The following was originally published March 16, 2010 at

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One of the principles I have wavered about over the years was the sanctity of my desk within the classroom. At the beginning of my career it sat front and centre. In time it moved to the back and finally it has been relegated to a corner. The size of the desk varies with allocation. This last move, I requested the smallest desk available. It is still a teacher’s desk. I remember the stony gazes I offered students who dared sit in my comfy chair. A confiscated item was to remain tucked away in the security of an inviolate drawer until I chose to return it. The well-worn zip-binder containing my teacher’s daybook was not to be touched. It is hard to untangle the impulses of privileged status, privacy and confidentiality. In a confined space like a classroom, people need some personal space and a recognition of ownership. In a contemporary classroom governed by flexibility personal space can be difficult to establish.

The impulse to protect the teacher’s space is eroded by pragmatic considerations. Sometimes I invite trespass when I ask a student to retrieve something from my desk; the classroom’s digital camera, a spare scissor or ruler. My Les Nessman-like artificial walls tend to be ignored by all at such moments. The desk and chair are not so much the teacher’s personal space as they are the classroom command centre. The increasing importance of the teacher’s desktop and its hardwired peripherals in the classroom routine shifts everyone’s perspective of ownership significantly.

Consider the picture above. My student obligingly re-enacted his movements (raising the flag on Iwa Jima as it were) so I could illustrate my point. He is shifting the learning center groups and resetting the clock on the ActivBoard flipchart displayed at the front of the room. His body is blocking the Tuner and DVD/VCR hooked into the black tower on the filing cabinet. He got there first. Across the room another boy is frowning at him. He wanted to do the same thing on the ActivBoard. It is hard to control a computer needed by all. Students sit in my chair chatting on Skype or viewing videos and flipchart pages. They take over the computer for classroom presentations. I think I am describing something familiar to you all. If so, then you may also be aware of a growing problem.

The teacher’s desktop has become the management tool for much of my instructional technology. It is also the administrative tool for the school. Students are tracked through the computer through SIRS. Outlook connects staff throughout the division and parents to the classroom teacher. My grades and assessments are compiled there. I am told in the next six months the phone system will be connected to this computer. There will be some issues. I think the teacher’s desktop is going to become the classroom desktop. It may mean a classroom account to replace the teacher’s account for daily operation. I should shift administration to a different computer. This transformation is part of the changes we see in the classroom now. The centre of gravity shifts. The teacher is not the primary around which the students orbit like satellites. We are building a different structure.

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