At the end of many of the days since the current elementary computer lab program was implemented in our district, I've sat in the lab or at the library circulation desk wondering what I've gotten myself into.
I love books, computers, and students, so what could be better than running a media center in two elementary schools?
Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the computer labs. Each has 26 computers, usually enough for every student in each class. The computers are all the same model, are generally kept in good repair, and are networked. Each lab has a color and a gray-scale laser printer and an aging projector and is located next to the school library as part of the media center.
That said, my concerns center on the problems we've had, the hours spent troubleshooting computers, the student sessions lost due to malfunctions, and so on. Some days, it can seem that more time is spent trying to troubleshoot computer and/or software problems than actually working with the students in the lab.
Computer labs are only as good as their wiring and equipment. Like many schools, our equipment is middle of the pack in terms of quality. Fortunately, though, it doesn't cause problems too often.
The computers we began with were refurbished units purchased by the district for less than $300 each, very inexpensive 9 years ago. Those were replaced with computers donated by a local company, a definite step up in terms of speed and hard drive space. As might be expected, these units had been used a great deal and now experience problems from time to time, especially since most of our software was outdated when we bought it—as cheaply as possible nearly 9 years ago.
In our elementary schools, the computer labs and libraries have been combined into a media center. All of the students in my schools come to the media center for 1 hour and 10 minutes a week, as part of their teachers' released (or planning) time. Most of the students don't use computers in school at any other time.
During this media center time, we discuss and check out books in the library and do computer lab work. Our computer projects tend to be short one- or two-session projects; we use more skill-building software than some elementary computer labs.
This article will focus on the computer lab equipment and software that I would like to use in the situation I'm in, from a decidedly elementary to middle school point of view.
Many computer labs in public education are very different in conception and design, and, as a result, the content of this piece won't suit all purposes. Hopefully, however, it will contain constructive suggestions that will help any media specialist.
The comments about various products mentioned here aren't intended to be reviews. There are many more products than those discussed on these pages that would be great for my computer lab—there just isn't enough room to mention all of them.
IN THE BEGINNING: EQUIPMENT
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