Best designs for a computer lab?

A technology director in Indiana asked me:

What are the ‘best’ designs you are seeing for a ‘traditional’ computer lab setup? I am looking for a lab design that allows for collaboration and team work and yet is flexible enough to move if need be (it would be a desktop lab with hard-wired connections to the network). What are you hearing or seeing? Any innovative designs?

Got any suggestions for him?

17 Responses to “Best designs for a computer lab?”

  1. I realize this doesn’t correctly answer his question, but my first response would be to bag the desktops and hard wiring and use laptops. The fact of the matter is that once those desktops are in place, they won’t be moved because it’ll be too much of a hassle.

  2. For fixed-location (desktop) computers, having all of the computers facing the same dierction is ideal for teaching groups. The teacher can face the class from the front and observe their screens from the back. It’s also advisable to have some type of lab management software so computers can be observed and controlled from a single location, either in the lab or from elsewhere.

    A ceiling-mounted projector and an interactive whiteboard are beneficial enhancements to computer labs.

    The traditional computer lab has room for computers and little else, not exactly an ideal learning environment. Ideally, students have enogh room to work in pairs or small groups and have room for some books and papers.

    For laptops, the physical arrangement can be more flexible. Wireless networking and battery power means the laptop can be “untethered,” allowing students to work at tables, on the floor, at their classroom desk, etc. This adds some classroom management complications but, for some teachers, the added flexibility is worth the hassle.

  3. I work in a lab all day and I would kill for a laptop cart and some flat tables. It would be soooo much more flexible. I could move groups around, encourage sharing, and the kids could get comfortable.

    I also invested in Synchroneyes which has worked great (there are other similar programs) and allows me to view and manipulate the students computer or broadcast my screen.

  4. I would encourage you to make sure your lab is at least the same size as a regular classroom, if not larger. I have seen a number of architects in recent years jam a computer lab into a smaller space. I have always advocated for larger, classroom-size or larger labs. This provides flexibility and the opportunity to actually use it as a classroom in the years to come when you do move to an all wireless solution. You may have to advocate for this and it will be worth it in the end!

  5. While we certainly have not designed the perfect lab that enables the flexibility of collaboration and presentation, I think we have gotten close. The ADP Center for Teacher Preparation and Learning Technologies Instructional Design Lab has 30 Mac/PC workstations (running on Intel Macs) with 24″ wide screen monitors and connected digital headphone on the peripheral of the room. All are connected to a file/media server for storage and publishing of media projects. The teacher station is near the back of the room and is connected to all of the workstations for observation, projection or screen sharing via Remote Desktop (Mac Side) and LANSchool (PC Side). We have a complete A/V compliment with DVD, VHS, Doc Camera connected along with the teacher station to a ceiling mounted projector that projects to the front of the room all of which is controlled by a wireless crestron center that has a query based (what would you like to do today?) user interface that teachers use to coordinate the technology in the room. We also provide a networked color printer & high speed scanner. The room has three large tables in the center of the room that also seat up to 30 students. These are flexible tables with power (for laptops to be plugged into) which can be reconfigured depending on the instructional objectives and subsequent pedagogies being implemented by the instructor using the room. We have provided several strategically place floor boxes (power outlets and a/v ports) so that the room can be rearranged as needed. We also built a small room of the lab to be used as a digital audio/video recording studio when students are working on media projects. Finally, we provide instructors using the room (if they desire) with an eInstruction Chalkboard (mobile wireless Smartboard-like tablet) that they can use if they want to be untethered from the teacher station and record their instruction for later review and archive. You can view a virtual tour of the room by visiting the following website:

    Let me know if you need anymore help!


  6. Not ideal but how I made it work.

    My tech lab was originally designed to be a kill and drill CCC lab.

    There are built in counters that run along all 4 walls with desktop computers (25). I have a projector with a rolling promethean board. The board stands infront of wall 4 that is only used in one class.

    Students sit on walls 1 2 3. I can turn around my chair and see every screen. I use a rolling chair behind the students when I need to see their screens.

