Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab

16 Feb

The following question was posed by one of my blog readers:

I love your site and all the valuable information you put out to help others. I wish I would of found it sooner. Thank You!

I have a question and would love your insight ... I teach lower school Computer Class to grades 1-4 at a private school in Columbus, Ohio. Our Technology Vision for 2015 is to get the students out of the computer lab, where they now learn computer skills based on classroom themes, and move me into the classroom where I would be the “technology integration teacher” alongside the classroom teacher. I would help with Smartboard, Ipad, laptop lessons integration, etc. I think this is a good idea and have been told that this is the trend in education but have not gotten real clarity on why and how this transition should take place.

Here are my questions: Do you see the benefit of technology integration into classrooms as I stated above? Is this the trend in education? If so why and how do you make this big transition? My feeling is that students need to learn computer skills such as formatting a document, searching the web, tools within PowerPoint, etc…This is much easier in a lab setting than classroom. Should we have both a lab and an itinerant technology integration teacher?

I get this question often, not to mention how many times it pops up on my tech teacher forums and Nings. Tech teachers as a group are struggling with their future role: Are they to teach computer skills or are they to integrate technology into classroom units of inquiry. These are two disparate functions and as my reader suggests, their goals are accomplished differently.

  • To teach a technology curriculum that–as ISTE suggests–prepares students to be digital citizens, requires a gamut of skills not always conducive to classroom units. I can force almost any technology unit (say, Excel formulas) into a classroom topic, but it’s not always best suited there. And, if the classroom teacher wants to use Excel formulas in a math unit, I need time to teach the pre-skills that prepare students to use the program (page layout, toolbars, a lovely unit I have on drawing in Excel that painlessly teaches its use).
  • So much of moving tech into the classroom depends on the skills of the grade level teacher. If s/he doesn’t know how to use Glogster or create a trifold, how will those projects get finished?
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a class set of computers in each classroom, then you move your tech training into the class. If not–how do you efficiently teach five students at a time? Most of us don’t have the time in our schedule. And what if the classroom teacher considers the time you’re in her classroom as ‘planning time’ and leaves? Then what’s the sense of moving into the classroom?

Teaching in the lab emphasizes the skills-based nature of a program. Moving technology into the classroom re-forms it as a project-based approach to support classroom inquiry with a multitude of demands on the classroom teacher to understand your field. One approach is a separate class (like Spanish and PE) with a curriculum. The other is a resource for classroom units. Philosophically, they are night and day.

And what about keyboarding? Students need to learn the proper way to type so they can efficiently and effectively complete the work of classroom tie-ins.

My goal as a tech teacher has always been to inspire a student’s imagination–share the exciting tools that technology offers so students can select what works for them. I want them to see how Publisher magazines are prepared, Google Earth book tours work, Scratch videos created. Then, when the need arises–when they’re asked to communicate their thoughts–they can select which option works best for their particular learning style. This is student-directed, student-led learning. What could be more exciting? Each year, I follow a curriculum that meets ISTE standards and the needs of the IB program (my school is an IB International School). Like any subject curriculum, this is set up in advance. It is my roadmap to success. It can be adjusted–and is–but not tossed out. As the Captain of my ship, I need a path to success, not just a meandering route.

This issue is far from resolved and not one I’ve made up my mind about, so I posed it to my efriends over at Elementary Tech Teachers. Here are some of the thoughtful answers I got:

My question has always been how do you do a quality job teaching tech skills on top of all of the other requirements and prep time classroom teachers have. And, if you integrate tech into the homeroom why not music and art and all of the other specials that they currently have to provide their prep time.

Now, I go back far enough that my teacher training program included the specialties and my first probably ten years of self-contained classroom teaching, I taught all subjects, and I mean all subjects. There were no preps during the school day; you were expected to come in before the students and stay after. So, it could be done, but not with the same expertise that specials teachers bring to their subjects.

