Are Computer Labs Obsolete?
puter labs are ob-
solete in terms of
digital age teach-
ing and learn-
ing as well as
notions of good
design. Labs are relics of a 20th cen-
tury method for skill-based learning
that views the student as an isolated
individual attempting to master spe-
cific tools for future factory-based
During its best days, computer
labs were a one-size-fits-all approach to mastering basic skills:
typing up an assignment, creating a
presentation, practicing QWERTY
keyboarding, or researching a topic.
During its worst days, the lab was
either a barren dust bowl with outdated and rarely functioning hardware or a fun-filled reprieve from
the classroom—an easy method of
babysitting that kept kids occupied
with frivolous work and the shiny
glare of the computer screen.
The outdated design of a com-
puter lab harks back to a time when
computers were large and unmov-
able, so technology had to be con-
tained in one room. This design
assumes that students are working
by themselves rather than engaged
in a collaborative inquiry or project.
It also assumes that the teacher is
walking around the lab, monitor-
ing students and making sure they
are on task. Pedagogical practice in
most instances did not change in a
tion in computer
skills in a lab
ogy use in the
improves it. What takes place in the
lab gives students the confidence to
use technology effectively in other
classes. Lab instruction centered
on the NETS also frees classroom
teachers to focus on using technol-
ogy to further their content goals
without losing valuable instructional
time to teaching computer skills.
And regular direct instruction in
computer skills in a lab validates its
importance as a subject.
I am the computer teacher for more
than 500 students in grades 1–5 in a
small rural community. Teaching students over five years allows me to present a structured curriculum that aims
to send our students into sixth grade
with a basic understanding of keyboarding, documents, presentations, wikis,
internet research, and digital citizenship.
Regular instruction from a computer
teacher in a lab also provides consistency that an array of classroom teachers with varied technological skills and a
host of other learning priorities cannot
offer. Many of our students also do not
have computers or access to the internet
at home. Direct instruction in computer
skills ensures they too will be able to use
technology in their future endeavors.
Required assessments consume
a growing percentage of class time,
which adds pressure to make instruction as efficient as possible.
Teachers here are making increased
use of our laptop cart and the lab
because they are confident their students will need minimal assistance
with the technology, freeing teachers to focus on their content goals.
Technology enhances their instruction, and their work with computers
furthers their progress toward NETS
How we use our time, space, and
resources shows our students what we
value. When students receive regular
instruction in technology, in a computer lab, from a teacher dedicated to