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Ask Slashdot: Ideal High School Computer Lab? 268

First time accepted submitter dmiller1984 writes "I am a high school computer teacher and I've been put in the unique situation of designing my ideal computer lab since our high school will be undergoing a major expansion over the summer. I thought the Slashdot community might have some great ideas to help me out. I've never liked the lecture hall labs that I've seen in some schools, but I would like some way to get natural light in the room without worrying about glare on the computer screens (skylights, perhaps?). What are some of your ideas for a great computer lab for education?"
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Ask Slashdot: Ideal High School Computer Lab?

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  • So.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:23PM (#38466150)

    Only thing I can think of is add some vegetation. A few well placed plants does wonders for a room. Maybe some geek paraphernalia around the room to get people in the right mindset

    As usual, ergonomics are important. Get chairs and monitors that adjust easily, keyboards/trays with the proper support (and again, adjustable) and maybe educate students on how they should set up their work environment before they. Oh, and a decent amount of desk space. Just because they are working on a computer doesn’t mean they won’t be working from a book or have some other reason to need a little room to work.

    Of course once you’ve drawn your balanced, well thought out and researched plan, it will promptly be rejected and the school can proceed to bring in some cheap tables and place an order with Dell ;p

    best of luck and have a great life!

    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

      * before they start working every class

      I'm not the best when it comes to hammering out quick replies and tend to introduce mistakes like that, but sometimes, I swear slashdot is disappearing my words on me...

    • Re:So.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:49PM (#38466406) Journal

      What is geek paraphernalia? 1980's posters telling you that "Computers don't Byte?" Or a road sign that says " this way to the information super highway!". Ugh, eck. Wrong.

      Do it like it was done unto me.

      Put some vim posters, and maybe sections of kernel.h printed on ye old'e green and white.

      And make the room dark and foreboding. Loop 1980's new wave bands intermixed with psychedelic 60/70's. No natural light, sections of light banks that can be independently turned on and off as to provide just enough light to make out each other and the obstacles around you. Bonus points if more than one tube flickers and sends sparks intermittently.

      Develop some rituals for the students, some incantations to the mighty computers. Sell copious amounts of energy drinks and high sugar snacks on the down low to your students to buy better equipment than the school board provides and give them super human coding skills.

      Worked well enough for me and my cohorts.

      • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

        I was thinking more like having an old TRS-80 (or dragon32.. which is what I learnt on) set up and functioning in the corner ;p

        I never got into the dark lighting thing. Vi(m) .. sure.. but always in a well lit room.

        And lose the techno...put on some pink floyd!

        • New wave isn't techno. Pink Floyd is 70's psychedelic, IMHO. That's exactly who I had in mind.

          • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

            Yeah I realized that like 10 seconds after I posted. Knee jerk reaction. Slow brain day :(

        • Another good idea would be to take some old 90s box and use it to show the kids how it actually works as kids today often look at tech as "black boxes' so giving them some basics can be helpful.

          An engineering friend was asked to cook something up and he made a plexiglass top for an old 10gb HDD so the kids could see the drive actually work as it loaded the OS and programs, and had some posters made with graphics showing each step from the time you push the button until you are able to use the computer. It h

    • by jd ( 1658 )

      Plants are good. Not as I usually do (giant redwood cuttings) but something more appropriate. Real plants, though, not plastic. Because labs will vary in temperature more than most places, these'll need to be plants that can handle a decent range of conditions.

      Light isn't a problem if monitors have anti-glare screens. Clip-on anti-glare covers for flatscreens are just fine and then you will only need them for a small number of monitors.

      Ergonomics is absolutely vital, never mind important. I'd recommend gett

      • Glare is caused by hard-incident light.

        Simply use frosted glass on the windows to diffuse the hard light, and monitor glare vanishes unless the monitors directly face the window. (Bad idea. It causes eyestrain from the contrast.)

        The rows should ideally form "[" shaped units that face outward, with the teacher's station near the center of the floorspace. This way the teacher can easily see what all the students are doing. Eye-contact with the lecture is overrated in my opinion, but swivel chairs would accom

    • by bussdriver ( 620565 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @08:33PM (#38466772)

      I've used many layouts. For high school I am not sure. Depends on usage.

      The silly typing courses many high schools have-- if that is all it is for, then old terminals are plenty good + make it more office like with typical office chairs etc since posture is part of that topic. Adjustable screens, keyboards etc should be part of it-- as the parent post suggests. possibly even have a couple styles to choose from (learning to type is a waste of time, but learning to save your hands and back is so important later...) no desk needed for such a class... Classic typewriters would outlast any computer and work just as well to build that skill. keyboards are cheap; typing programs run just fine on Apple ][s. I might have a WORKING one in the basement, probably still runs typing tutor...