    Because the center of the room is empty, Groups can sit there to discuss things. We space out groups along the walls so they can gather around one computer. We have a moodle for 3rd – 5th so they can share documents easier.

    One goal I have right now is to get a mobile lab for every pod (every 4 classrooms). The lab computers and desktops already in the classrooms would be used together. The teachers in the pods would schedule the use. These would be used for teaching academics using Technology.

    The Technology lab would still have a dual purpose. Teach Math and Science through technology and teach how to use the technology.

  7. I taught in our K-8 computer lab for eight years, and one of my best “finds” was our lab management software, AB Tutor Control, from a programmer in the UK. It only costs $298 (USD) so it’s pretty economical, and it gives all of the features you’d want — grabbing any student’s monitor and projecting it up on the big screen, pushing files out to all of the lab machines, etc. You can manage up to 50 machines with one installation.

  8. If you have enough space, put the computers around the perimeter, on three walls. Your board/teaching location is on the fourth wall. In the center of the room, have tables with chairs around them, board-room style. This allows you to have a teaching/working location separate from the computers. Plus, the perimeter arrangement allows you to easily see what everyone’s doing at a glance.

    I disagree with the idea of using laptops. From an economic perspective, they don’t make sense, especially if there is enough room for desktops. Laptops cost easily twice as much as laptops when you factor in the shorter expected life and the need for replacement batteries. It’s the difference between a 1:1 program and a 1:2 program, or between one lab and two.

    Speaking of 1:2, it’s not a bad option. Someone once said that the best accessory you can add to a computer is a second chair. Especially in an environment where you’re doing collaborative projects, you may not need a separate computer for each student.

  9. I was Impressed with the design elements of the Microsoft School in Philadelphia. Keywords: Tablet/laptop PC’s, Wireless, Flexible, large wheeled tables, open spaces etc,

  10. Aside from ditching the desktops, I’d recommend having extra wide tables. Imagine this scenario: You are teaching from the front of the class using a smartboard or the back with a wireless tablet. Your students are following what you are doing on their computers. OH! Time to change activities, they turn around to face the back of the classroom, and they have a normal amount of desk space to work and collaborate analogue.

  11. Okay I know maybe this isn’t fair because it does not directly answer the question and I am sure you have considered all your options…BUT I have to push back a little bit.

    Why are you putting in a lab?

    For technology to become a transparent learning tool integrated across the curriculum it is generally more effective to get the computers into the classroom.

    So for the purpose of long term planning if you need to start with a lab I echo the idea that laptops would be a better choice. easier to redistribute to the classrooms.

  12. I agree with John – the best labs I’ve ever worked in had the machines in a U around the perimeter of the classroom. I like to be able to see everyone’s screens at the same time without being at the back of the classroom. Having the tables inside the U helps facilitates when they should be on the computers and when they shouldn’t. (I know that may seem strange in a lab, but it really works)

  13. I don’t know how innovative this is, but one of our labs is set up with computers for student use on the outside rim of 3 walls of the room. The center of the room has benches and tables for bringing the class together or for working in small groups or on physical computing tasks, and there is a smartboard is at the front for whole class direct instruction. This lab is used for the tech wing and it allows the teacher to give instruction in the front and send the students back to work at their stations. The desk space in the middle can also accommodate student groups that want to discuss some aspect of common projects or add in laptops for when work consists of larger groups.

  14. I didn’t read comments before commenting, but may I also add that I find laptops to be problematic if they arenot dedicated to the room in which they reside with either ceiling or floor electrical outlets regularly spaced. Having to bring in a cart with laptops that may or may not have been recharged and get them uploaded and ready to go only to put them back in the cart after class so that they can recharge after two periods of use is just a big pain. I always prefer to go to the lab rather than deal with the laptop carts.

  15. It is important to not have a lab that is too big. In my school we can realistically fit 3 classes in our computer lab. The problem is that it is then impossible to teach (for any of the three teachers). I suggest that you identify the average class size and then don’t leave much room for extra students to come in. I would rather have 2 small labs than one big one.

Leave a Reply