Organizing Learning


A single-computer setting is not the ideal situation. However, with careful planning and a pioneering, creative spirit, the recommendations discussed can be modified to fit the one-computer classroom (Banaszerski, 1997). If students use the computer reg- ularly, placing the computer on your desk gives the impression that it is your com- puter and students are merely borrowing time on it.

A more drastic, yet potentially more beneficial, act is to consider teaming with other teachers to pool your single computers together to create a minilab. One teacher can volunteer to house the lab in a corner of the classroom, and a schedule can be worked out so that small groups of students from all the classes involved can come together to work on projects or content software. As teachers everywhere strive to effectively integrate technology into everyday learning experiences, they must all be open to the creative possibilities that happen when they work together.


If most of your students’ time with computers will be spent in a computer lab set- ting, some forethought and well-planned procedures can make for successful uti- lization of the technology. Many of the planning and operational procedures parallel those that have been discussed for classroom use, but the differences lie with the de- creased freedom you have in room arrangement and scheduling. Trooping your en- tire class down to the computer lab without any plan as to what will happen will only waste your students’ valuable time with computers and cause undue frustra- tion for everyone involved. Consider each of the following areas as they relate to the real situation at your school (Wodarz, 2003).


Being prepared is a motto teachers live by, but when it comes to technology, that motto becomes a rule that simply cannot be broken. You need to be familiar with the equipment your students will be using so that you will be able to effectively facili- tate their learning. Although this does not mean you need to be a technology expert, you must be at least familiar enough with the operation to facilitate your students’ learning  experiences.

Skill with computers is a unique area that is leading teachers to reconsider the notion that they must be knowledgeable about everything that they teach in the classroom. Students may in fact know more about a particular piece of software or hardware, and may have less fear of exploring the unknown, than many of their teachers. Although there are a multitude of ways teachers can encourage and capi- talize on these individual strengths and desires to experiment, they should at the same time be making an effort to acquire a personal level of familiarity with the pres- ent technology. A learning experience in the computer lab will be more closely integrated into the ongoing curriculum and be therefore of greater educational benefit to students if you have taken the time to walk down to the computer lab to become comfortable with how the computers are configured prior to bringing your entire class down for a lesson.

Preplanning and Preinstructing

To make the most out of a brief weekly computer lab experience, students must be primed for what they will be doing and what will be expected of them. Valuable time will be wasted if the class must wait until they are seated in the lab to receive instructions for how their time will be spent. A lesson that fits well into a curricu- lum sequence will be planned in advance. Any materials students will need should be brought along with them. If groups will need to do any note taking, for example, they should have paper and pencils available. If students will be using a productiv- ity tool to finish a piece of work, such as a word processor to type stories they have written, that work should be out and ready to go when you leave for the lab. If possible and appropriate, instructions can be given and work strategies discussed prior to arrival in the lab. This not only will maximize available lab time and prepare students with a productive mind-set for the work period, but also will stress to students the continuity between what they learn in the computer lab and what they are learning in class. This strategy reflects the view that technology is just another tool in your instructional arsenal, rather than a special, disconnected activity.


One important consideration when planning class use of a computer lab is the extent to which you can depend on supplemental assistance. If your school or district employs a designated technology teacher, find out how often this teacher is avail- able to help you. Depending on other responsibilities, some technology specialists may offer to plan with you for technology integration, may co-teach an activity with you, or may even teach entire technology-rich lessons. Sometimes several schools must share a technology teacher, meaning that the teacher’s time available for each individual teacher is limited. Unfortunately, other districts, whether due to lack of funds or insufficient teacher interest, do not have additional technology help avail- able. A situation like this puts the onus on teachers to plan and implement lessons with technology on their own. An enormous number of educational journals now address technology issues, providing current and very practical suggestions for lessons and projects. Subscriptions to a few of these will encourage meaningful discussion about effective technology integration within the school. In any case, knowing what type of assistance you can expect will allow you to plan accordingly (see Figure 13.7). Generation YES programs ( provide youth the opportunity to improve education through technology by providing needed techni- cal assistance. In addition, TechYES provides a Student Technology Literacy Certification  Program  called  TechYES

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Teamwork and Creative Scheduling

In the absence of additional assistance, or with the intention of capitalizing on the benefits of collaboration, teachers must seek out opportunities to team with colleagues at their school. Collaborating with peers leads to the expansion of ideas and more concise use of time with any teaching endeavor, but even more so with the new and potentially time-consuming possibilities presented by technology. There is no need to reinvent the wheel each time you plan a lesson that takes advantage of a computer. Talking about successes and challenges with other teach- ers will motivate you to grow and explore more than you might be moved to on your own.

Working closely with peer teachers also allows for creative scheduling of time in the computer lab. If each class is allotted only one time slot per week, two classes working together could conceivably get twice as much time in the lab. Working with a partner on the computer is often a great way to learn, and at the same time students benefit from having the combined teaching expertise of two teachers. If just one or two students are not able to go to the lab with the rest of your class, or if they require more time to work on a project, a cooperative plan with another teacher could allow them to join the other class during its time. The newness of technology in the school setting has the potential to prove the many benefits of collaboration to teachers who would not otherwise consider opening themselves to the idea.

