Computer Labs – Necessary?

I was musing on the subway this morning about our computer lab — actually we have two of them. They take up a lot of space and of course are resource-intensive, needing continual upgrades in hardware and software. Does anyone still think we will need them in say, five years time?

Most of our students now have laptops. They’re more ubiquitous than ever and getting smaller, lighter and with longer battery life. And of course our students are more IT-literate than ever before — and that will only increase. Our libraries are wireless. Printing is wireless. In the future I don’t think we will need special rooms full of computers for students who will all have their own mobile devices. A few scattered computers will take care of occasional access needs.

What I say goes also for ‘hands-on’ training. Does anything think we will need to do that in the future? We started this way back in the 1980s with the first introduction of word-processing and CDROMs. Students really did need hands-on instruction – and with much that we would laugh at now like where to click the mouse (not on the screen) and how to save to disk. A multiplicity of platforms and search languages with the early CDROMs and online services continued the need for hands-on instruction. But now? With students who grow up from infancy knowing how to trawl the Web and online message? Do we really need to get them to follow an instructor inputting case-names into a box? And if anyone thinks we do – well, why can’t that be done in one of our increasingly electronic classrooms, with students using their own computers. Loaners available for those few without.



  1. In my first year at university, my friend Martin Stanley signed up for a course run over 4 weekends with an American company with an odd name Xerox, so that he would be able to run the automated copier that the Oxford Union had installed. It was one of 2 such machines in the university. Martin got a certificate he could hang on his wall.
    He was shown how to add thermographic paper, and change toner, and generally avoid being electrocuted.
    We wouldn’t sign up, since we never thought it would be necessary to learn a skill that took 4 weekends.
    Within 3 years, we’d simply moved forwards to the point where it would have been an anachronism to say we couldn’t use the tool unless we had gone through exhaustive and time-consuming training.
    Shouldn’t Nick’s labs be used for pushing out the boundaries of what’s possible, building new platforms and exploring new ways of organizing information, not dedicated to catch-up remedial learning.

  2. In response to your query about computer training, I would agree students are becoming more computer literate, but do not see a corresponding improvement in their ability to do research electronically. I expect our articling students are representative of students across Canada, and it is with some dismay that we review their search syntax, choices of databases, etc. I would suggest the training has to change, but that training is still essential. In fact, it is more essential as students and lawyers prefer electronic research to hard-copy methods. How you do it (virtual classrooms) is less important that what is being taught. We have a computer training room in our firm although everyone has a desktop or laptop; I still use that for training as everyone benefits from a group setting still.

  3. I think that’s right Brenda, but you don’t need a half-million dollar lab, and all the incidental hardware and software updates to get them doing that.
    Indeed today, all you really need is a web connection.
    And the labs tended to get in the way of instruction in the strategy of CALR rather than its mechanics.
    I think we may have made a mistake in entrusting too much of this training to the vendor representatives – although I concede that it is tempting just to let them get on with it.