      The worst "lab" I've had is a normal room with a parameter of computers desks. This makes it easy to see what people are doing and stand in the center area; its horrible for college lectures because they can't use the computer and see what you are showing; on the plus side, they can't use the computer... Our newer "labs" decided upon this kind of layout to make a clean break between lecture and computer lab time physically; I hate this while others like it. For high school this may work out; despite it requiring more floor space than a normal room - its not all that disruptive to make them move during class; they are kids and likely need some moving around...and some discipline in doing so maturely. Without locked down machines you know they'll goof off and if you lock it down, a kid like myself will be distracted by that challenge... You can easily see what is going on with a parameter layout (plus equip the room far cheaper.)

      The coolest lab I've seen was one with individual desks that had monitors IN THE DESK; it was odd to look downward but also really cool. takes a little getting used to-- I've not got that lab, the math dept has it. probably good for their needs.

      Daylight is nice; however, a brightly lit room is more important than windows; full spectrum bulbs are enough. When I was in school it was dim all the time; now they seem to have double the lights! A board student or easily distracted student LOVES WINDOWS. I shut the blinds. Skylights waste energy in heating or cooling in most places.

      Every computer lab I've used which was full became stuffy after a while; I figured it was the extra heat in the room that caused it to feel that way; except in rooms designed as labs where they had extra venting planned... Those would often seem too cold and dry (I should complain someday.) I would STRONGLY recommend some of the NASA plants... actually, a ton of them would be needed-- hang them around the parameter of the room up high and SOLID. The feeling of the room is greatly improved by this; plus the humidity will be more natural and the oxygen level will be higher. (see snake plant, I think its the best one on the list. I don't have a room of my own or I would do this.) Peppermint. Its a smell, not a taste and its a mental stimulant like ginko (it works, ginko doesn't do jack for me.) Two proven impacts: 1) mental subconscious connection to the room and past situation upon entering the room. 2) it wakes you up mentally although it has to be rather strong for that. There is no official allergy, but I sprinkle the oil around the room secretly before class. The plant doesn't smell as much but you could grow that... (I suggest putting a few drops on the keyboards, haven't busted one yet!)

      Metalic PAINT... I hate cell phones... the kids these days (girls) can text amazingly fast... if you could only get them to properly type gossip to each other under their desks...

      ANY kind of development work can use LARGE monitors! actually, 2 cheaper ones makes a lot of sense... since most people are going to laptops and will hook up a 2nd display... If you do any graphic work, get nice monitors; if its just typing any crap will do. DO NOT get all-in-one computers. that is just stupid. Also if you do developm

      • by Macrat ( 638047 )

        The silly typing courses many high schools have--

        Typing is taught in 1st grade. You are really out of date.

      • We agree on a lot of issues.

        I suggested using frosted/etched glass to eliminate glare. This would simultaneously solve the "ooh! There's a dog outside!" Type distractions. Kids can't see much more than a colored smudge through the frosted glass, and that is only for things really close to the glass, like plants.

        Stuffiness is a serious issue. A high ceiling helps to deal with that by giving more dead air space for hot air to rise into. Coupled with good ventilation in the room, this deals with most insta

    • Infrastructure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:14PM (#38467150) Journal

      Start with the Infrastructure: wiring, power, desks, layout etc. Computers come and go, and even if you buy brand new computers, they will be gone in 5 years. Infrastructure will last, so make sure it is done RIGHT!!

      Second, think about HOW you're going to teach "computers", and what that really means. You asked about "computers" and I'm thinking you don't know what you are teaching. Probably "Word", "Excel", and "Powerpoint", but if you want to do your students a favor, don't teach "Programs" or "Applications" teach what they do "writing", "spreadsheet", and "presentation" ... and make them use a variety of programs to accomplish the assignments.

      Finally, make sure you have something like VISION in your lab.

      • Start with the Infrastructure: wiring, power, desks, layout etc. Computers come and go, and even if you buy brand new computers, they will be gone in 5 years. Infrastructure will last, so make sure it is done RIGHT!!

        Second, think about HOW you're going to teach "computers", and what that really means. You asked about "computers" and I'm thinking you don't know what you are teaching. Probably "Word", "Excel", and "Powerpoint", but if you want to do your students a favor, don't teach "Programs" or "Applications" teach what they do "writing", "spreadsheet", and "presentation" ... and make them use a variety of programs to accomplish the assignments.

        Finally, make sure you have something like VISION in your lab.

        I'm glad you pointed out the infrastructure. That is probably something I would have overlooked. I mainly teach web design and programming courses, including AP Computer Science.

    • Lessee:

      1) Commorode PET / TRS-80s.

      2) PDP-11s or thereabouts.

      3) Sun 2 series, with SmallTalk-82 or so.

      Get the idea? Limitation can be good. Myself-- I'd say something with SmallTalk along the lines of OLPC versions.

