I assumed everything would be ready in the lab. The links we have always used were dead. We went back to the classroom and didn’t use the lab today.
I updated my class wiki at home last night. Why doesn’t it work here at school?
We used our new laptop lab today; the online dictionary only worked on 10 of the 15 computers.
Anecdotes like these remind us to double-check that all technology is in working order, even when the activity has previously worked well. When the internet was new, a colleague and I created Tips for Planning a Successful Student Internet/Technology Experience, a planning checklist for media specialists and teachers. We all want to avoid bad experiences and help students (and their teachers) leave the media center happy and successful. The updated Tips handout (Figure 1) addresses common instructional situations. This month, we’ll also look at continuing questions about lab scheduling, file storage, and printing.
High Demand, Never Enough Computers
We enjoy seeing our media center labs and research computers well used, but multiple labs and computers are not always enough. Increased online testing, often scheduled for several concurrent days or weeks, increases the problem. That is likely beyond the control of media center staff. Daily scheduling, however, is not. Reasonable solutions that work for everyone come with knowing the curriculum, resources, individual teacher needs and expectations, student skill levels, and the specifics of project needs.
How long should a class be allowed to use the lab? How can I address it in a positive manner? Scheduling issues of both fixed and mobile labs can cause conflicts and lasting problems. Often, the request is the result of complaints over a single or handful of teachers monopolizing labs or using technology in ways others don’t see as educationally sound. The reaction is often to establish definitive guidelines that limit a class to no more than 3 to 5 days in a row in the same lab. If teachers want more days, they must wait to check the availability.
Other schools allot every teacher a specific number of lab days per term. One principal came up with a number of days for certain subjects. For example, language arts get 8 days a semester, social studies 5, and others 4. Another school uses a formula to figure out hours per teacher per semester in the lab. One media specialist gives teachers passes that are collected upon the visit. People who run out of hours cannot sign up. Others specify that labs must be used for research and major projects. This becomes a judgment call. What is research and major projects for one curriculum area is daily work in another.
Advance scheduling is both a convenience and a hassle. I managed a media center with three labs and allowed teachers to schedule as far in advance as they wished. We planned with some teachers in June for fall instructional activities. Human nature meant there might be a conflict between the planners and the last minute folks. A more common approach is scheduling no more than 1 to 2 months in advance to prevent people from signing up for the entire year, or for a certain day of the week all year, or for every Friday throughout the term. After all, as one librarian noted to me, “Too often around here, teachers don’t consider the fact that others might want to use the computer lab.”
Rationing lab time and scheduling sounds fair. It also assumes certain conditions will be in place and consistent. But it isn’t always what’s best for the curriculum or best for kids. There may be teachers who have no intention of ever using technology or those whose students are involved in wonderful projects that require extended periods of time. A firm policy may be difficult to enforce because there are always exceptions. While not perfect, the method we used worked well for big projects that we knew legitimately required extensive chunks of time. Flexibility and collaboration meant we rarely turned people away. Another media specialist I corresponded with concurred: “By far, I felt there were fewer headaches when the labs were kept completely open to everybody, first come, first served. Of course, if there is truly somebody who uses it so much that others cannot get in, that situation needs to be dealt with, but I think it is far better to deal with those few users on an individual basis than to create a blanket rule that might prove restrictive for everybody.”
Online group calendars, Google Docs forms, and printed calendars are common scheduling tools. No matter what tool is used, the most effective scheduling approach that every media specialist should use is collaborating with teachers when they schedule. Be proactive; make sure that scheduling always includes an activity description and that teachers are not just signing up for space to be one step ahead of potential glitches. Working with teachers during the scheduling process is an opportunity to provide instruction, assist students and learn more about the project and your students. Collaborative scheduling and planning also add to your credibility as an instructional technology teacher and leader.
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