School 'Computer Labs' Becoming Thing of the Past

(Tuesday, October 3, 2006 12:43 PM EDT)
The days of the computer lab appear to be numbered in Arlington's high schools.

After a recent evaluation of the space guidelines in Arlington's high schools, the experts decided schools should provide more in-class computer options, and move away from using computer labs.

“We're trying to build schools as efficiently as possible,” said Sarah Woodhead, director of design and construction services for Arlington Public Schools.

The new space guidelines dictate that, for every 1,600 students, schools should have only one computer lab, compared to four in the past.

“This decision reflects how technology should be used in today's education,” said Woodhead.

“In lieu of labs, students will use laptops,” said Pat Teske, the school system's supervisor of instructional technology services.

The laptops are stored in mobile carts that teachers wheel to their classes. Teachers work from their “classroom teaching station,” a computer that projects its screen for students to see. Students can then respond on their computers.

Although most classrooms won't have a computer for every student, “collaboration is a good tool,” said Teske. Students can work together to answer questions and solve problems around the same computer, she said.

Other computer tools that Arlington schools are using and planning to expand are Smartboards (interactive electronic blackboards) and Interwrite School Pads (mobile touchpads that work as hand-held Smartboards).

With tools like the touchpads, “You can set up a classroom anywhere,” said Thomas Crabtree, the instructional technology coordinator at the Arlington Career Center.

Desktop computers will still be available in classrooms. “Most schools have five or six in their classrooms already,” Teske said.

Teske said that, in certain circumstances, desktops are the better and cheaper choice for running complicated software programs. In cases like chemistry classes, desktop computer stations make the classroom more like an authentic chemistry lab, she said.

“We need to use the best tools in the best places,” Teske said.

Plans for the space gained from computer-lab cutbacks include black-box theaters, more offices for staff, larger science labs and engineering research and design labs, school officials said.

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