  • by Radical Moderate ( 563286 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:30PM (#38466226)
    they filter out some light but still allow a view to the outside. Pretty good compromise, I have them in one lab and they work well, we leave them down all the time.
  • Ask the students (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chazus ( 988753 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:32PM (#38466236)
    Seriously. Ask THEM what they would like to see in a computer lab. School for me, plainly put, sucked. I did poorly because I never had any reason or desire to motivate or engage myself. Environment is important, as someone else said, but it also needs to be a place that doesn't feel forced. Put meme posters (that are safe for school) on the wall. Interesting trivia. Places students can go whenever they want to learn (slashdot!). Encourage them to learn and understand. Bring in computer parts for display. Show them what real world internet is like. Discuss and have information about the difference between over-security, network security, theatrical security, and how that ties in with laws. I think the ideal computer room should have all the evidence of what I would want to impress upon my own children about computers and the internet.
    • Artwork will definitely be subject to school or district guidelines. Access to internet resources is probably controlled by the IS department and is out of the hands of the teacher.

      Please don't take this the wrong way, but there's a real balance to strike between exciting diversions and core curriculum, and while there are some companies that encourage expression at work, there are probably ten times as many that don't want even cubicle decoration. Don't stifle the kids, but at the same time, don't teach

    • xkcd posters [xkcd.com], of course.

    • by Nimey ( 114278 )

      Some of the students will have ideas, but only a few of them will be good, and most of the students won't even have that.

      Good suggestions otherwise, though... but I'm not sure what you expect them to learn from Slashdot, other than that editing and fact-checking are unimportant.

  • by stevenfuzz ( 2510476 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:32PM (#38466238)
    If they want to get used to working in a real-world computer environment: 1. Terrible and abrasive neon lights. 2. Cubicles. 3. Every 5 minutes someone in the class needs to bother another student with a stupid question. Focus is a perk not a right. 4. Randomly stand over a students shoulder and demand a demo, and a reason why the project is not done yet. 5. If the students work is not progressing, fail them and outsource a student from India.
  • Let me guess...software architect on there somewhere?
  • Separate power strips/UPS for each workstation so no one can accidentally kick the reset button and kill the power for everyone along that wall. Especially after everyone has been coding on their final project for the last hour or so.

    Save early. Save often.
  • by skids ( 119237 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:38PM (#38466314) Homepage

    ... or your memory modules will walk, even if you don't think there is any opportunity for that to happen.

    • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @08:43PM (#38466888) Homepage Journal

      Absolutely. Use security screws on the cases, and use cables to secure the desktops, monitors, etc. to something immobile.

      Depending on your plans for the course, you might want to disable the USB ports and optical drives, and look into software like Deepfreeze.

    • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Thursday December 22, 2011 @11:04PM (#38467842) Homepage Journal

      Make sure the computer desks have anchor points and cables. Lock the monitors with security cables using microclips in the K-slot lock point holes, and run the same cable through a microclip in the PC case to lock the cases shut and secured. There are also cable trap devices so you can route USB cables for mice and keyboards through them. If possible keep the padlock ends of the cable under the desks, where bored fingers won't have an easy opportunity to pick them.

      Locking cabinets and drawers large enough for spare equipment. Think PC cabinets, monitors, cables.

      Filtered power strips along the table / desk tops.

      School logo mousepads, of course. :-) You'll probably have to have them screwed and glued to the desktops, though. :-(

      For equipment, I'm guessing your school already has a supplier of PCs, so you'll almost certainly be getting the school district's bog standard crap PCs. Nobody can help you there. Ask for second monitors, though.

      A projector that can hook to your machine. Use tools like VLC to display the student desktops when they're presenting from their machines.

      Have VMware virtual machines available on the desktops. It lets the students do work as system administrators without putting the actual host systems at too much risk.

      The rest of the suggestions are really more ideas that depend on what you're planning to teach them. Programming? Networking? Intro to PCs 101? Build-your-own? Pen testing? Security? Digital forensics? Computer graphic arts? Administration? DBAs? Modeling? Social engineering?

      Want to do network experiments? Have a free-standing rack mount visible at the front of the room. Mount two network switches and two routers in it so you can do networking experiments. It doesn't have to be connected to the school's network. You might put a classroom server in this rack. Again, security is important, so you would at least have to cable lock it down, if not keeping it in a locking cage rack.

      For build your own or PC 101, think about asking some parents at the start of the year for old computer donations, and have the students build or rebuild a few in class. Have a toolbox handy with the standard PC tools. Again, the locking cabinets are important for holding unfinished projects and components.

      I think Microsoft is still legally obligated to feel guilty about their monopolistic practices. Consider asking them for software suites appropriate with what you'll be teaching them. Ask for classroom copies for each server of Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, get a copy of Visual Studio TFS 2010, and for each desktop ask for Windows 7, Office 2010 Professional Plus, Visio 2010, Expression Blend, and Visual Studio 2010 Premium Edition.

      You might need a forensic machine for studying hard disks removed from other computers.

      Web cams? Audio recorders and microphones? A big honkin' server to run blender? Robotics kits? Bluetooth transceivers?

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:39PM (#38466324)

    What is the lab being used for?

    What form factor are the computers?

    What kind of connectivity will the computers use?

    How many students at a time, and are these the top 20%, middle 60%, or bottom 20%?

    What size of space?

    These are all very important characteristics, and I've worked with all kinds of each. The one defining characteristic I can assert is that enough physical space both in the room and at the worksurfaces is important. When the room is cramped and the desks are cramped, the kids will be cramped, and will probably abuse the equipment more. It'll be harder to maintain and harder for custodial to keep the space clean.

