Embracing Heresy - Ending Computer Lab-based Learning

Shall we burn non-believers at the stake? Non-believers are anyone that persists in holding onto desktop/laptop computers as a viable learning tool, along with computer labs and laptop carts.

Image Source: http://goo.gl/wSgGY

In a delightful post, Doug Woods expounds on the sledgehammer as an Information Communications Technology (ICT) Innovation Tool:

What I want to suggest is that we can use the sledgehammer to break up all the ICT suites that we find in schools. Those rows and rows of desks filling a room with large desktop computers can hardly be regarded as the cutting edge of ICT. Indeed, if we were to have a classroom with rows of desks, we would hardly be regarded as an innovative educationalist so why do we tolerate such an arrangement for ICT? ICT suites...represent a past and dying approach to ICT in education.
Ah, this has been one of the frightening thoughts going around in my head since I did the budget analysis of iPads for every student vs re-equipping schools with computer labs. Why is it frightening? I want to you to step back and ask yourself:

  • If schools do away with computer labs, how will they learn to use technology applications:Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TA:TEKS)?
  • If schools do away with computer labs, what will happen to the teachers in those labs who are the standard-bearers for learning technology?
  • If schools do away with computer labs, what will happen to the idea that learning technology means using a computer?
  • If schools do away with computer labs, will students and staff accept what replaces them, never having experienced the power of a desktop or laptop computer for creativity and collaboration?
Quite heady stuff, isn't it? When I look back on Leading for Learning chapter summaries I've imposed on myself as a way to "Schlechty-fy myself" I stumble across this reflection:

...is it possible to compare bringing netbooks as more efficient avenues of reforming schools' access to technology, and iPads as a way of repurposing and reimagining schools where computers are not central to our vision of schooling?
It comes in response to Philip Schlechty's assertion that...

The transformation of our schools will require leaders who are prepared to repurpose and reimagine schools rather than simply reform them...without transformation, about all that can be expected from school applications of new developments in the IT world is the digitization of past practices.
Pretty strong stuff, eh? As I reflect on the juxtaposition of ending efficiency in today's schools in favor of transforming them, achieving new efficiencies that don't just digitize the past, it's clear that school computer labs must go...but what replaces them and how is that transition accomplished?

Both the iPad and Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiatives signal the end of computer labs and computers. Consider Scott Meech's point below:

True BYOT will never be a solution for schools that continue to focus on standardization of hardware and applications...Let's face it, human beings tend to take better care of something they own versus something they rent. It is time to give our students ownership over their learning through the use of their own devices.
Source: Scott Meech, The Future of Ed-Tech is Bring Your Own Device
In the past, the challenge to school-based system was the death of Integrated Learning Systems (ILSs), those monoliths of drill-n-kill, tutorial software. There simply wasn't enough time in the school week to cycle students who "needed" drill-n-practice magic bullet solution through the labs AND teach technology-based collaboration and creativity approaches. I'm sure if we were to reflect long enough, we'd find that there are many other "magic bullet solutions" that have been discharged and fallen by the wayside.

Computer labs may be another casualty in a long list of technologies. But, if so, does that mean that our ISTE National Education Technology Standards for Students, teachers, as well as revised Technology Applications:TEKS, need to be revised yet again? I don't know...it will take a review of those with this transformation in mind:

  • Imagine a school without computer labs.
  • Imagine a school where "technology integration" is no longer an alternate reality, separate but equal in theory though not practice, to today's schools.
  • Imagine a school where computer teachers no longer exist, but rather, teaching and learning occurs across content areas, using technology when appropriate.
  • Imagine a school where classroom teachers know when technology use is appropriate, as well as what technology is appropriate.
  • Imagine a school where "what technology is appropriate" simply refers to an app rather than a physical piece of hardware.
  • Imagine a school where every child has their own iPad or tablet.
  • Imagine a school where every teacher and staff member relies--not on a desktop computer or laptop for their daily tasks of grading, attendance, word processing, crafting parent updates--on an iPad or tablet device.
I don't know, perhaps this is already common, something that already you are experiencing in YOUR alternate reality. But, having just come from a large urban school district, the vision is still very much computer-based. The reasons why are legion, but only 4 come to mind in this blog entry (smile):

  1. Centralized management of technology hardware is a requirement for new solutions that find their way into the classroom.
  2. Technologies that manage technology (e.g. Active Directory, ZenWorks) have been developed over 20+ years.
  3. Technology Departments are comfortable supporting desktop/laptops.
  4. Education administrators are comfortable ordering equipment to replace old obsolete equipment.
Will you be the first to NOT buy computer lab replacements in your schools, instead opting for iPads and/or tablet solutions? And, does your school need to be a learning organization rather than school as factory before such an approach is attempted?


Obviously students bringing tools they choose to use would be the ideal situation. Unfortunately, I have students that don't/can't/won't even bring pencils and paper. Whether it is a matter of money, neglect, or a combination of the two that is reality. I realize that is not the same situation everywhere, but that is the situation here.

I am not a big fan of computer labs, especially since I just promoted out of one back into the regular ed classroom. I believe students need the tools where there are. I will have spent around $1700 of my own money for tech tools for my students to use this year alone. That isn't nearly enough. We will spend a lot of time waiting to use them.

I would love for our district to go 1:1 anything at this point. Even if the solution they choose isn't the best for every student it would be a start. That is going to happen any time soon either.

I am completely behind the idea of BYOD. I bring my own and students should be able to as well. The problem is so much bigger than a policy change though.
drphil said…
Imagine a school where students don't learn programming.
Imagine a school where no desktop publishing occurs.
Imagine a school where advanced image editing is not taught.
Imagine a school where video editing, manipulation, remixing has no place.
Imagine a school where student digital products are limited to what an iPad can do.
Imagine a school incapable of taking the STAAR or other test online.

I'm a fan of BYOD and a fairly enthusiastic iPad user, but I don't want to lose the power of the desktop or laptop. We might go to portable labs if we can't afford 1:1, but don't take power computing out of the mix for students.
pbhanney said…
Being a computer teacher myself, I am not afraid of "losing my job" as a computer teacher. I do have the ability and the willingness to teach the other subjects I am qualified to teach. I would also love to have a 1:1 initiative at my school.

However, I would have to say that just because you give a student a computer doesn't mean that they know how to use it. I would have to say that even if a school goes 1:1 and gets rid off all of the computer labs, you would still have to have one room where students take their tablets, laptops, et.al. to learn how to use them.

Most students in the US speak English, yet we still have them take English as a class. We don't say "Since the students here already speak English, let's get rid of the English teachers, they don't need to a teacher to learn more English."
pshircliff said…
Our district is still stuck on the computer lab model....and thinking of putting another one in because at least the powers that be realize students need more access to the benefits of technology. I wish we would put that effort into realizing a BYOD program. But those are devices we cannot "control" and much of school is still about "control". Tech guy can "control" desktops and filters.

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