Definition and Composition of a Lab
In response to a rising number of students with personal laptops, educators and administrators are questioning the need for computer labs. However, while access to technology is changing their function, computer labs remain relevant in today’s schools for a number of reasons. For starters, computer labs create inclusive, structured learning environments where students can prepare for a tech-heavy future.
A computer laboratory is important in every private and government school to enhance the scientific and technological research and invention capacity of students. The technological tools in Computer or ICT labs do not only serve as tools for learning ICT skills but also become the resources for gaining a vast array of knowledge in various subjects. This session will guide us to identify what a Computer laboratory is and what it is made up of.
What is Computer Laboratory?
A computer lab is a space that 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 with that institution.
In the pure context of teaching and learning, it is room or space equipped with computers (networked or not) devoted to pedagogical use in a school including school libraries. An alternative definition would be a facility where students and teachers access the hardware and software necessary to fulfill the requirements in the courses studied and taught. Computer laboratories are also used to train and expose students to computer programming, simulation, and other subjects. A computer laboratory must be safe from any disruptive, non-pedagogical content; pupils and teachers may need authorized access credentials.
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 circumvent any security or content-control software while using the computers. In public settings, computer lab users are often subject 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 lecturing or presentations, or in clusters, to facilitate small group work. In some cases, generally in academic institutions, student laptops or laptop carts take the place of dedicated computer labs, although computer labs still have a place in applications requiring special software or hardware not practically implementable in personal computers.
What makes Computer Laboratories still relevant or beneficial?
Workstations Have More to Offer
Portable computing power offers learning advantages in virtually any educational environment. Yet, iPads and Chromebooks have their limitations. It’s a case of the right tool for the job. There are many things for which PC workstations are better suited.
Full computer lab workstations deliver greater computing power and more screen space than mobile devices. They offer better ergonomics and full-sized keyboards. PCs with powerful processors are ideal, and often a must-have, for subjects like advanced programming, engineering, and video editing. Full-sized keyboards make for easier typing of long papers.
Added screen real estate lets students work smarter and more efficiently. More information onscreen means less time needed to click and swap among tabs and windows. This has a host of advantages. For example, reference articles can be kept open and visible as students write a paper.
The health benefits of a full-sized monitor are not trivial. Correct ergonomics while computing is critical to reducing strain, discomfort and long-term injury like herniated discs. The top of a display should be at or slightly below eye level. Laptops sit much lower on a work surface.
The result is often considerable neck strain, commonly called “tech neck.” Using a full-sized, adjustable monitor keeps students comfortable now and safeguards their future health.
School Computer Labs Ensure Equitable Access
While 1:1 computing is on the rise, equity gaps persist. Many schools still lack the resources to implement 1:1 learning.
The Consortium for School Networking reveals the extent of these gaps in its 20182019 annual infrastructure survey. Forty-one percent (41%) of high school students lack access to a non-shared in-school device. In middle schools, 37% of the students lack individual 1:1 device access.
Elementary school students have the least access to personal devices, at 71%. This represents some progress over the prior year. Yet it still leaves a large portion of the US student population without a dedicated device during the school day.
At home, the survey found, there were no gains in students’ access to computing devices. This, in fact, is an ongoing trend. Since 2015, 10% or fewer school districts have reported that all of their students have internet access via non-shared devices at home.
Until all students have a dedicated computing device, school computer labs provide a place for equitable access to this vital resource.
School Computer Labs Supplement Classroom Learning
Students that use Chromebooks or other mobile devices during class gain digital literacy skills in tandem with the class curriculum. Students type notes. Group projects are conducted digitally. The internet is at hand for research tasks. It’s a natural integration.
As such, some educators conclude that all aspects of computer learning should move out of the computer lab and into the everyday classroom. On the flip side of the debate are those who advocate for maintaining separate computing facilities. Topping the list of reasons is limited classroom learning time.
Classroom teachers are time-pressed as it is. Covering the required curriculum and attending to students is a daily challenge. How would these teachers add instruction previously covered by a technology specialist or computer teacher? Finding time requires sacrificing something else.
