Long live the Lab!


Do you remember the typing lab? I know I do.  Typing labs were built in every school and were around for decades.  In the blink of an eye the typewriters were gone, quickly replaced by computers.  Well, its been another couple of decades and it looks like computer labs are about to follow the same fate – they are quickly being replaced by mobile laptop labs.

I love the idea of the wireless technology.  The potential for collaboration and creativity when devices are brought right into the classroom is impressive.

If you have been following my blog you know that I really try and see both sides – sometimes, I’ve even been known to fight for the underdog, and in this case, its the computer lab.

Yes – the trusted old lab is facing extinction.  Its true!  All of our new schools that have been build in the past few years have been built without computer labs – schools are being equipped with fancy, new mobile computer labs (laptop carts) that can move around and offer all that wonderful potential into the classroom.

But hold on one second!  Under the flashy new hardware are underlying problems and issues.

In the days of shrinking budgets and financial accountability, I ask you to consider some of the following issues with mobile labs.

1) Portable technology is more expensive.  All you have to do is look at the flyers that arrive in the daily paper.  A laptop can cost up to 50% more than a traditional desktops.  They are also expensive to maintain.  Although a laptop may come with a 2 or 3 year warranty, the battery warranty is often only 1 year. After 2 years laptop batteries struggle to hold their charge, and often stop holding a charge all together.  It then becomes the responsibility of the school to fork over $80-$100 per machine to replace them.  In a school that receives 120 student laptops. That’s $12,000 (which is roughly 20-25% of a school’s entire budget for a year).

2) Portable technology is not as sturdy as a desktop computer.  A laptop’s greatest strength – its portability –  is also its greatest weakness.  Its is prone to being bumped, scratched, dropped, etc.  The hard casings of desktop computers help to shied their components.  I would say that a traditional desktop may have a lifespan twice that of a laptop.

3) Access and Energy.  I don’t know what the situation is like at your school but our computer lab is booked solid every single day. Classes are in and out and the computers are doing their job from 8:30 to 3:00 – students even come and use them before and after school and during lunch.  Laptops are not built for this duration of use. Even a brand new battery will not last an entire day without being charged, that means you loose 50% of your technology efficiency right off the top. The way the carts are set up, it is cumbersome and difficulty to detach a power cable and move it around with the laptop.

So where should we go? What I propose is a healthy blend of technology.  There is value in computer technology – in all its forms.  Personally, there are times I prefer to work on a desktop.  I like the keypad and larger keyboard.  I like having a larger monitor, especially when I have to do graphic design work.

What do you think? Has the lab met its end?  I don’t think so but we do need to evolve with the times and blending stationary and portable technology will be a key to a successful school experience for our students.



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