Basic Lab Procedures

Just as your class lives by a set of basic classroom rules, so should students have some key understandings to help their time in the computer lab operate smoothly. Al- though most of your regular classroom procedures will apply, teaching in a computer lab is unique because of the sheer addition of a room full of machines. Depending on how the furniture in the lab is arranged, moving around the room might be chal- lenging and even potentially dangerous, with the multitude of connection cables and power cords protruding from the backs of computers. Many labs push the computer tables around the perimeter walls of the room, meaning students can see and talk to other students sitting directly on either side of them but must get up to speak to oth- ers. Labs with tables arranged in long rows may make it difficult to get from one point in the room to another just a few rows back. Small groupings of four comput- ers pushed together have been shown to allow for good student communication and room navigation. Unfortunately, although the best arrangement might depend on your students’ needs and your own teaching philosophy, these types of room arrangement decisions will likely not be left up to you. Teachers using a communal school lab are generally at the mercy of those who originally set up the lab.

Large monitors sitting on top of the tables tend to hide students’ faces, making it difficult to make eye contact with a student or gain the attention of the whole group when you need to make a general announcement. The quiet hum of one computer does not seem at all intrusive to normal conversation, but an entire room full of com- puters can sound something like a roar when you are trying to get the attention of someone across the room. In addition, many educational software programs rely heavily on auditory effects, which can turn the room into a circus of beeps and bells. Finally, students simply might just be so intensely engaged in the interactive work they are doing that they may not even be paying attention to what is going on around them. The introduction of a number of simple behavior habits adjusted to fit the stu- dents you teach and your own personal management style can facilitate a more pro- ductive atmosphere in the computer lab. Explaining and modeling these habits to students before the computers are even turned on will encourage their adoption and continued use.

Traffic and Communication Patterns. Establish clear traffic and communication pat- terns with students. Consider the layout of the room, including where wires are lo- cated and the amount of space surrounding student work areas. You want students to be able to move through the lab safely and with a minimum of distraction to oth- ers who are working. Decide if it is best to have students be able to get up and move freely around the room when needed or if they need to speak only with those sitting directly next to them. Have a plan for where students can go during class to help en- sure both their safety and the order of the classroom.

Help Signals. It is sometimes difficult to see a small hand raised for help between all of the computer monitors, so another way for students to attract attention is needed. Some labs have signs or other objects that students can place on top of their monitors so that you can see at a distance when someone needs help. Reminding students to use this method rather than raising their hands sometimes seems to coun- teract the hand-raising habit they have in the regular classroom, but it generally works better than having them yell out when they need you. In addition, it allows other helpers, such as parents or older students, to respond to the request for help.

Group Attention Signals. Because of the difficulty in attracting student attention in the lab setting, it is vital to have a highly visual signal to let students know you need their attention. Flickering the lights on and off works well. Having a set place for students to look to find you once you have given the attention signal can also help you focus their attention more quickly.

Time to Exit. The time spent in the lab often seems to pass very quickly, but the time needed to prepare to leave can be great. Students not only need to reach a good stopping point in their work, but they also need to save their files, close the programs they were using, and possibly shut down the systems. Give students ample warn- ing before it is time to leave so that they will have time to prepare. This will save the rest of the class from waiting too long at the door and prevent conflicts when the next scheduled class enters the lab.

Volunteer Helpers. To give your students the best chance for success while using the computer lab and to decrease the time they have to sit idly waiting for you to help them, solicit extra help during lab time. In addition to content instruction, students will need help operating new software programs and assistance with the ever-present technical problems. Many parents have experience with computers or are willing to volunteer despite their lack of computer knowledge. They can gain some computer familiarity of their own and at the same time can offer another set of hands to help students. Other invaluable help can come from older students who have some time between their own classes or can arrange to get away from class during your lab time. These students can reinforce their own skills and confidence by helping those younger than them. You might even have students in your own class take turns serving in the role of technical monitor, collaborating with peers on some problems and alerting you when your help is needed. Make sure that who- ever is helping is introduced to the class so students know who is available to as- sist them. If you normally do not utilize outside helpers in your class, your students may need to develop a trust in the helpers before they stop waiting for help only from you. The combination of assistance can create a productive atmosphere in the computer lab.

File Storage

Encouraging students to use technology for authentic productive purposes often requires giving them the means to work on one project over the course of several class periods. Students therefore will need the ability to save their work for the next time through a number of storage methods.

If students will be sitting at the same computer each time they are in the lab, one storage solution is to have them save their work to a designated directory on that particular computer’s hard drive. In this case, all teachers with students using the lab throughout the day would need to agree on a common directory structure. Directories can be made for each student on the machines they use, meaning direc- tories for students in many classes could be found on any one computer. Students would need instruction on exactly where and how to save their work so as not to damage anyone else’s files or any other application programs on the hard drive.

If a school is wired for a local area network, student work may be saved into the network drive, making it acces- sible from other school computers. Stu- dents would then be able to sit in a different location each time in the lab or could also edit their work from a com- puter elsewhere on campus. An organized directory structure should be planned for a network, such as making directories for all students in one class under their teacher’s name.

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FIGURE 13.8      Student  CDs, DVDs, and disks organized together.

If no network exists or if saving work to the hard drive of a computer in the lab restricts future work on projects, students can also save work on disks. Each stu- dent should be taught how to insert and remove disks, how to save to them, and how best to care for them. Because of the somewhat fragile nature of disks, you may want to develop a system for group storage of the disks, such as keeping all students’ labeled disks in one basket that can be brought to the lab each time. Older students may be able to keep and care for their own disks, but should be intro- duced to the concept of always saving a backup copy of any important files (see Figure 13.8).