Will you help create the best computer lab around?

I am working on the plan for our new computer lab. After working diligently, we've gotten a grant for a new computer lab and I am very excited. The previous lab was excellent and the computers have lasted six years. (We've even edited a little bit of lower level video on these machines.)

I've created a wiki for our vendors to look at and price and I would love your help. Here is what I have gotten planned so far for the computer lab. I would appreciate your input if you think I've left anything out. I especially appreciate recommendations, etc. and specifics. I asked for your input on gradebook software and one of you e-mailed me off line and suggested PowerSchool. Although Apple has sold Powerschool we're still going with them and feel that great things are in store for this system. This was a direct result of blogging and asking you.

So, you can comment or, if you do not want to be quoted publicly, e-mail me your thoughts on the tentative plans for the computer lab.


Current Information from the Technology Plan Wiki:

We want to purchase a state of the art computer lab. Here are the guidelines that we know we want, however, we want suggestions of other things used in schools that are beneficial for teaching. We also have many problems with the current configuration that we would like to solve.

What we teach in this room:
We teach keyboarding, Computer applications (Microsoft Office programs and Adobe Photoshop), Introductory Computer Science. We want to be able to add Java programming as part of AP Computer Science in the future. We have a significant grant and get approximately 1 every 4-5 years and want this computer lab to be state of the art. We create podcasts and are editing video but want to do more of that as a class. We are heavy users of the Internet and printing.

Minimum Hardware Specifications – Student Computers & Demo Computer


19 Student Computer Workstations

  • LCD Monitors (If USB can be on the side of the monitor that would be great.)
  • Hard Drive: 150GB Hard drive
  • Processor: 2Ghz + (No celeron), prefer 64 bit processor
  • Peripheral Connections: 2 Front USB
  • Microphones (non mobile)
  • Web Cams
  • Need to be able to play DVD's in each computer (DVD burning good too if available.)
  • Need to burn CD's and CD-RW's.
  • Firewire access
  • Internal Flash Media Reader: Compact Flash, MicroDrive, MemoryStick, SmartMedia, and SecureDigital camera Cards
  • Workstations need basic sound amplification (built in or non mobile is great since we have problems with people moving and taking speakers).
  • RJ-45 or Wireless card (currently operating at 100 Mbps in lab. We use shared data files and access files on the server a lot!)

1 Teacher Workstation (or Laptop)

  • Configuration: If possible, this could be a laptop so I could move around the room and school as we go with Wi-Fi.
  • It needs to transmit wirelessly to the projector. (If this is available)
  • Requires all software like student workstations.

Monitoring software on teacher computer:

  • Would like to be able to monitor, control, lock out, and view all 19 student computers.

1 Demonstration Computer/ Smart Board Configuration

  • The computer configuration should be exactly like or slightly better than the student Computers except it will need to operate the SmartBoard.
  • Need a remote pointing device that can be used throughout the room.
  • Fixed mounted Smart Board (magnetic if available)
  • We need a good sound system and amplification for this computer so we can hear DVD's and things played on the computer.
  • Needs Extra RAM versus student computers

Computer Mounting:

  • If possible, I'd like it to be mounted on a swing arm arrangement to swing out or move back to the wall to clear space in the front of the classroom. This computer is used by students to demonstrate things for the class.

VCR/DVD/CD Combo Device

This would feed into the projector for easy playing of items.

I'd also like to use this computer to create podcasts and may need a better microphone and video on this computer to capture video and audio in the class.

Heavy Duty Laser Printer
Need a high quality laser printer that holds at least 1 ream of paper. Needs to hold up. Prefer HP. Have been using laserjet with JetDirect hooked through server.

Color Printing Capabilities
We have one inkjet printer and it is slow. We need another one. If we could find one with the ability to copy photographs or print directly from memory keys, that would be beneficial to the school. This doesn't have to be exceptionally fast but should be reliable.

Software – 21 copies (Demo Computer & Teacher workstation)


Operating System:

  • Current version of Windows (would like upgrade certficates if possible for Windows Vista)

Application Software

  • Microsoft Office (most recent version): We teach PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Access, would like Publisher and Front Page also.
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver
  • Adobe PageMaker
  • Video Editing Software (not sure which?) Pinnacle?, Windows Movie Maker 2?
  • Will have to add additional Norton Corporate Licenses to the ones we have.

Software that we are looking for:
Typing software for the server to automate typing and have fun centrally run games from the server.

1 Projector (Included w/ SmartBoard)


  • Needs to hook to demonstration computer and be transmitted wirelessly from teacher computer.
  • We want to easily switch between the demo computer, teacher workstation/laptop, and the VCR/DVD Combo Device.

1 Wireless Access Point


I need one WAP in the computer lab for those who bring wireless devices in. We could also have speakers and other devices operate on WIFI. I prefer a closed node system.

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11 thoughts on “Will you help create the best computer lab around?

  1. Vicki, is there any particular reason you want a Windows environment in this lab as opposed to Mac? Most of the specs you listed are pretty platform neutral, and the ones that referenced Microsoft products directly (like MS Office) can be done natively in OS X or can be done better with OS X software. For instance:

    – I’ve got MS Office installed on my Macbook, and it works great, even better than the WinXP version.
    – Keynote is way better than Power Point.
    – Video editing is really easy and user-friendly with the iLife stuff (iMovie, iDVD).
    – iWeb, also part of iLife, is supposed to be pretty good for podcasting and web page creation, although I’ve never used the program myself.

    And the newer Macbook laptops (not the Macbook Pro) are a really good buy for the money. I have a Macbook Pro and it’s amazing, but pricey. Good for the teacher workstation. 🙂 Apple may have some grant money available too.

    Not that I’m trying to be a Mac evangelist or anything. Oh heck, who am I kidding, of course I’m a Mac evangelist.

  2. I’m not sure if you are a computer sales team’s dream come true (a customer who knows what they want, and so can decide quickly)or their worse nightmare (a customer who knows what they want and so can’t be fobbed off with any old rubbish).

    Good luck in your quest. I’m sure that the money will be wisely sent whatever choice you make.

    BTW Did I mention that I’m soooo Jealous? LOL.

  3. Robert —
    Great question and I had considered it. If I was buying this in later Fall and they were truly cross platform that would be great, however after a survey of our kids they 100% are in a Windows environment. My computer lab is not only a classroom but the place (the library only has 7 computers) that students come to do their best work. We already have 90+ computers in the Windows environment.

    I grew up on a Mac and in 1987 took a Mac to college. My sister graduated from SCAD and absolutely swears by them.

    I am considering Mac computers for the four annual staff computers because that is the environment that graphic designers operate in.

    Whatever I choose must be compatible with what the kids have at home and the rest of the school.

    What about Cross Platform compatibility on the current macs? Can kids save something on their memory key on the Mac and then move it home easily?

    Teacher Dude —
    I’m not sure either, I really am in agony over this whole decision and am asking every expert I know. I purchased the last one and it has lasted six years on the cutting edge. I am praying this one will be great too!

  4. As far as cross-platform issues go: I do a lot of shuttling of files from Mac to WinXP systems and back myself via a flash drive, and I’ve never encountered problems. Of course, the files themselves must be readable on either system (e.g. you won’t be able to launch Keynote programs on the Windows system), and the flash drive needs to be formatted with a FAT32 filesystem and not the Windows-only NTFS file system. Students can just look on the box of the flash drive when they buy it, and it will say something like “PC/Mac” or otherwise indicate that it can be used on either operating system.

    And of course, since the Macbooks and the newer-model Mac Minis are based on an intel processor, it’s possible to dual-boot both OS X and WinXP using the Boot Camp software. So if worse came to worst, and you/the students really needed a Windows-only software package, you could just load both OS’s on the Mac machine and boot into WinXP. Go do a search for “Boot Camp” at Apple’s web site and you’ll learn all about that.

    Really, give these new Macs a look. I switched to a Mac mini at home last fall and now to a Macbook at work a month ago, and I’m never going back. They are great machines for both multimedia stuff and serious math/programming work.

  5. Vicki, I would question why you’d want a Smartboard (or ACTIVboard – my bias!) in a computer lab. The IWB is set up for kids to interact with and a lot of what the included software would do applies IMHO to a classroom setting, either as a modelling, teaching a concept tool or having kids work through activities that are not necessarily computer applications. I reckon you could get by with a data projector and screen and if the annotation feature was important, get a TabletPC for the demonstration computer. Also, have you given any thought to openoffice as an alternative to Microsoft Office. I’ve been running both on my work laptop and there isn’t anything I can do on Office than can be done on openoffice, plus openoffice can do extra things like publish direct to pdf. There are a few good open source tools around that I’ve been trying like CMaps or FreeMind that can be used for mind mapping. Actually, I like what you are asking for in your room especially as most computer labs in Australian primary schools (my usual work environment) are a product of evolution, not in deth planning.

  6. Robert —
    I will price and look at Macs and your comments have definitely made me decide that we should go with Mac in our annual staff room which had been toying with the idea anyway. I’m going to give it another look, (although the knee jerk reaction of parents if we did it would be to come down to the school and yell at me about compatibility!)

    Graham –
    The SmartBoard(ActivBoard) is a recent addition to the wiki after taking a class this week. The instructer is a Phd in instructional technology and I discussed with her how I have students teach, etc. My computer lab is also the lab for the entire classroom and teachers come from various locations.

    She felt very strongly I was doing myself a disservice if I didn’t use the board and I could see the benefits. I only get a grant every 5 years or so and I want to make sure that we get what we need.

    Currently we do not have any SmartBoards in the school and I think they need to go in the classrooms. Perhaps by their using them in my classroom, teachers will be more open and cognizant of how this technology can help them!

    I guess I am kind of going around my elbow to get to my kneecap, but that is my rationale for the SmartBoard.

    The bottom line is, with my software that I want, I’m going to be stretching the dollars pretty thin.

  7. Looking at your Student PC specs….
    • you really should consider Dual Core processors they seem to be the current roadmap for Intel and AMD. They do not create as much heat and they are more energy efficient.
    • As for 64 bit… I cannot really say that 64 bit is really that important especially in a classroom setting. Assuming Windows XP will the OS of choice then the XP 64 Bit edition is feature in-complete according to Microsoft. Microsoft Office will run but there are key pieces of that fail such as a Spell Check.
    • RAM….If you are even toying with the idea of Vista then you need to make sure you max the machines out on RAM. Vista is going to be much more of RAM hog than it’s predecessors.
    • There is no way I would even begin to think about wireless in setting where there will be heavy data transmissions. Wireless is great, do not get me wrong, but if I am going to transfer large files I would much rather have a wired 100 MB connection. Plus you would have to investigate saturation on the wireless hubs. And there is the whole slower connection speed issue. I know wiring is an issue for you, but look at cabling alternatives (cable trays, having the computer desk touch a wall so wires can follow the walls, etc).

    If you do decide to go with MACs make sure that they are all the new Intel based MACs. This gives you the option of running Windows via BootCamp should you need to. Make sure they are dual core (instead of single core). Avoid the 120 GB drive in the MACs is only a 5400 RPM drive and is terribly slow. Load the MACs with lots and lots of RAM. You will really appreciate it. I have both Apple and Dell, I really do appreciate the differences.

  8. I agree with getting an Intel-based Mac. Not only will it allow your students to play with the three leading OS today – Mac OS X, Linux and Windows, it will also provide them with the experience necessary for them to determine the best tools for the job.

    I also teach Computer Science and whilst we are part of the MSDN-AA, we prefer using Linux over Windows. Tools are available for free. 🙂

    It is not the applications that they need to master but the skills. So I still believe that no matter what platform you use, your graduates will still be able to cope with whatever technology they face. What is important is that they have exposure in what is available out there.

    Photoshop runs on Windows and Mac. Gimp runs on all three (and is free).

    OpenOffice.org office suite runs on all three platforms.

    Java definitely has tools on the three platforms, too. Incidentally, a selfish plug – check out our project – JEDI – might help you with your Java classes.

    Good luck!

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