Unit 4: Computer Laboratory Management Issues

Introduction

A well-set computer laboratory needs to be smoothly run to ensure that the purpose for which it was developed is achieved. There is a need for the right kind of person who will perform the management functions for the lab. It does not matter how small or big a computer lab is, there should be someone or a group of people designated to perform the management functions. This session will guide you to know what computer lab management entails so that if you are designated to perform it, you can effectively handle it.

What is Computer Laboratory Management?

It is the application of management principles in the day to day running of ICT tools and equipment designated as a computer laboratory.

These principles of management in the context of this course are the activities that “plan, organize, and control the operations of the basic elements of people, materials, machines, methods, funds, providing direction and coordination, and giving leadership to human efforts, so as to achieve the sought purposes for which the computer laboratory was set up.

In this courseware, we can also refer to Lab management as Lab Administration which then emphasizes providing leadership in the running of the Lab.

What Does Computer Lab Management Entail?

The goal of lab management is to guide lab personnel to deliver their assigned duties within limited time and resources. This includes acquiring grants, personnel, equipment, or the necessary tools, as well as designing the workflow, overseeing the daily operation of the lab, and training new lab personnel. For the most part, lab management involves certain lab-keeping chores such as maintaining instruments, restocking consumables, scheduling, giving technical advice and keeping records of certain lab activities or incidences in the lab. One important aspect of lab management is to ensure that the lab condition and personnel are up to contemporary standards.

Lab management supports the development and implementation of regulations. Good lab management can accustom lab users and technicians to these rules to the extent that they voluntarily adopt these measures and perceive them as a commonplace of life in the lab.

At the heart of the lab’s management is the effective management of the resources of the lab so that it provides the services for which it was set up for.

What Do Lab Managers Do and What Are Their Responsibilities?

Lab manager position can come in many forms. A lab manager’s tasks can be strategic, tactical or operational, depending on the size and the nature of the lab affiliated organization. In academia, for example, a person with academic and professional certification in a general or specific aspect of Information Technology or Computer Science may handle the strategic aspect of lab management, while a senior technician may oversee the tactical and operational tasks. In a larger industrial lab, however, strategic, tactical and operational duties can split between two or more staff who interact with lab personnel and report to the organization’s executives.

Strategic Roles

Lab managers who conduct the strategic duties of lab management are highly experienced. They are responsible for the direction of the lab, and they make certain that the lab operation fits in with the lab visions and missions in the longterm. Examples of lab managers’ strategic roles are as follows:

• Setting lab objectives

• Designing long-term plans

• Overseeing lab operations and relevant regulations

• Assigning tasks, monitoring and evaluating staff progress, performance and customer satisfaction

• Developing and administering the budget

• Reviewing regulatory requirements

Apart from these roles, senior lab managers in some organizations may supervise, give technical advice and contribute to certain executive duties. For instance, senior lab managers may advise on the desired qualifications and technical background in the staff recruitment process and assist in budgeting and procurement plans when drafting funding proposals or business plans.

Tactical and Operational Roles

From a tactical and operational standpoint, lab managers provide an implementation system for the overall strategic plan. They facilitate the day-to-day operation in the lab by setting up schemes and timeframes for each job, including personnel involved in each job, and the extent of involvement. This can be broadly categorized into the following forms:

Internal work processes Lab managers are responsible for several internal work processes that are crucial for the day-to-day functioning of the lab. Some examples of internal work processes are

• Inventory management

• Shared equipment reservation

• Equipment maintenance

• Resources acquisition and management

• Waste management

• Information management

Regulatory adherence

Many day-to-day work must be performed under certain regulations. In this regard, lab managers must ensure that the lab operations comply with relevant regulations without compromising working hours or work output. To achieve this, lab managers may do one of the following:

• Design workflows

• Set up working areas

In this regard, streamlined workflows are essential, because they allow lab personnel to easily comply with regulating protocols, and they also support the controlling procedure.

Mentoring

Lab managers often take on the duty of mentoring, especially in the form of lab orientation. This is to inform new lab personnel of the rules they must abide by when working in the lab, and make them aware of the associated health risks and how to minimize them.

