The task of managing a classroom is compounded when adding computer equipment and software into the mix. Students, while eager to learn, have creative ways of popping keys off keyboards and turning computer monitors upside down when the teacher is not looking. The computer-based classroom is an environment of constant multitasking requiring strong classroom management skills. Strong management begins with setting solid rules, wise configuration and well-planned instruction.

Computer Lab Rules

Establishing strong computer lab rules sets the stage for a successful computer-based class. The school district's acceptable computer-use policy sets the ground rules for computer and Internet use as well as disciplinary procedures. Rules and procedures for entering and leaving the lab, reporting hardware and software issues, printing, gaming and software manipulation are also necessary for a smooth and productive lab. Post rules in the front of the classroom and remind students of them frequently.

Classroom Configuration

Supporting computer lab rules begins with a manageable computer lab configuration. The teacher's ability to easily monitor student productivity and progress will create a well managed classroom. Computer laboratories configured with all student screens facing the front or center of the room allows simultaneous monitoring of all student workstations. For example, a u-shaped configuration allows monitoring of all workstations and creates a central work area for non-computer-based activities. If it is not possible to have all monitors visible, the teacher must circulate the room regularly to ensure student engagement and productivity.

Classroom Management Software

When classroom configuration prohibits a teacher from observing many student screens at a time, classroom management software can bridge the gap. Classroom management software allows teachers to view student screens from one central workstation. In addition to observing student productivity and progress, teachers use the software to send files and presentations to multiple student workstations at once. While the software helps manage the computer classroom, it does not eliminate the need for a teacher to circulate through the room.

Instruction Techniques

Thorough instructional planning will enhance productivity while working in the computer classroom. Lessons in the computer-based classroom involve demonstrating software elements to teach students how to complete specific computer tasks. For example, the teacher may demonstrate a single step in a series to format a letter in a word-processing program. After each demonstration, the teacher gives time for students to complete the illustrated step. In contrast to a traditional non-computer classroom, this type of instruction is dependent on all hardware and software pieces functioning. Teachers should run through instructional portions of a lesson ahead of time to ensure hardware and software work as planned for both the teacher and student workstations. In case of hardware or software failure, have backup plans such as written instructions for students or alternative activities.

Managing Student Participation

Students will often miss instruction because they cannot resist using the computer while the teacher is demonstrating. Develop a phrase or signal to draw students' attention to the demonstration. For example, use a clapping signal to communicate with students. Clap once to gain attention, twice to have students look toward the teacher and three times as a final alert. Develop consequences for those who do not comply. To keep students engaged during the demonstration, keep instruction brief to allow ample time for student practice. Increase student on-task time by allowing students to explore the program to find out how to complete certain tasks. Free up time to work with struggling students by pairing strong students with novices. This allows students to support each other when simple questions arise.