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Tips for teaching in a computer lab


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#1 hejduk

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 03:25 AM

I'm used to teaching in a "normal" classroom (students in chairs with prof at front of class), but now I'm teaching a class in a computer lab. The course is something I haven't taught before, which is a struggle, but also getting used to a new physical setup is tough as well.

I'm teaching a course introducing the students to software, and the majority of them are quite new to all the software we cover. The room is a square shape, and the computers run along the wall, facing away from the projector screen. When I teach, I sit literally next to a student, and therefore can't "hide" my notes in my PP if I'm using one. I typically will have the software on the projection screen, and stand beside it with a laser pointer showing the various tools, etc. It's tough getting everyone to pay attention, as the students in the back of the class are sitting at their computer with their backs to me. To get everyones attention, I must literally make them turn around in thier chairs so they can see me. (Seriously, the lab needs to be setup in rows facing the projector screen, but there's not enough room to do so. A really, really bad teaching setup.)

The lab meets once a week for an hour and forty minutes. The demonstration of software usually lasts for the first fifteen minutes of class, and the rest of class students work on software related exercises. I spend the rest of class going around and answering questions, showing software shortcuts, etc.

For those that teach in a computer lab environment, do you have any tips? Or if you understand the teaching setup I'm facing, any tips on how better to demonstrate software?
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#2 fuzzylogician

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 03:45 AM

I've never taught in a lab but I did take a couple of classes like that (computer skills, given in lab which is less-than-ideally structured) when I was an undergraduate. The most useful tool our instructors had was the ability to control our computers from their station: they could "hijack" our computers so we couldn't play around instead of paying attention to what was going on in the front of the class. The software they used had two options, both of which were useful in different contexts - they could either "freeze" the computer so we couldn't use it at all, or they could project the presentation on our screens, so people in the back who didn't have a good view of the front of the class could see everything that was being demonstrated. Maybe your lab has a similar software? If not, maybe you could get your students to all sit in the front, away from the computer, for the first part of the class? It didn't sound like they need to take notes to maybe they could even sit on the floor, if there is not enough space for chairs. If they are all sitting in front of you and no one can see what is on your computer screen, that should make it easier to use the presenter's tool too.
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The advice in this post is based on my own personal experience. YMMV.
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#3 hejduk

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 03:57 AM

I can always expect you to come up with a good reply (nothing like the Chronicle's forums, which I disastrously experienced earlier today, but that's another story). We don't have that software, but I'll definitely look into it. I think having them all turn around and move their chairs to the front, or closer to me, is a great idea. It gets them closer to me, and hopefully more engaged. It also gets my message through, as I'm not talking to the back of student's heads.

They aren't required to take notes, and most of them do not. The nature of the class is somewhat "self discovery" and learning through just playing with the software.

Again, excellent idea!

Edited by hejduk, 19 September 2011 - 03:57 AM.

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#4 adinutzyc

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 05:47 AM

OK, I have never ever taught a class before, and I can understand if you feel that this reply isn't useful, but why do you worry so much about it? If they want to learn the software they will pay attention. If they don't, they might go online. I absolutely see no biggie here. If they don't disturb the class and their peers, they might as well check their email. Or maybe they take notes on the laptops they use? The point is, they are presumably grown-ups and there to learn. If they don't pay attention, it has absolutely noting to do with you. Also, some people, like me, are better at multitasking (pay attention and do something else, maybe even take notes in word). As long as they don't type loudly, burst out laughing, or distract their peer's attention with their screen, then they can do whatever.
Also, if the purpose of the class is to learn software, well, then they should be at the computer with the program open, ready to start fiddling with the program you're teaching them. Maybe keep your presentation short, and then give them a problem to solve- you learn better by doing than by just seeing. Why would you want them to move away from the computer so they can't try what you're teaching them on the computer, on the spot, so they can ask you questions if they don't get it? If they just see you do it, they won't learn a thing (there is actually a study that proved that interactive tutorials are way better than just watch tutorials, though I don't have a citation)
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#5 hejduk