Ideally, if you’re going to integrate, it should be a collaborative effort – classroom teachers working with specials to integrate their content with technology or art or music, etc. The snag? Again, so all classroom teachers want to give up their time for collaborative planning. An alternative that works is curriculum mapping. Mapping provides a resource for specials teachers to follow and integrate classroom content into their skills areas without monopolizing teacher time.

This is the chicken or the egg argument and as long as contracts rather than educational process dictate how teacher time is scheduled. . .


I have been both a classroom teacher and a computer teacher. My two cents says leave the tech training in the lab. The classroom teacher has too many preps already. What I am trying to encourage at my school is to let me do the basic training so that all of the students (550+) will have been introduced to the same things and then the classroom teacher can expand on what I have taught. I live in Texas and we have state mandates called TEKS. I cannot imagine how the classroom teacher could get all of the tech TEKS done with only 2-4 classroom computers.


I also live in Texas and if you think you are going to intefere with teacher prep times,beware. Our district has gone to C-Scope this year and from where I am standing its a lot. I feel for the self-contained teachers because they have all the subjects to contend with instead of one. I teach computer skills in the lab, so when the teacher comes with her class to lab, students can fairly use the program that they need to work in. Our classrooms can only accommodate 3 student computers due to connectivity issues. (old school) so classroom setting would not help.


This is a great question and one that I struggle with. I call myself a “Computer Literacy” teacher. I do try to integrate skills at an appropriate time with what is happening in the classroom but the timing does not always work. Project are very challenging when you see students once a week for 50 minutes and students miss classes due to music lessons, vacation and illness.

Also, I think that keyboarding is a very important skill and it will become more important as standardized testing moves to computers and students have to do writing assessments by typing. I also think that keyboarding skills are tremendously important for all students but especially for special education students who can most benefit from features in word processors such as spell checkers.


I find keyboarding the most difficult piece of the puzzle. Where 3rd graders should be starting a more rigorous approach to typing skills, I can’t do it because I’m trying to tie into classroom units on water and Missions et al. I have yet to solve this one.

What are your thoughts?

PS: If you’d like to pose a question to Ask a Tech Teacher, there’s a form in the blog’s sidebar.

–This article first on Innovate My School (Feb. 2012)

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, will be out this summer. Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.


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  1. Janet AbercrombieNo Gravatar

    August 1, 2012 at 12:01 am

    From a classroom teacher’s perspective…

    You’re absolutely right that the difference is one of philosophy. School tech philosophy is one of the BEST questions to ask in an interview.

    As a teacher, I can work with both philosophies – but I need to know which one I’m dealing with. In general, if I see a computer lab, I suspect I’m looking at a school that views tech as separate single class.

    In order for the “push-in” model to work, tech teachers need intentional planning time with classroom teachers. They need to understand the units of study so that they can suggest ways in which learning will be enhanced through technology. Classroom teachers must commit to setting aside instructional time so that the tech teacher can front-load the tech skills necessary.

    Classroom and tech teacher collaboration are ideal in a school with the first philosophy (the tech teachers can plan lessons that can be applied to the classroom). Classroom and tech teacher collaboration is essential in the school with the second philosophy.

    • Jacqui MurrayNo Gravatar

      August 1, 2012 at 7:50 am

      What’s usually missing in my experience is that time with the classroom teacher. Without it, lessons become skills-based. I grab time via emails and passing in the teacher’s lounge. Rarely can I get them to sit down with me (I have one excception–4th grade team. Wonderful!)

    • Jeff HerbNo Gravatar

      November 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm

      I definitely agree with you, Janet. That common planning time is so essential to the success of technology integration as a ‘push-in’ model. I have written about this a few ways and the motto always seems to be that technology for the sake of technology is not effective. Without planning lessons together (teacher and tech facilitator), the lesson will seem fragmented from the technology. That is not a viable or sustainable to teach either the content or the technology.

      Great post and great comment.

      • Jacqui MurrayNo Gravatar

        November 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm

        Went over to visit your website, Jeff. You have some great material there.

        Thanks for stopping by.

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