Paperwork

Apart from active lab duties, lab managers are usually assigned some form of paperwork, especially those involving procurement and regulatory requirements. This varies between laboratories, the topic of study, and lab settings. Paperwork ranges from gathering invoices or proof of purchase to drafting, reviewing, and filing regulatory papers. In the case of regulatory paperwork, oftentimes, lab managers still have to collect data, keep records, and report them as per legal compliance even after the authority has processed and approved them.

Ultimately, the duties of a lab manager are to ensure that staff focuses on their tasks, without having to sacrifice their attention or their time for bureaucratic and/or non-scientific works.

Organizing Meetings

Making sure that your lab’s meetings are worthwhile and productive can take a lot of work. Whether you are putting together agendas prior to the meeting, keeping the conversation focused during, or debriefing the team afterward, organizing meetings will take a lot of skill. It is good to watch how others conduct meetings and work on the skills that you find most effective in making meetings productive and useful to the entire team.

What Skills Should Lab Managers Have?

There are many elements involved in setting up and running a lab, in terms of the long-range plan and the day-to-day operation. A lab manager should possess not only the technical background for the work in the lab, he or she should also have the skills discussed below

Analytical skills

These skills are for the lab manager to analyze and evaluate the complexity, technicality, importance, urgency, and frequency of the tasks at hand, and ensure that they are all accomplished on time.

Management skills

Management skills include planning, prioritizing, decision-making, delegation and problem-solving. These skills are similar to analytical skills. Lab managers should be able to formulate a plan, determine the importance of each assignment, delay or delegate certain tasks, including appointing the best personnel to handle such tasks.

Another important management skill is an organizational skill. Being organized is critical for lab managers to affect their plans. Organizational skill is particularly practical in achieving certain long-standing mundane tasks with minimal resources. A good case in point is a well-organized and established workflow for equipment maintenance, which lab members can adopt as a part of their routine, to lessen the time lab managers spend in inspecting and maintaining the equipment while getting work done.

Interpersonal skills

Since much of the lab manager’s duties require contact with lab personnel, and many of them call for lab personnel participation, interpersonal skills, or people skills are imperative. It is also useful for lab managers in external interactions with clients, visitors or suppliers. These interpersonal skills are:

Communication

Lab managers should be able to communicate clearly, whether technical or general, both in writing and verbally. This is particularly important for the training of new lab members or when there is a change of direction, new expectations or new schemes being put into action.

Coordination

Lab managers usually have to coordinate between the organization leaders and members of the lab in order to align the workings of the lab with the overall strategic plan. A good lab manager knows how to engage with their lab members, helps them recognize their potentials and motivates them to deal with their shortcomings to achieve their goals.

Negotiation

Negotiation skills can be very useful for strategic, tactical and operational duties. As an illustration, effective negotiation during budget allocation and procurement can increase the budget and benefits and save the lab spending.

Overall, a lab manager’s analytical, management and interpersonal skills, together with the technical knowledge of the work in the lab will enable the lab personnel to enjoy a friendly work environment that will allow them to reach their full potential.

Tips for Efficient Lab Management

Understanding lab terms and techniques As the name implies, the majority of a lab manager’s duties are in the lab, so interactions with other lab members should be efficient and effective. Most of the time, these lab members are highly skilled technicians in the various fields within the IT Industry, who are comfortable using specialized technical terms when sending messages about their works. An understanding of their language and the ability to use it will aid communication. An effective communication process will support the lab manager in identifying and troubleshooting any obstacles that need to be overcome, and provide a comprehensive picture of the work—how well it is progressing, and whether strategic or tactical changes must be made to ensure the success of the work.

Knowing lab personnel

The success of the lab relies on the success of the lab personnel. Therefore, it is beneficial to know and understand lab personnel—who they are, where they are from, what their aspirations are, and how they work. This knowledge will help the lab manager to place the right lab personnel in the right position. It will also help tailor personnel engagement, and support the decision-making process in a way that is the most effective for lab productivity.

Choosing the right tool and using it

A lab manager’s duties are mostly recurring mundane tasks such as income and expenditure revision, restocking supplies, or preparing for regulatory. Most of these tasks can be taken care of in less time, if the right tools are used. For example, there are reliable income and expenditure tracking software available, which could also provide an insight into the lab budgeting. This will save the time that a lab manager spends on making a regular supply check and can provide insights into the lab inventory.

