Site Guide
Electronic Classrooms

Computer Classroom Design
The Issues Facing Designers of Computer Classrooms.

Student/Computer Interface
Student/Instructor Interface
Technical Requirements
Size and Layout of Classrooms

Student/Computer Interface

The Table/Desk:There are several ways to design a computer classroom:

Place computers on existing tables or standard classroom tables. If there is no budget for furniture, there is no choice. If the classroom is to be built around new technology, it is important to give the computer a place and to define its place within the classroom by using furniture that has been designed specifically to serve this purpose.

(19Kb) Place computers on computer tables/desks. In many areas of education where computers play an important role, such as basic computer training, CAD, computer maintence and other hardware intensive applications, it is desireable to imitate the workplace by laying out classroom workstations in a similar, albeit compressed, pattern and with primary emphasis on furniture designed to provide the best ergonomic interface between student and machine. In situations where shared terminals and team study are used, it is important to scale the furniture to encourage comfortable multi-user interface.

(19Kb) Integrate computers into desks. In all other areas of education where the computer plays a significant role in classroom activity, it is important to examine the reasons why students are in the classroom. In most cases it is to get more from training than is available, say, at home with an internet connection and a directed course of study; ie., human interaction between classmates and instructors and the significance of space and time in education. Other benefits that should be considered include:

  1. Multiple Classroom Use: Students don't have to move to a computer lab to apply lessons. The same room can now function equally well for lectures and presentations, seminars and discussions, and lab work.
  2. Enforced Ergonomics: One of the problems of placing computers on the desk top is that many adjustments should be made to promote a good ergonomic posture for the many different users accessing the equipment. By compromising good posture, students aren't comfortable and the system doesn't work as well as it could. The Sub-Surface VDT (SSVDT) Desk enforces a good ergonomic posture without all of the adjustment by providing students with the same viewing angle of the computer screen as to papers or books on the desk top.
  3. Increased Security for Equipment: Although equipment theft and intentional vandalism must still be addressed with various security programs, unintentional damage often occurs because equipment is precariously stacked on the desk top and dangling cables can be snagged accidently.
  4. Increased Privacy for Testing and Individualized Instruction: Privacy is increased when students cannot easily view neighboring monitors. This allows the computer classroom to be used for computer-based testing programs. In addition, students aren't distracted when using individualized instruction software enabling increased concentration.

The Chair: The single most important interface between the human body and the computer.

A classroom chair needs to be selected that offers students the ability to assume proper ergonomic posture. Students who spend many hours at the computer both at home and in the classrom run the same risks of CTDs (cummulative trauma disorders) as office workers yet they have less control of the environments in which they work. Use of standard classroom chairs that do not meet these needs puts most students at a distinct disadvantage.

The chair needs to possess the following attributes:

  1. Height adjustability (preferably pneumatic): Ease of adjustment insures that students have the ability to acheive proper posture.
  2. Back tilt is a useful feature in that it enables students to adjust eye-to-monitor distance within the space allowed.
  3. Durability and tip resistance: Look for solid welds and heavy duty mechanisms. A good test of tip resistance is to raise the chair to its highest position and hang a heavy jacket or book bag on the chair back.
  4. A broad seat and back design with adaquate comfort with minimal sculpting: This meets the needs of a larger percentile of users. Though lumbar support and forward-tilt functions may be a necessity in the office, it is more important to make more users comfortable for the class duration. Remember that students usually present a greater range of body sizes than the general office worker population.

To assist in specifying the right chair, we have developed a comprehensive Classroom Computer Chair Check List.

Proximity and Privacy

The layout of the desks determines the teaching methods available. No matter what layout is selected, it is important to recognize that each student requires a certain amount of desk space for the tools used and a certain amount of floor space, leg space and elbow room to perform required functions and enter and leave the classroom safely.

Privacy issues arise for testing and individual training. Desk space must be large enough and students should be spaced far enough apart to offer a sense of privacy as well as enough room to allow instructors and lab aids to offer assistance when needed.

Student/Instructor Interface

(16Kb) Perhaps the most compelling reason to get the computer off the desk top is that it is an impediment to eye contact between the student and the instructor. By placing the computer below the worksurface, educators get the benefit of:

  • A classroom of students, not monitors. The greatest objection made by educators is that students "hide" behind the computer. Students miss important information and instructors cannot gauge the effectiveness of presentations and lectures.
  • Increased interaction between students. It is easier for students to work in teams if the equipment doesn't get in the way.
  • The opportunity to offer more traditional educational materials without distraction. Work books, literature and testing materials can't fit on the desk if the surface is taken up by a CPU, Monitor, keyboard and mouse. SSVDT desks leave the surface clear for these materials.
  • Easier one-on-one instruction. Educators can approach the desk from any angle to offer individual instruction.

Technical Requirements

There are a number of technical issues that should be addressed in the planning stage.

  • Raised floors: Although not absolutely necessary, raised flooring allows for easier reconfiguration of the classroom. In situations where this is not possible or desireable, classroom layout must deal with wiring issues carefully.
  • Wheelchair Access: ADA requirements should be examined to provide the most comfortable access for students in wheelchairs. Desks can be modified with adjustable-height articulating keyboard arms. Desks designated and set aside for wheel chair access should be located in such a way to make it easy to reach these desks.
  • Special requirements for visually impaired students: Some students must have the monitor much closer. Most SSVDT desks can be modified to allow the monitor to be lifted through the view port and be placed on the desk top temporarily with out rewiring.
  • Special media: Most instructional material can be accessed through the network or on disk (CD-ROM or Floppy). Where needed, however, special accommodation must be made for laser disk players, VCRs, scanners, etc.
  • Lighting: With computers playing such a large part, lighting standards must be reevaluated.

Size and Layout of Classroom

Basically, the size of the computerized classroom depends on available space. Traditional classroom layouts work especially well with the computer integrated into the desk because wires and cables can be completely hidden allowing narrower aisles while facilitating access to network interface and electric outlets.

  • Sample layouts:
    • Desks in rows
    • "L" configurations
    • "U" configurations
    • Clusters of 4 desks
    • Clusters of 6 desks
  • Planned desk space must also account for pull-out keyboard drawers.
  • Larger desks if students are to share terminals.

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