    I also suggest that the teacher's station be in the back on a raised platform, such that the teacher can easily see all of the screens.

    I suggest a form factor like the "Small Desktop" form factor Dell has used for their Optiplex lines, and that the machines are mounted where with a little effort they can be reached by the user, but are otherwise somewhat out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Technicians performing maintenance will be pissed if they're on the back side of the desk where they can't be reached when in front of the console. Also, don't block too much access to the back, as the technician needs easy access to the connections.

    If you won't need to reconfigure the lab, go with permanent fixture desks, run the data and electrical infrastructure in the furniture. Be sure to keep a good separation between data and electrical to minimize interference. If you will need to reconfigure, go with a raised floor like computer rooms use, that will allow cabling to be moved around as needed based on furniture configuration.

    If the lab will be used for general ed computer-based learning rather than for technology-subject learning, put in short height partitions to separate students from each other a bit.

    Avoid lighting on the blue end of the spectrum, go for yellower tones. Blue will make them fall asleep.

    Avoid chairs that are too adjustable and on casters, they'll inevitably get destroyed. Chairs similar to those used in band and orchestra would be a good choice.

    If you put up a projector, get one with the same aspect ratio as the teacher's station's screen. If possible, go for the same resolution. Put in a sound system too, at least a set of stereo speakers in the front connected to a small amp. Wire for everything on the projector even if you don't need it now- if you need to hook up a Blu-ray player or VCR or something later it's nice to have cabling.

    Good luck. You're going to need it...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ayanami_R ( 1725178 )

      TWX is spot on in his comments. A bit to add...

      Get classroom management (for computer labs) software like LanSchool. Then you can face the machines however you want. With software like this you can see all the monitors, lock computers, turn the internet off, etc. You can get a demo version from their website (www.lanschool.com)

      Also make sure the room has proper cooling. We have schools losing machines left and right because AC is "too expensive" So is replacing lab machines every 2 years due to failure from

      • Also make sure the room has proper cooling. We have schools losing machines left and right because AC is "too expensive" So is replacing lab machines every 2 years due to failure from overheating. At one school their entire lab failed in about 14 months, and cost 4x what installing AC would to replace.

        Students can fail from overheating, too.

      • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )

        Be wary with software like LanSchool. Having been on the receiving end of this particular one, I can say that it is definitely not a tool I would suggest to any self-respecting teacher. If you need such tools to get the students' attention, something's wrong. All you manage to do with them is aggravate students and make them hostile towards you, on top of giving a challenge to the curious ones (how to beat the software).

    • by swalve ( 1980968 )
      I was going to say the same thing, specifically, what is it going to be used for? Is it a general purpose lab, where students book time to get things done? Or an instruction lab? Or a specific purpose lab? In high school (1990-ish), there were three labs. One was full of PS/2s for teaching "business applications". One was full of vt100s hooked to a UNIX machine for the computer science people, and one was for "writers workbench" that was a kind of cool application that we used to improve our writing.
      • deep freeze is good and you don't need lock down to the point of braking app's and makeing it hard to do stuff.

        • by TWX ( 665546 )

          We used Deepfreeze for awhile but they tried Clean Slate because it was cheaper. Now we're going back to Deepfreeze because Cleanslate won't let us install Ie8 or Office 2010 even when disabled.

          I wish they'd just spent the money to train someone how to set policies, but they never did and probably never will.

  • I like to have my lab set up with tables put together in the middle of the room with computers around that wall. This allows space for lessons and planning away from the keyboards. Students like to move tables around when they are working in groups. Computers around the wall gives me a view of all the screens allowing me to keep students on task.
  • How many students at one time, what career track (mostly)? Slackers or hackers? Important to know.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You probably arent going to believe me now but in a few years you will figure out what I mean by this post.

    A computer lab is better when its not a computer lab. The magic happens when the students collaborate rather than sit in rows behind computers. You should provide them with an active learning environment that has pods rather than rows. Pods of about 6-8 with a large flat screen or two with a switcher that allows each student to put up their screen to share with the pod and interact.

    You spread the po

  • by wetdogjp ( 245208 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:46PM (#38466384) Homepage

    I am also a high school computer teacher, and our building got renovated about three years ago. I was able to ask for lots of goodies too, but be prepared for the contractors to ignore whatever suggestions you make.

    That being said, there were a few important elements I insisted on. One is that I could see all the students' screens from a central location. Mostly that meant having all the PCs facing outward against three walls, with me in the middle. This was a huge improvement over the back-to-back rows we had before. The downside is that kids have to turn around if they need to see the board or the teacher.

    My class is in the Career and Technical Education school, so I'm training kids to be sysadmins, programmers, and technicians. Due to the nature of the class, we have a central rack with networking equipment that's easy for the kids to crowd around. If this is something you need, make sure there's plenty of space on all sides, and use a cable tray to bring in the wiring. Also, I asked for power to be dropped from the ceiling to the center of the room so we could setup work benches to troubleshoot hardware. (That's one of the things they neglected to give me.)