Computer labs provide a time and space to develop skills not directly related to the classroom curriculum. These skills can be first learned in the lab. Then mastered through an ongoing application at home and in the classroom.
Modern Computer Labs Promote Collaboration
Traditional computer labs were designed to facilitate one thing: large classes of individual students engaged in similar tasks. They were often windowless rooms with workstations lining the walls to accommodate wiring and cables.
Today’s computer labs, library commons, and STEM labs look nothing like their ancestors. They’re also designed to facilitate a myriad of learning activities. Solo learning and testing, to be sure. But also, and perhaps foremost, collaborative group work. Just as classrooms are being redesigned to accommodate today’s constructivist learning styles, so too are computer labs being redesigned to facilitate working together to explore concepts and create meaning.
Encourages individual learning
No one learns in the same way because of different learning styles and different abilities. The laboratory provides great opportunities for making learning more effective for everyone with different needs. For example, students can learn at their own speed, review difficult concepts or skip ahead if they need to. What is more, it can provide more opportunities for struggling or disabled students. Access to the Internet gives students access to a broad range of resources to conduct research in different ways, which in turn can increase engagement.
Students can learn useful life skills through technology
By using the computer laboratory, both teachers and students can develop skills essential for the 21st century. Students can gain the skills they will need to be successful in the future. Modern learning is about collaborating with others, solving complex problems, critical thinking, developing different forms of communication and leadership skills, and improving motivation and productivity. What is more, technology can help develop many practical skills, including creating presentations, learning to differentiate reliable from unreliable sources on the Internet, maintaining proper online etiquette, and writing emails. These are very important skills that can be developed in the classroom.
Benefits for teachers
With countless online resources, technology can help improve teaching. Teachers can use different apps or trusted online resources to enhance the traditional ways of teaching and to keep students more engaged. Virtual lesson plans, grading software and online assessments can help teachers save a lot of time. This valuable time can be used for working with students who are struggling. What is more, having virtual learning environments in schools enhances collaboration and knowledge sharing between teachers.
Purpose of Computer Laboratories in Schools
i. Serve as the center for accessing varied information on general and specific subject areas
ii. Serve as a place for ICT knowledge and skills development
iii. Serve as a place to develop knowledge and skills in skills various other fields
iv. Serve as a platform for collaboration, corporation and an avenue to share ideas
v. Serve as a platform for developing and enhancing creativity and innovation
Useful things that learners can do at the Computer Laboratory
i. Students can code and can build new educational apps.
ii. They can use document writing and editing application to create notes and write books.
iii. They can build their own websites and blogs.
iv. They can practice math equations on Microsoft Excel.
v. Students can learn to use the internet in which they can pay fees online, they can join online classes, they can participate with online students’ communities on projects and assignments.
vi. If students have access, they can learn, practice, and improve their typing skills.
vii. Students can practice video conferencing with teachers, online education, and many other educational activities through online computer applications.
viii. And the most important thing in all students can learn the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, and cloud computing, the Internet of things, and many others.
Basic Constituents of a Computer Laboratory
While it is the desire for most educators to have a state-of-the-art computer laboratory, issues of inadequate funds may not make it possible for such. However, every school can develop a simple computer laboratory with the following basic components:
i. Well ventilated spaced room
ii. PC Desks
iii. Well laid electrical installations as sockets, extension boards, etc
iv. Desktop computers with appreciable specifications
v. A usable Operating System, Office Suite Applications
vi. Educational and Reference programs
vii. A Printer
viii. A Projector
ix. A Projector Screen
x. Headsets (optional)
xi. White marker board
An advanced Computer Laboratory constituent
Where they can be afforded, more state of the art basic components of the laboratory in addition to what is given above should include:
i. Laptop computers
ii. Latest Operating System and Office Applications
iii. Graphics designing, programming software
iv. Space and desks for BYOD
v. Internet connectivity with Wi-Fi enabled
vi. Server for Client-Server architecture
vii. Video conferencing and communication tools
viii. Electronic boards
ix. Digitizing boards