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 03:49 PM

OK, I have never ever taught a class before, and I can understand if you feel that this reply isn't useful, but why do you worry so much about it? If they want to learn the software they will pay attention. If they don't, they might go online. I absolutely see no biggie here. If they don't disturb the class and their peers, they might as well check their email. Or maybe they take notes on the laptops they use? The point is, they are presumably grown-ups and there to learn. If they don't pay attention, it has absolutely noting to do with you. Also, some people, like me, are better at multitasking (pay attention and do something else, maybe even take notes in word). As long as they don't type loudly, burst out laughing, or distract their peer's attention with their screen, then they can do whatever.
Also, if the purpose of the class is to learn software, well, then they should be at the computer with the program open, ready to start fiddling with the program you're teaching them. Maybe keep your presentation short, and then give them a problem to solve- you learn better by doing than by just seeing. Why would you want them to move away from the computer so they can't try what you're teaching them on the computer, on the spot, so they can ask you questions if they don't get it? If they just see you do it, they won't learn a thing (there is actually a study that proved that interactive tutorials are way better than just watch tutorials, though I don't have a citation)


Don't take this as an attack, but your methodology is actually the reverse of what I'd pursue. I've taught as the solo instructor now for several semesters, and getting students engaged is one of my greatest priorities. Students may say intially they would rather be in front of computer and not be bothered, but after several semesters of informal research, as well as in-class observation, I feel quite comfortable in stating that my students, at least, would much rather be engaged. Getting them engaged is quite the process, but just having them sit in front of computer with no class interaction is quite the fruitless pursuit. Yes, they are there to learn software, but they are also there to be engaged and to be part of a classroom. Technology is not the savior of education, but rather another obstacle I have to overcome in order to get my students to pay attention. After surveying endless students, I can also say that my students love the fact I ban cellphones and laptops and in my classes. They are overwhelmed with technology, and welcome my class period as a refuge for learning and disconnecting from technology (albeit briefly).

Student evals, unfortunately, have much sway too, which makes it even more necessary for students to feel engaged. Literally, my TAship depends on getting decent evals. I will do whatever I can within reason and resources to make sure students are challenged, and not just sitting in front of a computer for almost 2-hours.

It is my responsibility as an instructor and mentor to make sure my students get as much as they can. While learning software is an objective, it is by no means the only objective in my classroom. I'm not here to do the easy thing in class and just let my students slide through; I'm here to push them, make them feel uncomfortable, and help them learn as much as I can.

Edited by hejduk, 19 September 2011 - 03:51 PM.

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#6 long_time_lurker

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 09:43 PM

Hmm Hejduk we may be in the same school and department because I teach in a lab just like yours!!

The first 20 minutes I teach them at a whiteboard and they sit in the middle of the room. Then I let them go to the PC's and I do the demonstration. I have the same issue, the instructor computer is at the end of the students' row. At least I can move the monitor and I have a wireless keyboard and clicker. So I typically stay in the middle and work off those. We have software called Insight where I can spy on the students but honestly I really don't do that. The key for me is I give them a brief assignment to do in lab and submit on their way out. This way it behooves them to pay attention and I get a little artifact to base their lab grade on (and yes, I make it very easy for me to grade so I am not swimming in paper!)
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#7 juilletmercredi

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Posted 05 November 2011 - 07:24 AM

I also have my students sit in the front for the first 10 minutes or so, and discuss questions and issues about the week's homework assignment or the lectures that were given (labs follow lecture). Then I allow them to disperse to their computers.

And as for the other point by adinutzyc, if they do not want to learn the software they are free to not come to my class. Nobody is forcing them to show up or even to register for this class, but if they are going to come and expect to get the credit they need to be paying attention. It seems like no big deal from your end, but when you actually are faced with a crew of 20 people if even 5 of them are not paying attention it disrupts the class. First of all, those 5 are likely to miss some material, which means they look up 15 minutes later and ask me a question I've already answered when everyone else is paying attention. That keeps me from moving forward. Not only that, but the 5 multiply quickly. If students don't see us addressing Facebooking during class with the first person, it quickly snowballs. They begin to think that I don't really care if they are paying attention (or don't notice) and more begin doing it.

Not to mention that there are always those students who will mess around online, get their first midterm back, and then go complain to the dean about how they didn't do well. That creates hassle for me and the professor. They are "presumably" grown-ups, but I TA at a university where the majority of undergrads are 18-22 years old and just out of high school. They are still learning what it means to be a grown-up. They are also students who are used to showing up and getting an A just for showing up. As their TA - and a future teacher, hopefully - I feel that it's also my responsibility to show them that that's not going to fly anymore.

