Knowledge and Skill in Lab Management
After reading this unit you will understand
- The term computer lab
- Evolving technology and evolving classroom
- Consideration for setting up a computer lab
- Computer laboratory design
- Maintenance and management of computer lab
- Managing instruction and behaviours in the computer lab
- Duties of a computer lab tutor
- Computer lab safety rules for teachers and students
With the development of learning technologies in the late 20th century, education system has changed rapidly. This is due to the capability of technology to provide a proactive, easy access and comprehensive teaching and learning environment. Nowadays, ministries of education all over the world encourage the provision of a lot of facilities and training in order to enhance the use of advanced technologies in the countries’ teaching and learning process.
A high budget has been placed in order to provide the equipment needed by teachers to improve the education system. Despite all the efforts, most of the countries are facing similar problems whereby the teachers are not maximizing the usage of the technology provided. This has become a serious matter as many previous researches have proven the usage of ICT in teaching and learning process could improve students’ achievement. Many, researchers have taken an effort to analyse the factors that affecting teachers’ acceptance of ICT usage in the classrooms. It shows that, the major barrier of the implementation was the teachers’ belief as the teachers are the persons who implement the change in their teaching and learning process. Moreover, previous research shows that the correlation of teachers’ belief and the use of ICT are high. Teachers’ role is getting more important especially in usage of ICT in pedagogy which could increase the achievement of the students, their creativity and thinking skills.
4.2 What is a computer lab?
A computer lab is a space which provides computer services to a defined community. Computer labs are typically provided by libraries to the public, by academic institutions to students who attend the institution, or by other institutions to the public or to people affiliated to that institution. Users typically must follow a certain user policy to retain access to the computers.
This generally consists of the user not engaging in illegal activities or attempting to evade any security or content-control software while using the computers. In public settings, computer lab users are often subjected to time limits, in order to allow more people a chance to use the lab, whereas in other institutions, computer access typically requires valid personal login credentials, which may also allow the institution to track the user’s activities. Computers in computer labs are typically equipped with internet access, while scanners and printers may augment the lab setup. Computers in computer labs are typically arranged either in rows, so that every workstation has a similar view of one end of the room to facilitate teaching or presentations, or in clusters, to facilitate small group work. While computer labs are generally multipurpose, some labs may contain computers with hardware or software optimized for certain tasks or processes, depending on the needs of the institution operating the lab. These specialized purposes may include video editing, stock trading, 3-D computer-aided design, programming, and GIS. Increasingly, these have become the main purposes for the existence of traditional desktop-style computer labs, due to rising ownership of inexpensive personal computers making use of the lab only necessary when the expensive, specialized software and more powerful computers needed to run it are required.
4.3 Evolving Technology, Evolving Classrooms
Technology has impacted every facet of daily life and educators are responsible for teaching the next generation how to harness the power of computers across numerous fields, such as graphic design, accounting, computer animation, engineering, architecture, math, and programming. Students are no longer simply learning basic word processing. They are now using professional-grade and industry-standard software programs, designing apps, and preparing for a dynamic and computer-rich post-graduation experience. As a result, computer labs themselves have evolved to meet both the specific demands of technological hardware and classroom layouts required by the teachers. Different academic disciplines require different lab layouts — some are more traditional with workstations in lecture rows, others need partitions to ensure testing privacy; others have students working in small groups, while still others need flexible work areas for project planning.
The layouts are as varied as the subjects taught, as are the specific needs of conutry, teachers, and the actual physical space.
The following pages introduce you to some of the many possible technology layouts which will hopefully initiate a conversation or kick-start thinking about what might work for your programs, teachers, and students. We shall look at layouts for as many different computer lab classrooms as you may want to have, and show you how our furniture allows for growth, reconfiguring, and the evolution of technology itself so an institution’s investment will last for years.
4.4 Considerations for Setting up a Computer Lab
When planning your computer labs, considering the following questions will help in designing the best rooms for your school.
- What is the size of your new or existing learning space?
- How many students will be utilizing the space?
- Will power be accessed from the floor, the ceiling, the walls, or from the furniture itself?
- Are there doors, windows, columns, heater vents, and other items that need to be designed around?
- Are dimmable lighting or light-blocking window treatments required for some classrooms?
- Will computers or technology equipment be placed on top of work surfaces, or mounted below?