Staying up-to-date and acquiring new skills

Information Technology evolves, lab activities are also affected. Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in the field will foster growth, in terms of the scope of the lab work and personnel competency. A lab manager, in particular, generally possesses a technical background but also require non-technical skills to fill the role. Investing in related training sessions such that relevant new skills can be acquired can be beneficial to the lab in the long run.

Functions of Computer Lab Manager

In brief, these are the specific functions of the Computer Lab manager. These only give detailed functions:

1. Help define the vision, mission, aims/goals of the lab

2. Draw budget for the lab and see to the efficient use of funds when provided

3. Ensure the cleanliness of the lab and the resources within it

4. Ensure the proper arrangement of resources at the lab

5. installation, configuration, upgrade and maintenance of hardware and software

6. Installation, configuration and maintenance of the Network system

7. Perform computer backups on a regular basis

8. Draw up the schedules in consultation with other teachers for the use of the lab

Develop user policies for teachers, students and administrators

10. Manage student behavior in the computer lab

11. Maintain the security of the facility and all resources

12. Maintain security of the lab

13. Ensure the smooth running of the lab by way of supervision, instruction, training and orientation of student staff, including demonstrating the proper use of computers and other resources

14. Where required, aid the students and teachers and monitor their use of the resources at the lab manually or through an application

15. Perform daily checks to ensure that every piece of equipment functions as expected

16. Log equipment damage and malfunctions.

17. Where applicable create and maintain student database which must include academic records

18. Make technical input for in the decision-making processes of the lab and other situations where it will be required

19. Serve as the contact person and the lab’s advocate on all issues

20. Keep an inventory of the available equipment in the lab

21. In situations of recruitment, ensure that selected personnel have the requisite qualification for the functions they are being selected for

22. Assign duties to additional personnel when employed according to their skills and knowledge set

Who qualifies to manage a Computer Laboratory?

For Basic Schools labs, it should be someone who has appreciable knowledge and skills in computing. By qualification, it should be someone who has a Diploma or Degree in Information Communication Technology or Computer Science or related program. He or she should be somebody who exhibits leadership skills, has good human relations and the ability to solve both logical and technical challenges regarding the processes and use of the ICT resources in the Lab. Basic technical skills he or she should possess are knowledge in computer hardware and their installation, PC hardware troubleshooting and maintenance, software installation and troubleshooting, office suite applications, basic knowledge and skills in computer networks, installation and troubleshooting.

If it a bigger Computer Laboratory for a larger institution like senior high schools and tertiary institutions, then this manager, in addition to what has been given, must be capable of assisting in the selection of requisite personnel to handle the various aspects of the lab and also manage the other resources of the lab.

Computer Lab Policies Formulation

Lab policies are supposed to offer guidance to how users and technicians act when they are at the lab. They also define the processes that must be undertaken as standard procedure in defined situations. The policies must consider:

1. Who should have access?

2. How should access be granted?

3. What procedure must be followed when accessing the lab and its equipment?

4. How should scheduling be done?

5. What should be the dos and don’ts of the lab?

6. What kind of user training be done, how should be done and who should handle it?

7. What should be the safety rules for both users and technicians?

8. What should be the security measures for protecting the lab and its equipment as well as Internet and Information security?

9. What rules should govern the use BYOD?

10. What procedure must be followed in terms of reporting issues for student and teacher users?

11. What are the routine activities that each employee at the lab must follow while working there?

12. What is the chain of command and reporting mechanisms?

13. What actions must be taken in situations of emergencies?

14. What should be the inventory procedure?

15. How should issues of maintenance, replacements and upgrades be done and who can specifically undertake specified maintenance and upgrades?

16. Who is responsible for liaison between the lab and management, lab and community, lab and other organizations? What is permissible to discuss with any of these stakeholders?

There should be policies to cover all these issues, especially where the lab is larger. In situations where the size is not that large, some of the policy issue areas can be ignored. As to what is considered and what is ignored solely depend on the management of the lab and the prevailing conditions of use at the lab. This course would not suggest any policy for any of the policy areas identified, but it is expected that the situation prevailing must define the direction of the policy that should be enacted. Additionally, there can be other policy areas besides what is given. You as a manager must be able to clearly identify them and formulate them as such.

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