Besides all of that, it's disrespectful and annoying. If you are such an adult who doesn't want to pay attention in class, go do something else. Nobody's forcing you to be here.
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#8 l.greg45

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Posted 29 November 2011 - 12:45 AM

The room is a square shape, and the computers run along the wall, facing away from the projector screen. When I teach, I sit literally next to a student, and therefore can't "hide" my notes in my PP if I'm using one. I typically will have the software on the projection screen, and stand beside it with a laser pointer showing the various tools, etc. It's tough getting everyone to pay attention..
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#9 peterson86

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Posted 09 December 2011 - 11:32 AM

Thanks a lot i was searching for this for very long time, actually i recently join this forum and i hope got lot of such useful information in future.



I'm used to teaching in a "normal" classroom (students in chairs with prof at front of class), but now I'm teaching a class in a computer lab. The course is something I haven't taught before, which is a struggle, but also getting used to a new physical setup is tough as well.

I'm teaching a course introducing the students to software, and the majority of them are quite new to all the software we cover. The room is a square shape, and the computers run along the wall, facing away from the projector screen. When I teach, I sit literally next to a student, and therefore can't "hide" my notes in my PP if I'm using one. I typically will have the software on the projection screen, and stand beside it with a laser pointer showing the various tools, etc. It's tough getting everyone to pay attention, as the students in the back of the class are sitting at their computer with their backs to me. To get everyones attention, I must literally make them turn around in thier chairs so they can see me. (Seriously, the lab needs to be setup in rows facing the projector screen, but there's not enough room to do so. A really, really bad teaching setup.)

The lab meets once a week for an hour and forty minutes. The demonstration of software usually lasts for the first fifteen minutes of class, and the rest of class students work on software related exercises. I spend the rest of class going around and answering questions, showing software shortcuts, etc.

For those that teach in a computer lab environment, do you have any tips? Or if you understand the teaching setup I'm facing, any tips on how better to demonstrate software?


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#10 long_time_lurker

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 02:59 PM

If you are such an adult who doesn't want to pay attention in class, go do something else. Nobody's forcing you to be here.


I missed it, but I vote this for Post of the Month!!
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#11 pondersaizi

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Posted 31 January 2012 - 12:45 AM

1st year undergrads can be so vicious. I think many of them feel that TA's are *just* students that stand in the way of their brilliance, and that the professor would never ever give them a bad grade because they would understand what a genius they are.
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#12 wheatGrass

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 12:17 AM

I'm going to put the issue of whether you should actively try to engage these students aside--you clearly want them to pay attention to what you're showing them on the projector and feel like it is worth some effort to encourage this.
Could you just ask them to turn off their monitors while you're speaking/demonstrating? It should be pretty easy for you to see who isn't complying, especially in a darkened room. I did this when I taught younger people in computer labs and it worked really well.
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#13 heyles

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Posted 12 March 2012 - 01:07 AM

Don't take this as an attack, but your methodology is actually the reverse of what I'd pursue. I've taught as the solo instructor now for several semesters, and getting students engaged is one of my greatest priorities. Students may say intially they would rather be in front of computer and not be bothered, but after several semesters of informal research, as well as in-class observation, I feel quite comfortable in stating that my students, at least, would much rather be engaged. Getting them engaged is quite the process, but just having them sit in front of computer with no class interaction is quite the fruitless pursuit. Yes, they are there to learn software, but they are also there to be engaged and to be part of a classroom. Technology is not the savior of education, but rather another obstacle I have to overcome in order to get my students to pay attention. After surveying endless students, I can also say that my students love the fact I ban cellphones and laptops and in my classes. They are overwhelmed with technology, and welcome my class period as a refuge for learning and disconnecting from technology (albeit briefly).


Applause! Cannot agree more.

You may check out Jose Bowen's "Teaching Naked" pedagogy. He teaches a blended class (half online, half face-to-face meetings) and during the face-to-face time, he bans technology. This may be hard to do since you're teaching computer software, but his stuff may give you some ideas. :D
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#14 TeaGirl

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 05:53 PM

I teach labs. Both actual labs and computer labs (software and programming). I have found that it's useful to divide the class into segments of brief 10 minute "explanation" time followed by a "do it yourself" time without me telling them what to do, and repeat. That way, when you need to explain something, you have them turn toward you and give you their attention. You can have a small note book or papers handy if you like. Breaking the explanation up with them working on their own for a quick assignment or goal tends keeps them more motivated in class.

One thing that I've found to be true across the board, is that if you do the work on the projector and have them follow along (rather than have them do it independently) tends to turn students into mindless bored zombies automatically clicking what you are clicking, rather than actually thinking and being engaged.
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#15 Pauli

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 07:33 PM

I split mine into teams of two or three.
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