- What items will be used individually or shared? How many are needed? Computers, CAD stations, tablets?
- Do the lessons emphasize students working independently or as part of a group? What size groups?
- Will students gather at a staging area, or a central location, before breaking into groups for project work?
- Are accessories like monitor arms, CPU holders, or keyboard trays desired?
- What type of desk does the instructor need? A desk with student meeting space? Built-in outlets or accessible power?
- Will the teacher present lectures, requiring a book stand, or is all instruction collaborative — or is there a blend of the two?
- What type of technology will the instructor employ regularly? Whiteboard, computer, or projection technology?
- Student considerations
- What age are the students? Five, eleven, seventeen? What seat or workstation heights will work best?
- Do students have backpacks or other materials with them that require classroom storage?
- Can students see everything clearly? From the population’s average height, are their sight lines clear?
- Do students have portable devices that require charging?
When planning your computer labs, considering the following questions will help in designing the best rooms for your school.
4.5 Computer Laboratory Designs
Many schools use computer labs to allow student access to the software necessary to complete coursework and learn ICT. Computer labs are also used to instruct students on computer use, programming, and related subjects. However, many institutions give little thought to the design and layout of the lab. Too often, they simply fill a room with computers and set up the machines any way they fit inside the room.
4.5.1 Why Computer Lab Design and Layout is Important
Computer labs must be designed intelligently and serve the purpose they were intended to serve. Imagine if parking lots did not have lines telling you where to park and everyone just drove in and parked wherever they wanted. Soon no one would be able to enter or exit. The lines in parking lots create important rules about how you should park in the lot. Similarly, the design and layout of a computer lab creates rules and defines how the lab can be used. Thought given to the layout of a computer lab dictates the usefulness of the lab and increases user satisfaction which justifies its expense and assists in future investments in upgrades. Certainly, the layout of the lab depends on the equipment, the furniture, and space available.
4.5.2 The classic classroom computer lab design
The classic classroom computer lab design serves as the default layout in many High School and Colleges. However, it does have two major advantages. First, it serves as a great instruction room where students learn computer topics from an instructor at the front of the room.
With everyone facing the same direction, it allows instructors to see the faces of the students with which to read non-verbal cues as to whether students are learning the material or need more help. Second, it is similar to the layout of other classroom environment emphasizing that the students are there to learn.
One disadvantage of the classroom layout is the need to disturb other students along the rows of computers as students enter and exit the lab. For labs where students are coming and going, the classroom layout is not ideal. In addition, the classroom layout is not conducive to team work. It is difficult for students to work together, especially on collective projects and in peer-assist teaching models.
4.5.3 Four-Leaf Clover Computer Lab Layout
The four-leaf clover design offers the most privacy for students and reduces to a minimum the possibility of cheating during tests or exercises. It also eliminates the need for students to disturb others when entering and exiting the lab and allows instructors to go from student to student to address individual problems and concerns.
One disadvantage of the four-leaf clover design has to do with attention spans. When students are sitting at their own computers, instructors will not be able to see what each student is doing at his/her workstation. Students may not be paying attention to lessons or may be surfing to inappropriate websites in labs equipped with Internet access. Four-leaf clover designs can also be more expensive if each computer sits on its own table. Some computer lab furniture is made specifically for this design offering space for four computers on one table or desk.
4.5.4 U-Shaped Computer Lab Designs
The U-shaped computer lab layout encourages engagement between instructors and students. Instructors can enter the U and engage with students one-on-one. This design also serves as the most conducive layout for computer maintenance as technicians do not have to disturb others to gain access to the computers. In addition, students will not interfere with other students’ work while entering and exiting the lab.
Unfortunately, the U-shaped design offers little opportunity for instructors to monitor what students are doing and looking at on their monitors. This design is not compatible with test taking and requires many assistants to monitor students. Furthermore, this design often takes up more space that other layouts.
4.5.5 Inverted U-Shaped Computer Lab Layouts
Like the U-shaped layout, the Inverted U-shape also offers engagement between instructors and students. In addition, the layout allows for the most convenient method of monitoring students. For individual learning, this layout minimizes the distance instructors must walk to move from workstation to workstation and student to student.
