Shared Computing Resources in Schools

While computer rooms have largely fallen out of favor in schools (they were perceived to the removing computing from the classroom where most learning occurs), they continue to be maintained on many schools. As more diverse computing devices have emerged, computer rooms have become more important for providing capacity for specialized purposes that require sophisticated software with demanding system requirements.  For example, high school students working on the school newspaper may use their smartphones to capture images and draft stories using G Suite, but when they prepare the edition of the newspaper to print, they will use desktop publishing software that is installed on workstations in a computer room.

If a physical computer room is not filled with newer desktops models that provide professional software that is needed by relatively small groups of students (such as the journalism class preparing the next issues of the school newspaper), they tend to be filled with older machines. In schools, IT managers tend to extend the life of devices as long as possible to ensure long-term value from the purchase, so older computers are nursed along with little software installed and provide minimal but still useful functionality.

Regardless of the nature of a computer room (either a physical room or a mobile room set up in a classroom), these tend to be used when all students are engaged in the same activity. The teacher who wants students to gather information, or to create information, or to explore a simulation are all likely to schedule a computer room for their students to use. Because they are shared among all of the users in the school, IT managers do deploy methods of scheduling these common resource.  Even in those schools in which there is an active one-to-one or bring your own devices imitative, there is likely to be a collection of resources that are shared among the teachers and students in the school. Examples of these include computer rooms in which the computers have processors and memory sufficient to run multimedia editing software, 3-dimension printers, large format color printers, a theatres with high-resolution projectors among others. Because these are shared, a publically accessible scheduling tool is useful.

The most effective scheduling tools make the schedules public, so that viewing the schedule does not require logging on. (The best schedules will be mobile-compatible, so the harried teacher who is finalizing plans for the day can say to a student, “hey, go check the schedule to see if we can print our posters in the computer lab today,” and the student will be able to check on his or her phone.) Actually scheduling resources does require one log on so that the system checks to see the user has permission to schedule a resource (for example only those who have completed the training can schedule the 3-D printer) and contact information for the user can be recorded.

One of the difficulties that is commonly encountered with using scheduling tools in schools is the unusual times that characterize schedules in many schools. While many scheduling tools are designed for businesses that are likely to break days into 15-minute increments, schools break days in various chunks, and it is not unusual for different days to be divided into different chunks. Further, some schools have multiple bell schedules (for example students in grade 7 & 8 may follow the “middle school schedule” but the students in 9-12 follow the “high school schedule”).

For greatest ease of use a graphic calendar in which a user clicks (or taps) the block he or she want to schedule, and then address relevant information to complete the database entry is preferred. The reality is that modifying such time divisions may be problematic.