TECH TALK: Smarter Classrooms

Sept. 1, 2003
Equipping each classroom wtih the same number of computers may not be the best way to enhance learning.

Today's classrooms are designed much like they were 50 years ago. They may have more power outlets, Internet connections and computers, but otherwise are spatially monotonous rooms in which students sit at individual desks and listen to teachers who often are limited to writing on whiteboards. A typical classroom might have a cluster of computers along the back wall with a 27- or 32-inch video monitor in the front corner.

A smarter classroom design would have computers with presentation software, video projector, document camera, and communication and control capabilities, including links to the Internet, local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN). Instead of placing the same, limited tools in every classroom, administrators should try to provide classrooms with the capacity to view text projected on a large screen and space for small-group and problem-based projects.

Consider learning styles

The rush to provide classroom computers has paid little attention to student learning styles. In too many cases, technology systems are designed and installed by people who know very little about teaching and learning. Experienced teachers say that computers placed throughout a classroom, a video projector and a document camera are critical tools for teaching and learning.

Although it is common to place four Internet-capable computers in every classroom, these quantities won't provide sufficient resources and access time to support the kind of learning required. Administrators should consider:

  • A classroom that contains a single computer on a choice of operating systems that can be used by either teachers or students for presentations, simulations, online access, and multimedia interface to a video projector and document camera.

  • Movable carts with laptop computers that have wireless Internet connections. This will allow enough computers for a specific instructional goal and eliminate the cost of purchasing and maintaining several desktop computers for each classroom. It also will lessen the possibility of desktop computers sitting idle most of the day.

  • Computers dispersed throughout a classroom. Because computers belong where they will do the most good, they should not be isolated in a corner or along a single wall. Teachers often arrange their classrooms to create interest centers or project areas. It makes more sense to have computers available in these areas.

    No single award-winning recipe exists for organizing technology tools within a classroom, but administrators should address a couple of questions:

  • Would a school be better off by purchasing multiple mobile carts with laptop computers and wireless connectivity, or should it buy a specified number of desktop computers for every classroom?

  • In outfitting a classroom, would a ceiling-mounted video projector be a better buy than a 32-inch video monitor?

Education institutions should re-think how they are spending their technology dollars and examine how these tools can be used best.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Bloomington, Ind., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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