Many math classes benefit from occasionally being held in a computer lab. My question is about the pros and cons of different layouts and mechanics of a lab and "solutions" you have found to be effective and the ones you thought did not work.

Here are some of issues and concerns:

1- What practical setup fosters collaboration in a lab environment?

2- How to engage the students and reduce distractions?

3- Are large TVs a good substitute for projection systems?

Regarding collaborative lab layouts: If students are to huddle and help each other and discuss problems then the traditional layout by rows is not that convenient. However using circular tables prevents students from seeing the instructor at the board. Have you come across a design for a lab layout that you found particularly effective?

Have you used the the "plus/cross" table design? (I have seen such designs where 4 tables are arranged in the shape of a plus sign, with six chairs per table. The instructor station is at the intersection/mid point of tables. There are four projection screens.) What are the issues you faced when using these new "cross-shaped" designs?

If you use movable tables how do solve the problem of having power to the table without creating the danger of students tripping on the power cables?

On reducing distractions:

To explain, I find that as soon as students are in front a computer they feel compelled to check their email or view a random video. How do you solve the resulting distraction problem? One solution that comes to mind is to have a common power button for all monitors that at the discretion of instructor will turn all monitors off. Another solution is to have a software that allows instructor to see and project student's screen on the projection screen. What works and what does not work?

Another solution is to use desks that allow monitors to be hidden until needed (monitor is flipped into the desk or lowered below table top). This style appears to give the advantage of having a dual-use class. When computers are needed they come out and when they are not needed they are out of view. Have you used such furniture? What are the pros and cons (other than the expense)?

Have you used a large TV in class in place of a projector? How do you compare the two? Have you used a set of 2 or 4 TVs to duplicate the size of a typical projection screen? What software did you use and how do you evaluate it?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't have a complete answer for you, but I do kind of challenge your second paragraph: university students are adults. If they choose to use time in the computer lab to check their Twitters and MyFaces, and they do so without distracting anyone else, that is their prerogative. Frankly, it is no worse than their use of clever phones in class (which is also quite annoying). $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Maesumi I edited in the corresponding tags. $\endgroup$
    – Tommi
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 20:19

1 Answer 1


I think a fancy lab like you are talking about is kind of a dinosaur of the past. It requires a person to maintain it (maybe even an attendant) and a lot of effort on scheduling...unless you make the whole school a lab which is cost prohibitive and a waste. I really only see labs like this for dedicated classes and then the needs of the specific class drive it (not a use by several classes). Even then, I generally just see a set of networked PCs at conference tables (e.g. RBN school of energy) and generally very high fees for the class for something like that make it a wash...works in corporate setting but not good fit for a school.

If you want to have students work on the computer, ask them to bring a laptop. If there are any who lack one, than they can work with a classmate. This is actually much closer to what almost all of them will do in a work setting (work on a laptop).

I don't think there is anything wrong with telling them not to use the Internet or email during the class though. Would you let a kid read the newspaper in your class? I would kick him out. (Don't underestimate the effect on other students...we are social monkeys, not AynRandian robots.)

By the way, the more you can work with common programs the better. Excel actually has huge amounts of functionality. And is so, so, sooo common in work environments. R is free. Etc. If it doesn't do what you need, issue a specific formula or program.

Don't underestimate the time spent and confusion factor generated with incorporating technology into math classes. I have seen this come a cropper since at least the 80s. It sounds so easy and important...but then the kids doing ODE with computers hate it and learn less than the kids doing regular ODEs. Just watch out.


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