Like the classroom layout, traffic into and out of the Inverted U-shape can become constrictive especially when all of the students must enter and exit at the same time. This congestion is reduced if students are entering and exiting individually as in an open lab paradigm where students can come and go as they please. In addition, this layout takes up the same amount of space as the U-shaped design. If space is not a consideration, either of the U-shaped layouts is appropriate.
4.5.6 Back-to-back computer lab design
Back-to-back layouts are similar to classic layouts, but allow many students to fit in a relatively small space. Often, these labs have split uses — one area for non-computer-based work, and another for working with technology. Teachers might not do much teaching because some students may be facing away from them, but the students do have the ability to easily interact with fellow classmates.
Back-to-back labs fit courses where students work primarily on their own, at least for part of the curriculum, such as computer animation, drafting, fashion design (note the sewing carts tucked under the worksurface in the middle image), or a research lab.
There are many options when designing the layout of a computer lab. The key is to make sure form is following function. Thought and planning at the beginning of designing the lab ensures that students and instructors are satisfied with what the lab offers. Choosing a sub-optimal layout can negatively affect student learning and reduce the engagement between instructors and students.
4.6 Maintenance and Management of Computing Laboratories
Computing laboratories are increasingly used in schools and other educational institutions. To keep these laboratories in working conditions is a challenge, especially considering the lack of people with the needed expertise. Most of the schools in Ghana lack laboratory aides to assist in the care and maintenance of the computer laboratories in schools. Only a few of the labs in Ghana can boast of aides. Therefore, where the teacher acts as the technician/aide, it is proposed that whilst minimizing downtime due to factors such as external attacks, failures in software components, bad configuration of the system or its applications and the lack of preventive maintenance of hardware, we carry out these protocols to keep the labs safe and in good working conditions at all times. It considers that the hardware, operating system and main applications of these laboratories is fairly the same. Tasks needed to install and manage such a computing laboratory are crucial for the institution.
Computer labs, or computer clusters, give many students and teachers access to computer programs and the Internet. Schools and public libraries set up computer labs that contain a large quantity of computers, printers, scanners and other equipment. These computers are usually hooked up to a central server and maintained by an IT person. Lab computers are used often by students with varying degrees of computer training and expertise. This means they are at risk from viruses, corrupt files, spyware and malfunction. You must maintain lab computers regularly in order to ensure that they do not crash prematurely. Computer lab maintenance procedures may differ slightly depending upon whether you have Apple or PC computers. Read more to find out how to maintain lab computers.
The following are a few guidelines for maintaining the computer laboratories:
- Establish the perimeters of your computer lab according to your organization’s rules. You may need to decide what search terms or websites you want to deny to your lab users if you are connected to the internet. You will also want to establish the criteria for your firewall.
- Seek the help of an IT service, if you are not so technically knowledgeable about computers. Ask the students to seek the help of the administrator/teacher if they have a problem.
- Post a “Computer Lab Rules” sheet that clearly states computer lab restrictions. These may include prohibition of food and drink, downloading software, opening attachments, removal of equipment, access to illicit sites and more. Many labs maintain that anyone caught breaking the rules is removed from the premises.
- Plug all your computer equipment into a surge protector. Spikes and surges in electrical power can break or damage electrical equipment, as well as lose lab users’ data. This is especially important in country computer labs and places that are prone to lightning storms. Use UPS to protect lab equipment.
- Set up a firewall. This is a protections system for your computer lab. Choose a network layer firewall that will deny access to sites or programs that do not fit into the acceptable criteria you have chosen.
- Set up weekly updates or automatic updates for your lab computers. Many computer programs, such as Microsoft Office Suite, update their software and protection regularly. You will want to schedule these updates for a time when the computers are not in public use, and you may be able to do them from 1 central computer.
- Install an anti-virus program on the computers and/or network. This will usually stop a program from downloading if it suspects a virus. You can run daily or weekly reports on the computers to check more carefully for viruses.
- Install an anti-spyware program on your computers and/or network. Spyware programs install themselves onto computers to gather personal information. Anti-spyware programs can stop these harmful programs from corrupting or filling up your computer.
Some computer labs choose to download a spyware program purposefully onto their lab computers. These programs are sometimes called “keyloggers,” and they can gather data about how the lab computers are being used for the system administrators.
