Students are gathered around a 3D printer anxiously waiting for their creation to be finished. A pair of relieved students are watching a robot pick up a cup, just as they had programmed. At the beginning of a new school construction project, it's exciting envisioning what the school will look like and how its modern updates will support students for the years ahead. When planning for new technical education labs within the school, it's tempting to dive into researching ideas for cutting-edge technology and putting together an equipment list right away.
However, before jumping to those steps, it is crucial to begin with the end in mind by comprehensively evaluating how instructors and students will use new tech ed labs. Conversations need to occur with school administration and, most importantly, the instructors who will frequently be using the lab.
The purpose of these discussions is to:
- Uncover the school's learning goals for the lab
- Understand how the lab will integrate into the curriculum
It's most effective to host focus group-style sessions so that everyone who will be involved in using the lab can hear each other's ideas and perspectives.
Here are seven questions to ask to get the conversation started:
- What is your vision for the lab?
- What are your teaching or research goals?
- How will the lab help in those goals?
- How will the lab contribute to state and national curriculum standards?
- What activities will take place in the lab?
- Who will be using the lab?
- What support do you have for running the lab?
Like most planning sessions, giving everyone a chance to share their opinions is highly beneficial. You'll get different viewpoints, some you might not have considered, and you'll hopefully prevent new ideas from coming up later in the construction process when changes can cost money or time.
After the planning sessions, you will have a more detailed vision for the lab, and you'll have greater assurance that the lab design will be successful. From here, you can get together a list of the best equipment for the lab's goals—that students and instructors will use and that will last. (We've seen too many labs with equipment that instructors don't use or equipment that has broken down).
The learning goals for the lab and related equipment may also impact the architectural designs or construction plans, particularly when it comes to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing specifications within the layout. It's much better for the budget and timeline when you know about these implications before walls go up. (We've seen this too. Missing vents, electrical outlets, and water supplies needed for new equipment purchases).
Building a new school and the tech ed labs within it will undeniably advance vital training for students. Outfitting labs with the right equipment will give instructors the technology they deserve to teach 21st-century skills. Taking these steps to thoroughly plan a lab upfront will ensure a sustainable and rewarding lab for the school.