Two weeks ago, we packed up our computer room in preparation for the impending demolition of our current library (Resource Centre) in the lead up to the building of our BER funded new "21st Century Library". The thirty odd desktops of varying vintages were distributed throughout the classrooms or retired to the "obsolete" pile. Our focus has been on the development of wireless capable buildings to support our laptop program which has a trolley of laptops in both the upper and middle primary blocks. Add a small fleet of ten netbooks used by the Year Three classrooms to the pool and it felt quite strange to be putting old style desktops complete with CRT monitors back into classrooms where kids have become used to using the laptops on their desks as part of the regular classroom program.
As I unplugged, trundled and then re-assembled the desktops in their new homes (ably helped by an enthusiastic Year Fvie class), a few interesting things became apparent. Firstly when the classrooms were first wired with data points, it was obvious that no-one envisaged that computers would be anywhere but at the back of a classroom. The number of data points is also interesting to note where the educators responsible for planning and trying to predict future needs could not foresee a need for more than four data points in a junior primary classroom or six in an Year 3 - 7 room!
Now, my point is here not to criticise my predecessors for getting things wrong but to make the point that what we actually need in classrooms in the very near future is a very fast moving and elusive target. In the goal of future proofing a school's technology needs, the constraints of budget and what is actually available at the time provide real barriers to what is possible. For example, currently we have wireless network points running on the "g" standard meaning that all of our laptops can log on, authenticate and access the network with ease. We could upgrade to "n" standard wireless at a much better data transfer speed if we wanted but as our technician pointed out, straightaway we would have to purchase "n" wireless access points at a much greater cost than the current generation ones we have and one fleet of laptops purchased in late 2007 would not be able to connect as "g" is their maximum connection, making them redundant on our network. Also attaching more laptops to the network means that we need to have the infrastructure to support this expansion. But if we hold off for six to twelve months, prices drop dramatically as a relatively new technology becomes commonplace and more readily supported. And with budgets always tight for a humble public school, these sort of trade offs mean that sometimes we will take a wrong turn or be surprised when technology opens up new opportunities.
So, we are now in a transition period where we try and imagine what the new learning space will be like and try to eliminate the "this is how a normal library looks" type of thinking that could be very redundant and date very quickly. Things will be testy for a while as classes go cold turkey from their regularly scheduled computing room time (which was a useful time for classes to work on individual tasks) and work on ways to use these newly created pods of older computers within their classroom. I know that I will find the regular access to our old computing room to be problematic as the trolley of twenty laptops only go so far between four classes. Time for teachers to get creative - yet again.