Anti-virus and anti-spyware programs are especially important for Windows operating systems. Schedule scans on both programs every week. Apple computers have been less susceptible to viruses in the past; however, they are increasingly under threat.
- Back up your computers on a regular basis. If your computer lab becomes corrupted by a virus, you can return to the previous backup to restore it.
- Use the hard disc cleanup and defragmentation utilities regularly. These Windows utilities regularly remove temporary files and keep the hard drive from fragmenting. If done on a weekly basis, the processes will be shorter than if you do it on a monthly basis. Go to “My Computer” and right click on the “Local Disk” icon. Under “Properties” select “Disc Cleanup.”
- Do not unplug printers, scanners and other connected machines when the computers are on. Eject any USB devices before unplugging them. You may need to post this on your “Lab Rules.”
- Turn off all computers by selecting the shutdown option on the desktop. Avoid pressing the “Power” button to turn off computers. If this is necessary, run the computer in safe mode until you know what the problem is.
Ask your users to press the “Control,” “Alt” and “Delete” buttons if their computer freezes, rather than shutting it down with the “Power” button.
- Clean your computer lab regularly. The following are effective ways to clean a computer lab:
Dust computer screens using a thin, soft microfiber cloth. Dedicate 1 cloth to be used only on the screens. If dirt and debris from other surfaces gets caught in the cloth, it can scratch the computer screen.
Vacuum the floor every day, if possible, so dirt and debris is less likely to gather around the computers.
Dust all surfaces of the computer. If the fans in the Central Processing Unit (CPU) fill with dust, the computer can overheat. Use a thicker microfiber cloth to pull the dust from the surface. Some types of microfiber cloth have been shown to attract and trap dust.
Use compressed air to clean out keyboards. You may also choose to use a disinfectant sprayed on a lint-free cloth on the keyboard and mouses, for sanitary purposes.
4.7 Managing Instruction and Behaviour in the Computer Lab
Here are a few tips for both computer lab teachers and regular classroom teachers who bring their students to the computer lab:
1) Give instructions BEFORE students come to the lab.
Once they have a computer in front of them, kids won’t want to listen to you. If you are a classroom teacher, show the websites/activities on your classroom projector and give the directions, then bring the class immediately to the lab. Remind students of what to do when they are in the hall outside the computer lab door (“Remember, when you enter the room, you are going to open the web browser and go straight to www.whatever.com”), then send them in.
2) Teach students to sit in their same seat, turn on the computer, and begin working as soon as they enter the room.
students are anxious to use the machines and will play around and be disruptive if you force them to sit in front of a computer and not touch it. You have a short period in the lab: start using it right at the beginning of the period.
3) Make sure important websites and passwords are displayed.
Then when students say, “Which site are we on?” “How do I login?”, you can just gesture at the sign. This does not have to be a major production: view the slideshow above to see how simply appropriate signs and reminders can be posted. If you are a classroom teacher and not allowed to leave posters up in the lab, assign a student helper to be in charge of bringing them back and forth for as long as the class needs to reference the posters. It is worth the extra effort, because you are training students to be independent problem solvers!
4) When giving directions in the lab, move quickly.
Do not ask “Is everyone on this web page? Everyone got it?” Just look around: if most screens are at the right place, give the next direction. Students will eagerly help one another out as needed, and once the class is settled, you can circulate to troubleshoot with the ones who have fallen behind. But if you try to troubleshoot before the rest of the class is engaged in their task, the ones who are ready will become restless and disruptive. If you are consistent with this procedure, students who are not keeping up will learn to wait patiently, because they know as soon as you have got the rest of the class on task, you will help them out.
5) Always have something for students to do when they finish early.
Students should not have to ask what to do, or worse, find their own form of entertainment. When they complete their task, they should have a list of fun educational games or other things they can do.
6) Have an alternate activity planned in case something goes wrong with your lesson.
What if the internet is down or too slow? What if a site is blocked? What if your subscription to a site is no longer valid? Have at least two other things students can do, preferably things that are similar to past assignments so it will not take a lot of explanation. Then you can say, “OK, the site appears to be down. I’m going to troubleshoot, and while I work, I’d like you to go to this website instead. In five minutes, I’ll either tell you to resume the original assignment, or stay on the other site.”
7) Give meaningful, engaging assignments, preferably ones that allow students to work at their own pace.
