Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Teaching Lab

Last week there was a lively discussion on a school library listserv I belong to about the usefulness of computer labs in libraries as opposed to having computers arranged in a less concentrated way. My response was to describe our set up and how I prefer it to the computer lab approach.

When I first came to Redwood there really wasn't a space to teach information literacy lessons. The Reference Room was broken up into a couple sections each with it's own tables and chairs but with no focal point. and the Main Room didn't really have a space large enough for a class to gather in because book shelves extended throughout the room. Even when we had the occasional staff meeting teachers were sitting between book shelves.

After a few months I began to really see how this wasn't going to work when I had a class in and needed to demonstrate something online to them, not to speak of library orientation sessions and other kinds of presentations.

My first priority was to have a suitable teaching space. By rearranging some of the furniture and moving the librarian's desk out of the center of the room, hanging a screen and figuring out a fairly efficient way to hook up an old LCD projector I was able to turn the Reference Room into a makeshift teaching space which could hold a class of 30+ students. One of the major drawbacks to this setup was that the room is long and narrow (it was the whole library in the early days of the school) and I felt I was not able to hold the attention of kids in the back of the room. My dream at that time was to move the screen to the long side of the room and have a teaching station with a computer and ceiling-mounted projector.

When plans were being made to pass a construction bond I made sure that the teacher station idea had a priority in the modernization project. By moving computers to tables around the periphery of the room (with data- and power-cables coming via ceiling conduits) we made the configuration which we currently have. I also made sure that there was a teaching station (a recycled piece of the old circulation desk) with a hard-wired laptop which could easily be connected to a ceiling-mounted projector. I've been very pleased with the way that the project turned out and can very quickly be online and projecting just what I want the students to see and do.

There are sixteen desktop computers in the room on 48"-wide tables. I specifically chose the wider tables because I don't like to look of computers with no workspace and the wider tables allow students to work side-by-side when necessary. In the middle of the room are four large (8'x4') tables each with at least six chairs. That means that the room can seat 40 in some comfort. The wall shelves still hold the reference collection of around 6,000 titles which didn't have to be sacrificed and which grows each year along with prudent weeding.

The other secret to making the room a success as a teaching space is our 28 laptops which are able to access the wireless network and can be used anywhere in the library. Usually when multiple classes are using the library, we've got some kids on the desktops, some on laptops, and some using the print collection. I really like the combination of all these ways to access information because it forces me and the students to explore all the resources the library has to offer. I like teaching in the Reference Room because I can easily walk to the shelves to show kids where books and other items are located and if I forget something, I'm not running to another location to get it, it's all right there.

My desk is also on the floor of the Reference Room which puts me in the thick of the action all day long.

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