    Natural light is a wonderful thing, but I wouldn't worry too much about glare as long as you don't have shiny glass screens. If students will be sitting in front of these things for an hour or more at a stretch, good (and large) LCD displays will reduce eye strain. Similarly, don't expect kids to sit in crappy chairs for long periods of time. But don't get swivel rolling chairs; they'll just race and spin in them.

    Probably the most used piece of technology in my room is the projector. I'd definitely get a decent one and install it where everyone can see it. I also like to be mobile in my lab, so I've got an iPad to walk around with and take notes on student work.

    As long as you've got space to spare, give students as much elbow room as possible. High school kids need a little personal space so they don't get on each others' nerves. Also, more space per PC makes it easier for students to work in small groups, as they can gather three or four people around one PC.

    I've got some software I'm partial to, as well. It's nice having something like Faronics Insight in the lab, which allows me to monitor what everyone is looking at, limit Internet access, or share my screen with everyone. I'm not tied to that particular brand (thought it's what I'm using right now, and works on PCs and Macs), but rather any software system that has those functions.

    My lab is due to be upgraded in a year or two. I might go with laptops if it's in the budget, but we've got to work out accountability (for theft), upgradability, and a few other issues. I certainly wish I had one or two for myself, though.

    I hope this helps some.

    • by swalve ( 1980968 )
      What would the upside of laptops in a lab be? Seems like it's just asking for trouble.
      • You could see over/round them more easily, allowing teacher/student interaction. That would be one advantage.

        Keeping a couple of hot spares would be a second advantage - no need for a class to be interrupted by a failed computer, the teacher can swap it out and the school tech can diagnose and repair or make the warranty call later.

    • I think the suggestion above, to use monitoring software, would be an improvement. Student desks can then be situated in a U shape around a raised instructor platform so that kids can see the teacher and the teacher can see the kids, while at the same time being able to monitor any/all of the student's desktops.

      As long as the monitors aren't too huge, and the kids aren't too small, that should be achievable.

    • I am also a high school computer teacher, and our building got renovated about three years ago. I was able to ask for lots of goodies too, but be prepared for the contractors to ignore whatever suggestions you make.

      Well, of course. Contractors work on contracts. They are not the right people to ask for things. You need to get it into the RFP or spec or whatever your corner of the world calls the document that tells the contractors what to do in order to get money.

  • I realize this is for high school, but get them started on dual monitors early if possible. The expense isn't bad, especially since monitors usually out-last the computers two-fold or more.

    We have dual monitors in our computer labs in our engineering labs, and our students always flock to our labs over the single-monitor ones the general university provides.

    • hah! you'd never get the budget for that approved in 99% of schools. and most workplaces don't have them either for the same reason. neither do most homes. dual monitors is something most of them won't have later.
  • Make it silent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richard_J_N ( 631241 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:49PM (#38466408)

    It is hugely more pleasant to work in a computer lab where the noise of fans isn't deafening. Actually, you can pretty much get total silence now, and I strongly recommend it. Specify computers with fanless coolers (usually this is $25 even for a high-powered i7 cooler), avoid rotating disks (use SSDs or etherboot), avoid case-fans, and use silent PSUs (these are usually equipped with fan for use when flat-out, but tend to run inaudibly; they cost a little more, but last much longer).

    • hahaha, my 1980s computer lab was a partition in the raised floor data center, with glass wall separating us from the 4381 mainframe. It was noisy, windy, cold, painfully bright and a long walk outside to the bins where the 11x14" greenbar output from the line printers (roaring like machine guns) was placed.
    • by swalve ( 1980968 )
      Good point! Nothing is more distracting than noise like that. We have a demo lab at work, and it seems like a good setup. Conference table in the middle, various products around the walls, and the racks of blinking lights and loud fans are behind glass double doors so it's quiet when it needs to be. I miss the old fashioned concept of putting the computers behind glass.
  • It would be helpful to know what the budget for the lab is, how many workstations are they hoping to accommodate, and what the purpose for the lab would be. Without that information, its hard to give any useful suggestions. I recommend LED lighting, as it is dimmable and easy on the eyes, but also saves electricity.
  • I am sorry to say but the question is vague. When you talk of ideal, what do you mean?

    Could these options help focus your mind to what you need?

    • A lab that is facilitates learning...
    • A lab that will reduce the potential impact of interruptions from outside sources...
    • A lab that helps students explore the inner workings of either software or related hardware...
    • A lab that helps focus students to today's and tomorrow's likely IT trends...
    • A lab that will make the Systems Administrator's life easy...
    • A lab t
  • When I was in high school and was a budding sysadmin, I was really fascinated with operating systems. I didn't just want to use Linux, but I wanted to try every OS that I could get my hands on. I tried all kinds of Linux distros, and I also spent a lot of time running FreeBSD. I also tried BeOS, but it was dead by the time I got to it.