Remember, the goal is to minimize time off task. Do not make the entire class sit passively at ANY time. If you make them wait while three students struggle to get online, and then again while you reprimand a few students for being off task, and then again to make sure everyone has gotten to the right website, the learning environment will be chaotic because the students are frustrated. Give the assignment in the beginning–preferably before students even enter the lab–and allow them to stay focused on their work. They will be much more engaged and productive if they do not have to keep pace with the whole class, so whenever possible, give projects and assignments that are open ended or student directed.
4.8 Duties of a Computer Lab Teacher Aide/ The tutor as a Lab Manager
Working as a computer lab teacher aide can be a launching pad to careers in software engineering, telecommunication and system analysis because it improves your experience in computer operations. You must be knowledgeable in software packages, computer equipment, and maintain workplace discipline to fulfil your various duties as a computer lab teacher aide or assistant.
- Technology Maintenance
Computer teacher aides undertake maintenance of computers in the labs to ensure they are in proper working condition. This includes simple troubleshooting with software and hardware to working with other peripheral equipment, such as printers and scanners. Sometimes, an aide must engage the assistance of a computer technician. In this case, you must arrange for these repairs and contact any required vendors beforehand.
- Education and Support
Computer teacher assistants help lab users with various software and hardware system problems. For example, an aide may set up keyboard and monitor accessibility options for a visually impaired lab user, or adjust the height of a monitor for a wheelchair user. An aide may also teach students advanced research techniques for new software.
- Records Maintenance
Computer teacher aides maintain a catalogue system for a software library. Such a record includes the type of malfunction, possible causes, and suggested actions to rectify the problem. As a computer lab teacher aide, you maintain a timetable for computer lessons. You may also assign each student a particular computer by setting up user names and passwords.
- Monitor Students
While students are in the computer lab, you should monitor their behaviours and activities to ensure they follow the rules and regulations of the computer lab. Executing this responsibility requires you to read, understand and adhere to the set procedures and policies of the computer lab. Monitoring students ensures that their actions do not jeopardize their safety and that of others in the computer lab.
4.9 Computer Lab Safety Rules for Staff and Student
There are a number of safety rules for a computer lab that are enforced around the country. These precautions are devised with the intention of the safety of the individual and the protection of the equipment inside. Every school and college around the country has a computer lab, and there are certain rules that need to be followed when this lab is being used. There are a lot of machines and other equipment items kept in these labs and it is absolutely necessary to ensure that no one carries out some actions that could potentially damage the equipment inside.
4.9.1 Rules for Protecting Yourself
- Do not run inside the computer lab.
- Take a note of all the exits in the room, and also take note of the location of fire extinguishers in the room for the sake of fire safety.
- Keep bags and coats in the designated area, as they can cause people to trip if they are simply lying around the room.
- Try not to type continuously for extremely long periods.
- Look away from the screen once in a while to give your eyes a rest.
- Do not touch any exposed wires or sockets.
- Avoid making loud noises and speaking loudly.
- Do not attempt to open any machines, and do not touch the backs of machines when they are switched on.
- Do not spill water or any other liquid on the machine, in order to maintain electrical safety.
- There is a lot of equipment in computer labs that could short circuit itself or cause electric shocks, so one needs to be very careful.
4.9.2 Rules for Protecting Equipment
- Do not bring any food or drinks near the machine.
- Turn off the machine you were using, when you are done using it.
- Do not access external devices without scanning them for computer viruses.
- Ensure that the temperature in the room stays cool, since there are a lot of machines inside a lab, and these can overheat easily. This is one of the many ways of ensuring computer safety.
- Try not to touch any of the circuit boards and power sockets when something is connected to them and switched on.
- Always maintain an extra copy of all your important data.
- Dust can affect computers adversely. Ensure that the machines are cleaned on a regular basis.
Needless to say, the laboratory equipment that is present inside a computer lab is very expensive, and it is your responsibility to ensure that this equipment is kept safe and sound. If some damage is incurred by this equipment, the cost of repairing or replacing it will be very high indeed. Hence, the importance of following these lab safety rules for high school cannot be stressed enough.
With this information in mind, you will know the etiquette to be followed inside any computer lab. With the right precautions and safety measures, everyone can have a good experience inside the lab, and the equipment can also stay safe from damage.