I was reading the latest edition of Leading and Learning in Technology (good stuff people) and I saw the point-counterpoint article which was simply titled Are Computer Labs Obsolete. I quickly read the two points and went off to do the dishes. After about ten minutes I wanted to smash my head through a plate glass window. No, I am not suicidal or disturbed in anyway. I simply realized this question is foolish – I mean really foolish. Read on past the break to see what I think. If you agree disagree leave a comment. We love ‘em here at IT Babble. If you’re thinking of putting your head through a window, please get some professional help.
Where to start? OK, in the article there is an assumption made that we are talking about a traditional computer lab where teachers can book and use it with their class no matter what class they are teaching. At least that is what I am assuming. I have some problems with that right there. Computer labs vary differently from school to school. One school may have a very well maintained lab where software and hardware are up-to-date and there is adequate funding and personnel to support the lab. Then there are other labs where funding, support and basic care are not practiced. These labs may be very outdated both with software and hardware. Then there are those in between. Can we compare the two extremes labs? I think it is like comparing a high school basketball team to the Miami Heat. Just because they play the same sport doesn’t mean that they are equal or should be compared as such. It doesn’t make sense.
Now let’s talk about the socioeconomic side. What if the school is in community with a high level of poverty? What if the school and the public library are the only opportunity for a student to use the computer, get online, etc.? You want to call that computer lab obsolete and get rid of it? What about a school that is affluent and have the ability to provide laptops for each student and offer a computer lab with the latest software and tools at a student’s disposal. Should we compare the labs in these two schools as equal? Of course not. For each situation the argument is different and have different factors to take into consideration. The idea that there is a question and only one answer that blankets everyone is ludicrous and usually leads to bad decision making. I hope you are starting to see how foolish this question is turning out to be.
Let’s move onto the term “computer lab.” What is a computer lab? Here is what wikipedia says it is:
I think I can get behind that definition. It’s simple straightforward and the only thing I would change (being a teacher ) is the public part. Our computer labs are meant for our students/staff not any old Joe who walks in from off the street. Now that we have a working definition of what a computer lab is, let’s take a look at one argument declaring that computer labs are obsolete.
This person says they are a one-to-one school now and closed their computer labs. They didn’t really “close” their remaining computer labs; they merely evolved and expanded them. The students have computers in the classroom and they are connected to the network. That there is a working computer lab. Just because at the end of the class the kids close their laptops and walk out the door doesn’t mean that it was not a computer lab for that class. The people who run the school didn’t open up the back doors and toss out all their computers and forbid students and teachers from using them. That would be getting rid of a computer lab. What they did was expand the computer lab so it is in nearly every class instead of just a single room. This expansion (because that is what they did) was done to probably meet their students’ needs. Evolving the computer lab model to every class is not calling it obsolete.
She also mentioned that they are using online learning portals, web 2.0 tools with their one-to-one program but how does a school that maintains a room(s) of computers keep students from using those tools or learning portals? It can’t. Students can not be able to use these tools as often, but they are still there for them to use. If anything getting rid of computer labs seems to dwindle their opportunities even more.
Another argument I read was that computer labs do not foster collaboration and creativity? Huh? What? Did I miss something? So a MacBook Pro that a student carries around fosters more creativity and collaboration than an iMac on a desk? How does that argument make any sense? I teach IT in a room that has desktops that the school maintains, and one of my favorite units (I wish it was a whole semester course) is Photoshop. This program oozes creativity. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a school desktop computer or a student’s personal laptop. The potential for the creativity is the same. In my class the students love to walk around and see what others are doing. They learn to ask their friends and people nearby for help and ideas. Creativity is flowing in that room and collaboration must happen in order for this unit to be successful. I don’t see how a desktop, laptop, tablet affects a student’s creativity or collaboration. one way or another If that is the problem in your computer lab, then it is not the tools the students are using but the teacher. That is like blaming a poorly made house on a hammer. It doesn’t make sense (much like this question).
Finally I would like to point out that some software is too expensive to require students to purchase on their own. There is popular software out there that can be $300 and more (FinalCut Pro, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, AutoCAD LT, etc.). Having this provided on designated machines allows students and staff the opportunity to use software that ordinarily may be out of reach for them. Let’s be honest here, these applications are some of the best (if not the best) and denying students access is wrong, but can you imagine the uproar from the community if students were required them to purchase this expensive software? That is really wrong. The computer lab maintained by the school is the common ground and probably the best solution for this predicament.
I don’t mean to slam L&L for presenting this question. This question certainly got my attention and prompted me to write my own take on it. Ultimately this is what it is supposed to do, but I think there are more important questions that can be asked along this vein: Are schools trying to force technology integration when they’re not ready? Should schools adopt electronic textbooks? Which do you prefer zombies or unicorns? OK, that last one is a guilty pleasure one of my students asked (thanks Mauricio). I think you get my point, this question is really silly and there are more important ones to ask. If you agree disagree or have a question that you think would have been better, go ahead and leave it in the comments.