    What would be really neat is if students had access to a variety of OS's that they could play with and learn to work with, such as Linux, OpenSolaris, BSD, and of course ev

    • Unless you put a bunch of games on the Linux PC's that aren't on the Windows PC's, 90% of the students will never bother to use it. People like to stick with what they already know from home use when they get a chance... they're lazy like that.

      The 10% that do will probably be the classroom geeks that already know what they're doing.

    • by swalve ( 1980968 )
      I like that idea, if only for a history of computing section. Show them how hard it used to be, and they will both understand more about what the computer is doing, AND appreciate how cool everything is now. Fire up an IBM PC/AT and a Mac 512k for them.

      And don't forget to get an old VAX/VMS system.
  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:54PM (#38466474) Journal
    Or at least with openable cases. Have a drawer with spare parts, allow student to freely play with the hardware. Or at least have some stations that are "fair game".

    Have a few stations with arduinos and basic electronics linked.

    Give students a homepage with a kind of dynamic pages activated (php, python, perl, cgi, whatever)
  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @07:55PM (#38466480) Journal

    Fill the lab with Winders or fruit and students will tend to skid to a halt at a "power user" level of proficiency. Fill it with uninstalled white box PCs and Linux CDs, and they will learn many valuable things in the process of creating a usable network. Sure, they may never again need to do a lot of that stuff, but at least they will understand why it's necessary.

    "You know that teacher we hated in the high school computer course? I just realized I learned something that year that prevented a corporate meltdown today."

  • Get a 3D printer, vinyl cutter, poster printer, and other fabrication tools so that the computers can be applied to a wider domain. Grab some arduinos and electronics to interface computers with sensors and motors. Consider getting some easily hackable gadgets like kinects, wii-motes, webcams. A couple DSLRs w/ fluorescent light kits & green screen?

    I'd include ubuntu, OS X, and windows in your network if you can; if you're creating a budget of some sort, don't forget creative software costs (Visual S

  • Make sure the computers themselves are capable of running what you need them to run. Sounds obvious, but I'm currently enrolled in a college course that has us running IIS, Visual Studio and MS Office inside Windows Server 08, all inside VMWare. On a reasonably modern computer with plenty of memory, it would be tolerable. On the Pentium IV, 2GB RAM machines we're using, though, we spend as much time working as we do waiting for the computer to respond.

    (If you're about to say "just use LAMP ffs", that's what

    • You might be able renegotiate that requirement. Invite your Microsoft MSAA liaison to a gourmet steak restaurant. Then stab him with a steak knife. Fucker.
      • Sorry, it's my last year. With senioritis and all, I can barely be assed to actually pay attention, let alone commit a murder over a class. I mean, hiding a body is hard work, and that my normal dump site is still full from the Adobe Illustrator class...

        Besides, I just bring my laptop in and do my work for other classes while waiting for IIS. Or play Unreal Tournament.

  • Ideal College Lab (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Teancum ( 67324 )

    While this is perhaps a bit over the top for a High School lab, I think the ideal college computer lab would be one that puts an absolute prohibition on software going into the lab. The idea here is that competent computer science students ought to be capable of writing all of the software necessary for such a lab... including the operating system and even the TCP/IP stack and even the compilers. Since it is all being done there in the school.... document it and make sure that everybody knows what you are

  • Dark and dank - think mom's basement. A fridge with energy drinks, Twinkies, and supplied with dual floppy Apple IIs.

  • To go with the computers, it would be great if you had some sort of library. Even just one bookshelf with useful reference books: introduction to programming in Python, HTML 5 reference, vim reference, etc.

    I'd like to suggest a Safari site license, if you can afford it. They might offer an affordable Safari license for schools?

    http://safaribooksonline.com/ [safaribooksonline.com]

    P.S. I hope the computers will have Linux available at least as an option.


  • In terms of lighting, I would say windows perpendicular to the rows. I there is a lecture area, the computers can be facing into a center, with desks or tables in the center. If the students are going to have to practice techniques that you demonstrate, there should be at least three projectors facing the three directions. Some people have TVs set up, but no one can read those. If you have software to take over the computer and display what is doing, that doesn't work because students just disable or i

  • Too obvious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Thursday December 22, 2011 @08:20PM (#38466678) Journal

    Ask Slashdot: Ideal High School Computer Lab?

    That's easy. Give every student a laptop and a copy of Ubuntu and let the world be their lab. Hire a few geeks to answer questions and help the students if they get stuck.

    And please, no remote control cameras on the computers. Assistant Principals tend to be pervs.

  • by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @08:22PM (#38466688) Homepage

    1. Raised floor. 4", a short one. And get extra tiles. Tech changes and you'll need to reconfigure the room every couple years to keep up. With raised floor you can put network and power on flexible whips and move them around where you need them. This'll allow you to move desks, move computers, move everything. You're going to put holes in these tiles. Later you'll discover you need some of the holes filled in. That isn't possible. So you'll need the extra tiles to cut new.

