Sunday, August 14th, 2011 | Computer Usage
Does a computer room have a place in schools? Let’s use an analogy to answer this question:
When Mary and John had their first baby, Lulu, they decided to raise her by the book. Solid food was only introduced when she was six months old and for this purpose Mary bought a special small spoon covered with a soft plastic material.
As she grew older, Lulu had great fun in trying to use the spoon to feed herself – her first attempts were rather disastrous. Her parents tolerated the mess since they realized it was part of her development.
Mary started training her child to use other pieces of cutlery when she was about three years old. By the time Lulu was six, her parents could take her to any restaurant, confident that she would know how and when to use each piece of cutlery: fish knives and forks, steak knives, butter knives, spoon and fork for eating spaghetti, chop sticks, different equipment for different uses. However, Lulu understood that spoons still had their uses, but she got to know when it was appropriate to use them.
Looking back, Mary and John can clearly see that they would never have been able to teach their child table etiquette, had they not used a spoon as a stepping stone.
Now apply this analogy to the use of technology in a school. A whole assortment of tools is available to teachers: computers, data projectors, interactive whiteboards, slates and many other mobile devices, different software tools, web sites, blogs, twitter and other similar social networking tools, and so the list goes on. The variety of technology tools reminds us of the array of cutlery with which a baby is confronted.
As technologies appear on the market and are introduced to teachers at conferences, they often become the flavour of the month. Older tools may be spurned by some teachers when they return from these conferences, believing that the new tool that was introduced to them is the ultimate manifestation of technology in education. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a teacher discovering a tool and then using it in favour of others, if the new tool proves to be more effective.
The question is: what is the best tool to introduce technology at a school where technology has never been used before? Based on my experience with approximately one and a half thousand schools over the past decade, I would suggest that the best way to initiate the use of technology in a school is through the establishment of a computer laboratory. Such a laboratory would typically consist of a server, a number of networked computers, a few peripherals such as a printer and scanner, one or two selected educational software packages, and, of course, internet access.
Some experts in the field of technology in education argue that computer rooms are out of fashion and that schools should not invest in them. They point to the fact that many schools are now abandoning their computer laboratories in favour of moving technology into classrooms and therefore advocate that schools should leap-frog the establishment of a computer room and take technology straight into the classroom.
Yes, ultimately one would wish for all teachers to use technology in their classrooms, rather than having to trek to the computer room when they want to use technology for teaching and learning. It is obvious that technology in the classroom gives teachers and learners constant access to it, as opposed to only one or two hours a week that a computer room may offer them.
But view the computer room in the same way as Lulu’s parents viewed her plastic covered spoon: a useful tool for an unskilled person, and one that can’t cause hurt. A computer room is a safe and comfortable environment for teachers. Once it is established in a school, a trainer can use the facility to train groups of teachers until they are familiar with the technology. As the confidence of individual teachers grow, they can then take their learners to the room, at first using packaged software as a stepping stone to developing techniques for using technology for teaching and learning. In time, teachers will discover ways in which they can develop their own teaching resources and will then start moving away from packaged software. Given more time, they will develop the need to have technology in their classrooms and with the experience they’ve gained, they will be able to identify appropriate hardware and software tools to meet their needs.
Schools that are now moving away from computer rooms have most likely used them for a decade or two and the teaching staff has reached the point of technology maturity that requires them to have technology as a constant companion in their classrooms. The situation is different in schools where technology is only now being introduced.
Even when technology has moved into classrooms, most teachers still find a computer room a useful facility when it is necessary for learners to have individual access to technology. Remember, when the baby grows up and learns how to use all the different pieces of cutlery, she understands that spoons will always have a place – she knows that you can’t eat soup with chop sticks.
Don’t let anyone convince you that a computer laboratory in a school is a lost opportunity.