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Creating a Dream Lab: Technology Channels That Work!


Your school is clearing out its old computer lab -- filled with rows of outdated equipment -- and creating a new, state-of-the-art technology/media center. How should the area be set up? What equipment do you need? How can you make it accessible to everyone? Education World's Tech Team has some answers!

As computers become an integral, rather than adjunct, part of the educational process, many school systems are taking a fresh look at their computer labs -- considering a redesign of areas that were originally thrown together with little time, money, or knowledge of when and how they would be used. To help you avoid costly mistakes that eat up valuable technology resources and stunt your students' technological growth, Education World asked our Tech Team to tell us about their dream labs. "I'm already in my dream lab," Lori Sanborn, technology specialist at Rancho Las Positas School in Livermore, California, told Education World. "Our computer lab has 22 stations equipped with computer tables with keyboard drawers, iMacs with Internet access, and headphones. Students sit in adjustable swivel chairs, and the room has reflective, nonglare fluorescent lighting.


"To create the best possible design for teaching," said Mary Kreul, a teacher at Richards Elementary School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, "the lab should be designed by the staff members who are going to use it. Students and parents should be consulted. Visits should be made to other schools to see how their labs are designed, and as much research as possible should be done to gain the widest possible perspective."

"A great lab," according to Kreul, "would include

  • ergonomic, 'kid-sized' tables and chairs;
  • 25 of the newest model iMacs with maximum memory;
  • headsets for each computer;
  • two black-and-white laser printers and one laser color printer;
  • the fastest possible Internet access;
  • computers that are connected to building and district servers;
  • a teacher station, with white board attached to a presentation computer;
  • working spaces for small-group collaborative work;
  • accessibility and space for special needs students and the adults who work with them;
  • computers connected to the school's media center, so students can access print and other media;
  • adequate lighting and air circulation, including air conditioning;
  • soundproofing; and
  • a bright, colorful, inviting atmosphere."


"We started this year in a brand-new building with three computer labs," Lisa Wilson, computer lab coordinator at South Knox Elementary School in Monroe City, Indiana, told Education World. "As the building progressed, the plans for our 'dream labs' kept changing.

"Now we think we have the ideal setup," Wilson said. "Thirty computers are set up along the outside walls of the room, so the teacher can stand anywhere in the room and see every student's monitor. A projector and four ink jet printers sit on an island in the center of the room, along with dictionaries and thesauruses, extra paper, and student handouts for the day's lesson. The screen for the projector is at the end of the room, so all the students can see it easily, and our scanner, which scans directly to disk, is located in a corner of the room, so class isn't interrupted when it's being used.

"I know a lot of people think schools should close the labs and put all the computers in classrooms," Wilson added. "But I think we need both! The labs are wonderful for whole group, hands-on instruction. That way, all the students can learn a skill together and then use their new skill on classroom computers without a lot of supervision. We also use our lab for special projects. It works great!"



"We think our excellent lab setup provides a productive environment for students," said Libby Adams, computer resource teacher at Troost Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. "The floor is carpeted, as are the walls behind the computers. The lab is set up in an E-shape, with ten computers along each side wall and ten more, in two rows of five, in the center of the room. (Because those computers face one another, there's a low divider between them.) All areas provide easy visibility for the instructor, and all students can see the front of the room, where instruction is projected from the administrator's workstation to two TVs. Because the computers are placed on long built-in counters, the stations are accessible to wheelchairs as well."

No matter how the lab itself is set up, Adams said, "for the greatest student productivity, each student should have a computer with Internet access, and each lab should have two to three printers (at least one color printer), a scanner, a digital camera, and a presentation station. I'd also recommend that administrators have software that allows them to control, add software, and shut down all stations from their desktop," Adams added.



"The only thing I need is for my lab to be bigger," lamented Betty Kistler, computer technology coordinator for the Tuckahoe (New York) Common School District. "I like the layout of the lab," Kistler said. "As visitors enter, computers are along the walls on either side of the room -- with windows above, shelves below, and bulletin boards in front of them. Two additional pods of six computers each form hexagons in the center of the room. The presentation station features a computer, a multimedia projector, a TV, and DVD player. It is not always easy to keep track of what students are doing because not all the monitors are visible from a single vantage point, but the layout offers maximum opportunities for privacy as well as collaboration.

"What's missing," according to Kistler, "is a large enough work area for the offline activities that need to be happening here. I'd like a couple of large tables with chairs for this purpose. We also need more closet area for storage of software and equipment that needs attention and for our servers -- which now live on my desk. The printers are in a cluster, which works, but I'd rather have them distributed throughout the lab."

Kistler added, "Our school is planning an addition, which will have a new computer lab, and we're thinking about getting laptops, instead of desktop computers, for students in grades 6 through 8. That way, students can use computers in all their classrooms, as well as in the lab.

"The one thing I am sure about," Kistler concluded, "is that this lab will be bigger!

Click to read about a dream lab that's also a profit center.

Editor's note: Education World's Tech Team includes 35 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their individual expertise and experience.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © Education World


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Updated 01/29/2012