    2. Dedicated supplemental HVAC. A room full of computers will get hotter than the ordinary school HVAC can handle during the spring and fall. It'll get even hotter during the winter when the school heating system pumps out the heat. The normal solution - a thermostat-controlled duct damper - isn't going to do you much good. You need a small, inexpensive HVAC that can put out a couple tons of cooling supplementing the normal school HVAC.

    3. Second dedicated HVAC for the server closet unless you're remoting the class servers in the school's IT room. In which case, make sure the school's IT room has a dedicated HVAC.

    4. 200 amp subpanel in the room. You'll find you need to reconfigure the electrical when you reconfigure the room. Reconfiguring all the way back to a basement circuit breaker panel will be costly and problematic.

  • First off, drop the posters. I agree...

    You want little neon lights strings illuminating the room so it looks like TRON.

    You want posts of Yori & Quora. So girls know they can be programs too!

    Seriously, I'm not sure the room is the biggest deal. But I would press for the following.

    Two high res projectors or better yet 55"-65" LCD screens. On opposite sides from each other.

    I would use L desks. Four workstations to an L. Two students on each wing of the L.


    Because this facilitates paired programming, a

  • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @08:24PM (#38466704)

    I designed a small space for 6 workstations that was used for 2 years, it was pretty popular among the students, they hung out there and worked all hours of the day and night, usually 4 or 5 of the workstations were occupied during "normal working" hours. Then, I was asked to design the upgraded lab with 18 terminals in a larger space. The main thing I asked for from a lighting/facility aspect was workspace spotlights (in those days, incandescent lights in a can which throw a spot on the desk but not on the screens - today I'd go LED), and I asked for 72" desks because our students worked in pairs. I arranged the 18 desks in a sort of random/scattered layout (both for the 6 and 18 terminal labs), which put most workstations in a semi-isolated space, usually with at most one other workstation in a "hey, can you tell me..." line of sight asking distance.

    Well, it was 20+ years ago, so I don't remember if I actually got the can-spots or not, what I do remember was that the man in charge said "thanks a lot for the design, but we're going to lay them out in rows so that when a visitor looks in the window from the hallway they will see all the screens, it's impressive." Yeah, it was impressive alright. The desks shrank to 54" to make 3 rows of 6 work in the available space, people were on each other's elbows all the time and, generally speaking, no more than 3 or 4 workstations were ever occupied at a time because people felt cramped if more than half the terminals were full, so they generally stayed away except for absolutely required lab time.

  • Our computer lab was awesome until the district fucked it up. The computers all autoreimaged themselves from a seperate partition on reboot, so you could fuck it up hard and nothing bad would happen. Everyone was admin. It worked great! Need a program installed? No problem! Seriously, do this.
  • A good way to start is to ask current and former students, and teachers at other schools. Also think about the type of environment you would like to learn in.

    When I was in high school ( class of 1972; IBM 1620; punched cards ) I loved my computer course so much that I came in before first class to read manuals and do stuff on my own. I was not aware of my physical environment.

    Also, please make sure some attractive, physically mature, but reckless young women are in each class.

  • by goldcd ( 587052 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @08:43PM (#38466890) Homepage
    One of the lovely things about IT is that (theoretically) one person can make something that can instantly be used by millions.
    Possibly that's a little bit optimistic, but the best motivation for anything I've made is somebody looking at something I've built and and just saying "I like that"
    Or maybe even better - "I would like it even more if it did x", then building "x" and then getting the feedback (mainly when you realize not including x was a retarded over-sight).
    I'm not quite sure how you support this in the design of the room, but maybe find a way of allowing those not in the class to see what's happening. Windows into the room, something that people can look at if they just wander in - maybe even just a 40" screen outside pointing to stuff available to all on a site of what's been made in the room that day.
    I guess my point would be that the room shouldn't just be for people making things (50 ergonomic workstations are lovely - but they'll only ever look like 50 ergonomic workstations) - it should help show the rest of the world what's being produced in that room. 'Selling' what's being made isn't really for the people they're selling to, but to provide encouragement to the creators.
  • I haven't read all the comments that have been posted, but...

    I think having very long white boards (or even entire walls painted out with that "whiteboard" paint) would be a great way for the kids/instructors to be able to communally hash out ideas in meatspace. Most rooms don't seem to have enough spaces like this to jot down ideas, draw, write, and think out loud...

  • My experiences (Score:4, Informative)

    by cos(0) ( 455098 ) <pmw+slashdot@qnan.org> on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:28PM (#38467308) Homepage

    I am the entire IT department for a private K-12 school. I also teach an accelerated C++ class to high schoolers in that lab over the summer. We have one computer lab with 25 PCs. Here are some of the things I've done or plan to do to make it a pleasant and productive work environment, in no particular order:

    1) Have a good projector. Our projector does not support resolutions above 1024x768 and it can be a pain when the working window is needlessly smaller because of large static elements like the taskbar and toolbars.

    2) Install in-ceiling speakers connected to the teacher workstation to distribute sound evenly. I recommend in-ceiling speakers from Monoprice.

    3) Have a free-for-all shared network drive for students. We have three shared drives: one for students, one for all staff, and one for just office workers. This is probably one of the features that's easiest to set up yet appreciated the most.

