Selecting the Best Computer Furniture for Your Classroom
- By Wilson Troup
- October 1st, 2002
When it comes to furnishing a technology classroom, the overriding selection criteria must be quality. This is generally defined as furniture that functions smoothly and looks attractive with regular maintenance for up to two decades. Most education technology decision makers have no interest in replacing furniture more frequently because of the substantial portion of their budgets that must always be allocated to upgrading hardware and software.
If you will be promoting the classroom as a public showcase for your commitment to educational technology, select furnishings with long-term eye appeal. Start with seating. You can choose molded plastic or fiberglass shells in rich, basic colors that complement any color scheme. If budget allows, you can add more color, texture and visual appeal by upholstering the shell.
You can further enhance your room’s appearance through your selection of worktable materials. For example, if your room’s decor is predominantly wood, you extend the look by choosing wood grain laminates for the tabletop and modesty panels. Other options include selecting complementary colors for the seating shells and tabletops or the tabletop trim molding. The trim also protects the table edges, enhancing its long-term appearance. You can also order flip-up tabletop connection boxes in colors.
It’s doubtful that you want your showcase classroom to have tangles of power cables, data and audio wires easily visible. In small computer labs, you can conceal these wires and cables inside wall-mounted raceways and locate tables near the walls. But, for larger rooms with worktables and chairs positioned in lecture-style configurations, consider installing a complete power/data delivery system featuring “beneath the floor” channels.
Versatility Vs. Permanence
Showcase classroom or not, you must decide how important it is for students to be able to reconfigure the room. The least versatile, but perhaps most popular, approach is to have tables and seats permanently mounted to the floor. A slight variation on this theme, which still allows for the use of battery-powered laptops, is to select permanently mounted seats with folding tablet arms rather than tabletops.
If you want to take advantage of the built-in wire management systems but still give students more freedom of movement, have tables permanently installed and choose task-style seating on casters or stackable chairs that can be moved.
To provide full room versatility, purchase high-quality, portable, tables and chairs so the room can be rearranged. This does require a more flexible and perhaps less secure power and data delivery plan.
Many colleges are opting for worktables with seats mounted on swing-arm assemblies attached to the floor and the table frame. This allows students to swing the seat out and away from the table in order to sit and stand comfortably. The seats automatically return to the table when the occupant leaves. When developing the floor plan for this type of system, recommend a minimum riser depth of 41 in. so there is room for a student to swing it out and sit down comfortably and for other students to pass by.
The ability to lean back in any chair is a tremendous comfort factor and also enables students to make adjustments in the distance between their eyes and the computer screen. To provide this feature, select molded plastic seating with an enclosed, protected, flex back mechanism in the frame.
Students still carry books, files, computer disks and laptop cases, and they need enough space on the tabletop to accommodate these items. While most standard classroom tables have 18-in.-deep tops, you can order technology classroom tables with tops up to 30 in. deep. This requires you to work with the manufacturer, the architect and the interior designer to create a floor plan that accommodates the desired number of students while allowing sufficient space between each row for students to move about.
The Durability Factor
Long-term durability largely results from good product design. For example, swing-arm seating mechanisms, folding tablet arms, tilt springs in seat backs or pneumatic bases must be engineered for consistent, smooth, silent operation. As a good rule of thumb, the products that feature full movement while using the fewest moving parts reduce the need for repair and replacement.
Many products meet the quality definition because they have metal understructures that can withstand being kicked and exposed to mud, water and salt without scratching or rusting.
You don’t want to frequently repaint metal parts, so choose furniture with metal that has been coated with paint that has been laboratory and field tested for long-term scratch, chip and rust resistance.
Your staff can clean a room with permanently mounted furniture and hidden cable channels in much less time than required to move dozens of pieces of loose furniture and miles of cables. If you allow students to sit in upholstered seats, select highly stain resistant fabric or vinyl upholstery.
No discussion of technology classrooms would be complete without acknowledging the widely anticipated shift toward wireless Internet and Intranet connections. As this occurs, it will eliminate the need for data line connections in most rooms, but there is not as much confidence that battery technology will soon reduce the need for electrical power. Your goal when building wired classrooms is to select a wire management system that enables you to disconnect the data lines, leaving the power lines in place. If the need for workstation power ever goes away, those lines can also be removed while the furnishing system is still computer and student friendly.
Wilson Troup is executive vice president of Lake Bluff, Ill.-based Clarin, one the nation’s largest manufacturers and marketers of portable and classroom seating. Visit their Website at .