Why isn't this Computer Lab Full of Computers?

By Leigh Zeitz and Magda Galloway

Instructional Technology, Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education.

The 20th century idea of a computer lab involved rows of desks containing rows of computers with monitors on top.  The computer teacher stood in the front of the room and the students peered around the monitors to see what computer teacher was sharing on her screen.

When Schindler Education Center was remodeled, we decided to rethink the essence of a computer lab.  The concept of computing has changed. For the past decade, laptops have outsold desktops. A UNI survey found that 97% of our undergraduate students own laptops. What sense does it make to provide computers for students when they are more comfortable using their own?  

So we created Room 133, a computer lab without desktop computers. Notice that we didn’t say “without computers” because we also have carts containing MacBooks, Chromebooks, and iPads .  These computers are available for students who don’t have computers or their laptops are on the fritz. They are also quite useful when we want to engage our students in brand-specific software or we want to provide our students with the Chromebook or iPad experiences that they will probably have in their schools. Room 133 uses the baseline classroom configuration used across campus so teachers and students new to the environment can find familiar resources.

Room 133 includes non-computer resources as well. Our laptop cases store playful hands-on manipulatives (e.g., OSMOS; Dash and Dot Robots; and Bloxels.) It’s close proximity to the IRTS library in Schindler allows us to bring exciting enrichment tools like their Google Expedition cart to engage students in augmented-reality learning.

So what makes it a computer lab if it is not filled with computers?  It is the infrastructure that supports computer-based learning. We have provided a flexible learning space. Our students have their choice of seating arrangements and choice of computer platforms. Integrating G Suite for Education into our curriculum provides us with a virtual collaborative space in the Google Cloud.

Technology’s place in the classroom fulfills the need for the right tools to support class projects. We structure the bulk of our assignments around collaboration, interactivity and striving towards using technology to redefine the learning process. Providing our students with the tools and opportunities to make decisions in their learning creates a student-centered learning environment.  This process of modification or redefinition of the learning tasks is something that is advocated in Iowa’s schools using the SAMR model. We also integrate technology into the learning process using TPACK model where Technology finds a place to support Pedagogy and the Content Knowledge.

Another aspect of Room 133 is the mobile furniture that we have available. Desks and chairs are on wheels and various types of mobile furniture provide choice for our students. The advantage of our mobile furniture is that we can freely arrange the desks and seats as needed for teamwork.  This flexibility is supported by the portable white boards and dry erase markers that are available for each student.

Room 133 is not a finished project.  We like to consider it an ongoing enterprise where we are exploring new ways to provide unique learning opportunities for our future teachers. These experiences will expand their learning now and model possibilities that they can use with their students in the future.



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