The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an evolving process; its impact on schools continues to be felt. There is nothing in the “ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities” (ADAAG) or in the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards that specifically relates to science facilities. Thus, specific applications require judgment on the part of the facility planner.
In 1999, when the NSTA Guide to School Science Facilities was published, it recommended providing desktop computers on rolling carts in the classroom (Biehle, Motz, and West 1999). It suggested adding 15 square feet
of space per computer to accommodate these carts. It also noted that some schools were moving toward using laptop computers. Schools spent thousands of dollars wiring their buildings so that computers could talk to each other and, eventually, to the Internet. Today, most school computers are laptops and most new installations have wireless networks.
Rapid technological advances such as these present a challenge to those renovating or building new classroom spaces. Anything we plan today may be obsolete in the one and a half to two years that it generally takes to get a building designed and built. Those involved with designing the space must know what technology is available, but more importantly, what technology will be available.
Cutting-edge technology such as interactive whiteboards, PDAs, and
BlackBerry-enabled cell phones are becoming more common in the classroom, but the following are also on their way:
A thin, wall-size, plasma screen, as described in Bill Gates’ book, The Road Ahead (1995), that serves as both an electronic whiteboard and multimedia center.
Tablet PCs for the teacher and students linked wirelessly to the plasma screen. Students could solve a problem from the comfort of their seats
without standing in front of the class, and the teacher could comment on the work in progress for all to see.
A holographic projector could allow students to walk through the chambers of the heart.
How then, should we plan for technology advances that we don’t have now, but probably will have by the time our buildings are complete? Mark Kesling, technology director for The Orchard School in Indianapolis, Indiana, uses the following process:
Decide what you want teachers and students to be able to do in the new
space, and then budget for the technology you’ll need to make it possible.
Stay on top of what’s coming down the road (read industry magazines, talk to others involved with technology, attend relevant workshops, speak to equipment and software vendors and developers), but keep the brakes on until you are sure it will work. At the same time, use your imagination: Projecting a holographic image of the human heart may seem pretty far-fetched until you think about what a wonderful teaching tool this might be.
Adapt the technology plan as the new building and its spaces evolve and as the professional development of teachers progresses. The role of the tech person is to listen and then make recommendations throughout the process. All potential users should be queried, including students (who are usually further up the technology learning curve than we are). Listen to unlikely advisors: parents, construction workers, and custodians. Allow yourself the luxury of saying “I don’t know” and ask for help when needed.
Communicate the technology plan and its adaptations to all affected parties throughout the process. A small, seemingly insignificant decision can turn into a huge political nightmare if you don’t communicate properly throughout the process.
About six months out from the completion of the construction, the new technology equipment should be ordered. Money needs to be reserved for change orders like hanging brackets, cabling, and jacks that were missed or unanticipated during the planning process.
Following an imaginative, yet disciplined plan such as Mark’s can help assure that most of the technology you install will serve the needs defined by the users for the foreseeable future.
Biehle, J.T., L.L. Motz, and S.S. West. 1999. NSTA Guide to School Science Facilities. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association. Gates, B. 1995. The road ahead. New York: Viking.
This article originally appeared in the September 1, 2006 issue of Science Scope.