Friday, August 30, 2013

Building High School Computer Labs

Many teachers spent this week organizing classrooms and curriculum or coaching some early Fall sports in preparation for the first day of school next week. I had the unenviable task of converting 2 classrooms into computer labs - with a little help from admin, staff and students. I've lost count of the number of times I've built or upgraded labs during the summer, 7 or 8 I think. It has become routine. The task went very well this week so I thought I'd write about it, about what works and what doesn't, in case you find yourself tackling a similar project.

The 2 new labs at Craig Kielburger are classrooms so the projector and window blinds were already in place.

Last Spring after the decision was made to go ahead and use the classrooms the tenders went out to get more electrical circuits and network drops installed.  This usually takes 2 or 3 months to complete. We asked for drops and outlets around the room perimeter and on a jiffy pole in the centre of the room. We got outlets and network drops around the perimeter but only electrical in the jiffy pole. So now most of the drops and outlets are not in a good location for any layout that I could see. That leads to rule #1.

RULE #1: Make a scale drawing of the room and put scale tables, computers and chairs into it. Figure out precisely where you want the outlets and drops and then go into the room and mark those spots with a marker. Leave copies of the layout taped to the walls and in the hands of admin. This could be a summative project for some Tech. Design students.

Most of the labs I've built in the past had no windows. I was glad to see the blinds in good working order in this classroom and I hope they are enough since those windows face south! In the past the ventilation was a problem in a basement lab and 2 labs at the core of the building. If classrooms are normally a bit too warm then turning them into a computer lab is a bad idea.

We ordered 50 refurbished computers last spring and they were delivered during the summer and then set up by technicians to be ready to go. We still encountered some minor problems with a few of the computers after they were installed in the new labs so rule #2.

RULE #2: Ask for an IT technician to be on call on setup day.

The computer tables were ordered last spring but did not arrive until setup day - phew! Close one.

RULE #3: Insure that all the materials you might need are in the building before setup day.

The classrooms still had books and unwanted shelves in them. Fortunately some staff were around in July and agreed to clean out what they could. Our caretaker took care of the rest.

RULE #4: Work with the caretaker. No one likes surprises or being left out of plans that affect them.

The admin were supportive and it goes without saying that losing 2 classrooms is going to make timetabling tough. Purchasing all the hardware and wiring takes planning and work by admin and staff so make sure everyone is kept up to date on the projects progress.

RULE #5: Work with admin.

Setup day actually spanned 2 days. During day 1 students hauled tables into the room, assembled them and then hauled computers into the room. Day 2 saw several student volunteer their day to position everything and plug everything in. Hopefully the word will get out that students built the lab - giving students the inclination to look after it.

RULE #6: Work with students. I've done one or two labs on my own. Its boring. This way students earn volunteer hours, I don't get a sore back and everyone has fun playing network games that are normally banned during school!

There we go. Some of my thoughts. I know I've missed something. Oh yea! Printers!

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