This is an updated version of a previous article.
While it's fashionable to decry the use of computer labs, still they continue to exist in many schools. If you have, or are thinking of having, a computer lab, what ought it to look like? What should it contain?
It's better to start by considering function rather than design. That is to say, think about how you'd like pupils and teachers to use the room.
The following are my ideal features.
Space For Collaboration
Research has indicated that pupils often learn more when they work in pairs, so a computer lab should acknowledge that. Given how inexpensive laptops and tablets are there days (relatively speaking), there's no need to cram as many desktop computers into the room as possible. As long as you have...
Space For Sitting Away From A Computer
If the room is large enough, I like the following:
Desks With No Computer
These are necessary so that pupils can work with pen and paper, on a laptop or tablet, or have a discussion with someone.
Establishing a library is a great idea -- see the reasons for having an ed tech library. The good news is that even if space is at a premium you can start a mini library. This might comprise, for example, a drawer or rack containing some computer magazines, and a shelf containing half a dozen reference books about using Scratch, Python or HTML.
These are for reading in, working on a laptop or having small group discussions. If you are able to establish a small library in your computer lab, easy chairs will encourage pupils to use it.
The Right Equipment
My "shopping list" is:
Interactive whiteboard or interactive flat panel tv
Walls you can write on
Surfaces you can write on (eg desks)
Visualiser or at least one Hue Camera (click the pic below; please note that this is an Amazon affiliate link)
A bank of laptops or tablets that pupils can use as they require
Ditto some cameras (with a video function as well, of course)
Paper to write on
A3 paper to plan on
No posters telling people what they must not do (see Quick wins in the Computing classroom)
Spare marker pens
Spare interactive whiteboard pens
A selection of books on Computing
A regularly refreshed selection of magazines (see mini library, above)
A regularly refreshed supply of newspapers (ditto)
Plants not only look nice, they can help to clean the air too. (We all know how hot and stuffy computer labs can become.) I used to have spider plants in mine.
I think plants have a calming effect as well, which is good news on windy days!
Having a nice Vivaldi or Mozart album playing in the background is definitely useful. It helps keep pupils nice and calm, and can help them concentrate too.
The company ICT Direct, which advertises on this website, have informed me about some good deals they have going specifically for music computers. Please note that although they advertise here I would quietly forget about such deals if they looked like rubbish — but they don’t! One of the things I used to do when I was Head of ICT/Computing was to use an old stand-alone computer for purposes like playing music or doing DVD-based research. These days I’d want one that could handle recording too. Not every school has the space or the money to go all out like John Hanson School has done, but relatively inexpensive but high-spec equipment like this is a pretty good start. Here’s the link:
Examples of pupils’ work
It’s nice for pupils to see their hard work showcased. It also provides ideas to other pupils and teachers about what’s possible. Indeed, it’s not a bad idea to annotate displays with labels such as “This was created using….”
You cannot expect everyone to know how to use every program available. That’s why I advocated creating simple getting started guides or manuals. If that seems like too much work, you can enlist the help of colleagues and pupils. You can also work on stand-alone one-page guides and collate them into a manual at a later date, or simply maintain a ring binder of such guides, arranged in alphabetical order. See Writing Technology Manuals For School: Why, What And How for further ideas.
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If you really don’t have the time for that, you can always chat to me about hiring me to write the manuals for your school.
List of software and other facilities
When I was Head of IT I made sure that in each computer lab there was a list of software and other facilities. Your list could include information such as which printer the computers are linked to by default, how to redirect the printing to a colour laser printer, and where that is located, where to find computers better suited to memory-intensive work such as making and editing videos, plus a list of all the applications available under headings relating to their function, such as programming languages, word processing, graphic design, e-safety.
Technical support information
When something goes wrong, teachers need to know how to contact technical support, or at least how to report the fault. This should be made as easy as possible. See 10 Ways To Encourage Reluctant Teachers To Use Education Technology.
If your computer room booking system is paper-based, you can put up a timetable for a week or two in the staffroom -- not in the computer lab itself (see Quick Wins In The Computing Classroom). Incidentally, the reason I suggest making the timetable available for only a week or two is that I’ve learnt from bitter experience: see 7 Mistakes I Made As An Ed Tech Co-Ordinator #4: Allowing Unrestricted Advance Booking.
“Ah”, you say. “But we do all that stuff electronically, and staff can book whatever they need online.” Fine. Then put up a notice informing staff how to do that.
If the room is not going to be available at certain times, such as for maintenance or cleaning, make sure that information is displayed prominently and well in advance. For example, I always used to inform staff that my technicians were going to be deleting old files and updating programs and so on on the first day of the forthcoming school holiday. The technical support team of a school I visited in the north of England had a room cleaning rota. Although they tidied up every computer lab at the end of each day, once a month they would give each one a thorough spring clean. There were four labs in the school, and each Friday after school one them would be given that treatment.
I hope you have found this list useful.
If you need more tailored suggestions, you can always hire me to visit and draw up a report, and even help you implement the ideas. See my consultancy page for more details of this service.