    4) Use centralized logins. At my school I have a passwordless "student" account with a mandatory profile, while all other accounts are roaming profiles with redirected folders. I've not heard any complaints about this. Students get the same desktop experience on every computer, and teachers love that their settings are shared between computers. I also offer (through the logon pop-up message) to create roaming profiles to students who want this feature, but no one has yet taken me up on this. Probably because no one ever reads that message.

    5) Set up Fortres Grand Clean Slate or Faronics Deep Freeze on at least a few computers and configure them such that every account is an Administrator. There will always be students who'll want to install a legit program you haven't foreseen. Let them.

    6) Keep software up-to-date. No one likes using Firefox 2.0 or MSIE 6.0 on locked-down PCs. Do this either through group policy (if you're fearless) or by reimaging PCs on student breaks. Reimaging works because everyone's documents and settings already live on the server.

    7) This is controversial, but allow students and staff to attach any personal device to the network. We have a schoolwide wireless network, so this allows everyone to stay connected no matter what part of the building they're in. This has been tremendously popular at my school, and so far haven't had any issues.

    8) Use standby. No one minds it, and it saves a huge amount of energy. Use something like Faronics Power Save Enterprise if you want fine-grained control, or just configure Windows power settings to go on standby after X minutes of inactivity. As a bonus, standby is also quick to reveal defective RAM. (Bluescreen, "hardware problem, contact manufacturer")

    If anyone reading this is in Cedar Rapids / Iowa City of Iowa, I am an IT consultant [moonlitconsult.com] and would love to implement this at more schools. :-)

    • nevermind you can do everything faronics does with linux + ntfsclone for the cost of labor
      and farnoics is a gigantic vendor lockin clusterfuck to the twin houses of money wasting and mysterious breakage.

      • by cos(0) ( 455098 )

        I am sorry, but nothing you've said is remotely true.

        How does ntfsclone replace any Faronics product? I happen to use and love ntfsclone to reimage PCs. It's very nice, and like you said cheap, but it requires a reboot into Windows, a clone process that takes a while, and a mini-setup of Windows where it generates SIDs and other stuff.

        Deep Freeze and Clean Slate, on the other hand, allow anyone to reboot or even log off (in the case of Clean Slate) and get everything restored to normal. Now students can get

  • what matters is that the students have the freedom to build things and explore their creativity and imagination.

    other than that, it doesnt matter if you have a bunch of old pentiums or a $500,000 artist designed "dead tech post modern bullshit" decor.

    education is about the relationship between people, not about gadgets, whiteboards, network policies, projectors, natural light, or any of that other bullshit.

  • Didn't bother to read all the comments so maybe this has been covered. But just in case:

    Speaking from experience. Make sure that there is a comfortable place in the room from which you, or whoever is watching over the lab can see every monitor. Do not depend on tools that allow you to look at the screens one by one. You want to know what is going on in your lab, who is having trouble, what forbidden conduct is going on, etc. You don't have to pounce on every transgression BTW. If an otherwise OK stude

    • Those "troublemakers" should be encouraged to do just that. Those are the ones that will do well in computing and it can be used as an effective tool to engage them. Sure you'll have to do some clean up on occasion but it's better than shutting them down on something they show skill at.

      Let the students do what they will on the computers, so long as they're completing what you've asked.

      - Depending on your OS: Deep Freeze http://www.faronics.com/enterprise/deep-freeze/ [faronics.com] on every computer.
      - Give them a honey

  • Please don't focus on making a lab with rows of desks. Research is showing that if you want students to engage with ICTs in the learning process, it needs to move away from how the ergonomics of the room is setup. Will the lab be used across all KLA (subjects areas)? If it is, consider what these subjects need to really engage with the technology. Desks which can be reconfigured to collaborate in breakout spaces should be considered. Read up on some of the stuff that Stephen Heppell has to say about agile
  • by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @11:43PM (#38468030)

    Natural lighting is good if strategically placed and diffused to raise the general ambient level. In general though keep those obnoxious old-school fluorescent tube lights to a modest minimum (if at all). They're hell on the eyes, especially if not bounced off a ceiling first. Let them do the job of minimal ambient and save the workspace lighting tasks for point lighting fixtures.

    As for environment, light colored wood (think bamboo), some greenery, and pictures--actual props even if possible--themed from the history of computing. Avoid long rows of computer stations. Think small groups or short lines. For instance lecture space up front, short lines of three workstations facing angled to the outside on either side of an aisle such that you can walk up and down and easily see the screens but the students don't have to unnaturally twist all the way around to follow you up at the front.

  • Large glass windows, preferably on the second story on up.

    Don't put any windows on the first floor, as someone will put a brick through them and make off with the machines in the middle of the night. Repeatedly, as experience recalls.

  • Keep the machines themselves pretty open - let them dink around with settings, install junk, play around with stuff, etc... But have a steady-state client locked down and active in the pre-boot environment, so every time they log out and/or reboot the machine everything gets wiped and you start fresh. Keeps down on the viruses, too.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun