Academic institutions have showcased their computer labs for decades as a critical resource to help students with their education and learning. We are talking about two whole generations of students that learned to use computers in these dedicated and dynamic work-spaces. The present, however, is shifting. Desktops are out, Chromebooks, iPads, and laptops are in.
The history behind computer labs
Computer labs provided access to technology that the regular student couldn’t afford and sometimes couldn’t access at home. What’s more, if you look at these labs’ past, you can see directly into the evolution of computers. It all started with donated Apple I computers back in the 70s, to DOS-based machines and Apple II’s reign during the 80s, and the Windows-dominated 90s.
In the early days, the lab simply offered access to computers, scanners, and printers for completing projects and learning basic coding skills. The labs featured scanners and graphic design software, as well as a gateway to the powerful research resource the World Wide Web meant.
Students gained great experience with new technologies and interactive materials. These not only prepared them for technical careers but also for the digital future that we’re living in. Moreover, these computer labs became a social gathering place where students gathered to complete assignments and it quickly became a cultural element of many universities.
The rise of mobile devices in schools
Today, however, we’re reaching the end of the computer lab era. This is in part due to the rise of mobile devices, and their affordability. Students carry more computing power in their pockets and wrists than any computer lab back in the 80s combined! What’s more, these devices are becoming cheap, and extremely personalized.
As a result, the computer lab has given way to the BYOD (bring your own device) tendency and the inclusion of non-stationary computers at schools. Universities expect every student to have a laptop today, and many high schools are giving devices to newcomers. Even elementary schools now have tablets as a standard teaching tool in their classrooms.
Welcome virtual labs and laptop lockers
Nowadays, more advanced ways of including devices are appearing, some universities are even creating virtual labs, where users can install software from the lab server onto their own laptops, or log into virtual machines that provide all tools the class might need, on the student’s laptop.
In the case of schools with computers labs, the mobile alternatives are laptop lockers and mobile computing carts. These provide laptops tailored to each classroom’s needs. Students simply pick up a device when class starts, and log into their personalized cloud access.
The social scene has shifted out of the computer lab and into the Internet Café, with wireless and cellular access everywhere. Students are no longer bound to a location, but can do their work anywhere they wish.
The road ahead
Universities must adapt to this new era, packed with personal devices and shifting challenges. We no longer lab assistants who keep software updated. Teach each student to do this by themselves on their devices. Students are learning faster than we think. They have access to guides, walk-through videos, and online classes.
Class tools went online, homework now lives in the cloud. As a result, administration challenges are shifting to things like authentication management, access control, and mobile device management. IT teams now need to adapt to these issues and focus on delivering better experiences, without compromising their or their student’s data, or the device’s security.
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PS: If your institution has a mobile fleet, or is looking to make the switch into a fully mobile environment, we can help organize and secure Chromebooks, iPads, laptops, and other devices under a single platform. Learn more about our management solution and security solution.