Optimize Productivity At Your Work Station.

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Teacher Station Full Frontal View

Gerry's AZ Teacher's Station

Teachers spend endless hours on their computer these days. Laptops, netbooks, tablets and smart phones facilitate mobility but mitigate productivity. The full blown desktop computer station remains the most optimally productive station for preparation and management of resources. Here are some things that I learned and do, often after significant frustration, that increased my own comfort and productivity. Please add your own comments below so that we can all profit from our pooled experiences.

Summary for those too busy or impatient to read the wonderful prose that follows.

  1. Use two monitors. Place directions on one while implementing those directions on the other.
  2. Use big screens. Reduce toggling by simultaneously viewing the optimum possible content.
  3. Install two TV tuners and use Windows Media Center to manage and record programs.
  4. Make cables & peripherals accessible. Leave all sides of your desk open and unobstructed.
  5. Use a backlit keyboard to better see all keys in the shadows that cloak the keyboard tray.
  6. Use overhanging lighting to ensure that your entire working surface is entirely illuminated.
  7. Place all switches (computer, lights, peripherals) within easy reach while sitting in your chair.
  8. Consider environmentally and fiscally friendly cables. Batteries are toxic and expensive.
  9. Use a power bar and hit the master switch before bed to avoid costly electrical leakage.
  10. Buy the “biggest” hard drive you can afford. Next year’s multimedia will fill it all!
  11. Buy the most RAM you can afford. Volatile memory is the cheapest way to increase speed.
  12. Buy Static RAM (SRAM) over Dynamic RAM (DRAM). It costs more but is many times faster.
  13. Upgrade to the most recent Operating System available. It is friendly and does much more.
  14. Secure your property. Install the latest anti-virus and anti-malware software available.
  15. Preserve your property. Install a hard drive that automatically backs up everything!
  16. Install two HD capable tuners. TIVO (record and playback) broadcasts to your students.
  17. Buy a $100 TV extender and stream all multimedia from your computer to your TV.
  18. Store your computer case in a “CPU caddy” (trolley on wheels) under your desk.
  19. Wear “air travel” compression socks when sitting at the computer for long periods.
  20. Stretch your legs on a foot stool. Elevated feet place less stress on your heart.

The computer is everywhere in a teacher’s life. They use presentation tools to prepare slideshows and quizzes and handouts. The computer has become integrated with lab and learning activities as a development tool because computers leverage every developmental skill int the teacher’s and learner’s arsenal. This begs the question, “What does a productive teaching computer station look like?”

This is one blog that I anticipate updating often in the future.

I begin with my teacher stations. I first used the services of a computer in the 1970’s when I discovered Statistical Package for the Social Science [SPSS]. I remember being enraptured by it. During the early 1970’s I became the custodian of a mini-computer for The Alberta Youth Chess Association (TAYCA) of which I was President at the time. TAYCA bought it to keep the records of our membership. I didn’t have a clue how to use it, but two of our members who were computer programmers declared that they would write a membership records program for it. That never happened. I am not at all sure that we ever did anything productive with the TAYCA mini-computer. We have all since learned that hardware without useful software is pretty useless.

These days I spend 6-12 hours most days at a computer station. I am amazed at productivity value of this amazing tool. Today I communicate with my computer via email, VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol – best known is Skype), SMS (Short Message Service, better known as “texting”), chat (text-based real-time interaction). I watch and record my favourite television programs with a tuner and increasingly through streaming in real time, but also recordings that I make and also which I download as podcasts. I do my accounting with Quicken, wordprocessing with WORD, some number crunching with Excel, photo manipulations with Photoshop and photo organization with Zoombrowser, screencasts with Camtasia Studio, search with Google and Bing, etc. We’ve come a long way since the early 1970’s.

Everybody pays rapt attention to their software, but hardware and furniture is critical for the biomass called humanity to endure using all these applications. I propose that we collectively share what we have individually experienced and learned about how to better use and enjoy our Teacher Computer Station. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to be more comfortable and productive with my teacher stations.

  1. Use the largest monitor(s) that you can fit on your desk. Online documents such as newspapers and magazines cram a lot of print onto a single “page”. You can increase the resolution, but it really helps if you begin with extra real estate to begin with. Today (December 2010) I would settle for nothing less than a 24 inch (screens are measured diagonally “corner to corner”) but plan to use 30+ inch monitors when I next upgrade.
  2. Use multiple monitors. Since 2006 I have used two monitors, but many professionals are using three and four monitors. Following the picture of one of my teaching stations below, I give some reasons for using two or more monitors with your system. If you had a single monitor that was sufficiently large, arguably you could do most (not all though) of the following just as well with multiple windows, but then I would probably want two of those monitors!
    Dual 24" Monitors

    Dual 24 inch Monitors

    1. Run a tutorial on one monitor while implementing the direction and practice on the other monitor. I don’t know about you, but I simply can’t remember everything when I start flipping from one window to another.
    2. Watch television on one monitor while being “productive” on the other monitor. I do this when there is something on television that I really want to watch, but I don’t want to continue a task that I am in the middle of, even though I know that following the television program decreases the rate of my productivity as I switch my focus from one monitor to the other and back again.
    3. Monitor email or Facebook while watching TV or working on another task. Why would anybody do this? Something that I don’t advertise (although, granted, I am mentioning it here) is that I like to respond to teacher’s queries within 24 hours max but ideally within minutes of receiving their email because I know that my advice is much more likely to be welcomed and effective if given in the most timely manner. I often find that if I respond with one or two minutes of receiving an email, the other party and I end up exchanging multiple emails in a brief period. I prefer email over chat when giving advice because I like to take some time, even if brief, to reflect, confirm assumptions before stating them as “factual”, and to take the time to write and revamp the text before clicking “send”.
    4. Do something with a productive activity on one monitor while monitoring a passive activity on another monitor; such a passive activity might be waiting while a series of files upload to a server.
    5. Given a raft of pictures on the left screen, I will view all, then copy choice pictures from the folder on the left screen and paste them to another folder on the right screen.

    MicroSoft has posted a related, informative article interesting article worth checking out: Two monitors are better than one.

  3. Wear compression socks to prevent swollen ankles and tired legs when sitting at the computer more than a couple of hours, the same socks recommended for long air flights, and for the same reasons. Did you know that some people wear compression socks all day? Most of them look like ordinary dress socks, so you could even wear them to class without anyone knowing.

About the Author:

Gerry Donaldson was Calgary’s first high school teacher to use a lab of personal computers. Gerry taught CSE, including CTS, AP and IB Computer Science, for 30 years before teaching and consulting to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary.
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