classes into them. Not one of the labs ever has enough working computers for a class of 25 students!

It seems that the big push to get computers into our schools did not include much thought about how to effectively maintain those computers once they were in place. At my school, as in many others across the nation, we do not have a technology teacher to support teachers and students and we do not have computer technicians to keep our technology in good repair. Instead, my schools computer science teacher, with the help of some of students, handles computer maintenance as a sideline to his full-time job.

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Like many teachers, I have been forced to search for ways to work around those technology issues -- to come up with the inevitable Plan B. For a recent project, I decided to divide my classes into two groups; half the students would go to a computer lab with me and the other half would go to the library's computer lab where our librarians could assist them with their research.

Plan B might not have been the best way to go, but I discovered some benefits in dividing my classes into two smaller research groups:

  • I included in the group I worked with those students who would benefit most from my assistance. (Most of my more independent learners went to the library where they were exposed to books and literary journals, in addition to computer resources. They also were able to benefit from a librarians perspective on research.)
  • I was able to give the students I worked with more one-on-one assistance with general computer questions.
  • I anticipated problems students might encounter -- and suggested solutions -- before they got too far into their research.
  • I could steer students to the best Web resources -- which were often sites I had already researched and knew would be helpful.
  • I kept encouraging students to seek out additional resources by reminding them that research means search, and search again.

Of course, there were problems in being forced to divide my classes in this way -- and in using technology that is not supported full-time. I was not the only teacher who wanted to schedule students into the lab or the library. It was often difficult to find a time when I could divide my classes between the two locations. If something went wrong in the computer lab, we had to interrupt the computer science class for help. In addition, our lab computers had been exposed to viruses, so students could not e-mail information to their homes or use floppy disks.

Computer problems such as the ones I have to deal with are not unique to my school. Like many teachers, I have been able to turn some of those problems into advantages by making adjustments to my plans. But that doesnt alter my point: Before we try to provide a computer for every child in every school, we must give some thought to how those computers will be maintained. We seem to have forgotten that part of the technology equation!

Kathleen Modenbach is an English teacher in Louisianas St. Tammany Parish Schools. She teaches at Northshore High School and writes for The Times Picayune in New Orleans.