What are computer lab sessions really like?

On technical courses such as Computer Science, you will spend a lot of tutorial time in a computer lab. Whilst you’ll often focus on what you’re coding or designing, you may also take part in discussions and group tasks, like in a traditional seminar. Read this article to learn more about the nature of lab sessions.

Background

On many degree courses, especially in computing, technology and creative subjects, computer lab sessions are an essential part of study.

You learn about new technology and how to use digital tools effectively and confidently. This could be designing in Photoshop, programming code in an IDE, working with virtual machines in security simulations, or editing video and motion graphics.

Many students find computer workshops or tutorials quite stressful – at least initially.  You may be using equipment, software and terminology that is new to you, or the lesson could be delivered at a pace that makes it hard for you to keep up.

 

 

How could this affect me?

Your autism may affect you in a number of ways, e.g.

  • the way you organise your time before, during and after a lab session,
  • the noise of equipment and people in the room,
  • working in pairs or larger groups,
  • the tutor going round the room and checking people’s progress,
  • stress when a deadline is looming and you want to complete some coding or design work.

Computer Science sessions are often held in a large lab with more than one tutor or PhD student in attendance. You may choose to disclose your autism to your tutor and arrange to sit in the same seat each week, so that you work with one tutor every time.

Often the tutor will provide printed handouts to go alongside the session; you may find it helpful to get a copy of the handout before the lesson, so that you can familiarise yourself with the content before you are presented with it in class.  Some tutors may pre-record their lesson and present it as a video for you to work through at your own pace, others might demonstrate the process and then leave you to apply what you have learned to a task.

One way to minimise stress is to make sure that you have all the necessary equipment to hand, especially if you are expected to provide your own. You may need headphones or a graphics tablet for example.

 

What to do next?

Make sure you know where and when computer lab sessions are and how to prepare for each one.

Practical tips

Be prepared

  1. Before the first session, familiarise yourself with the room and how to get there. Walk the route a few times and look for familiar landmarks that can help you get there.
  2. Speak to the tutor before the first session and find out how the lessons will be presented. For example, it may be:
    • demonstrated by the tutor and then have tasks to completed by the students afterwards?
    • demonstrated by the tutor with the student following along with the tutor?
    • working from a pre-recorded video tutorial?
  3. Make sure that you have any handouts prior to the session, if available.
  4. Also, make sure you have all the necessary equipment in advance of the session, if relevant.
  5. Check when the tutor will be happy to answer questions – during the lesson or in a convenient break.

Asking for help

If you don’t understand what the tutor is teaching you, or you are finding it hard to keep up with the lesson, it is important that you let the tutor know.  How you do this will depend on the format of the workshop; the tutor may invite questions as they are delivering the lesson, or they may wish for you to wait until a convenient break in the delivery.

It is a good idea to check with the tutor whether the amount of effort you are putting into a lab task is appropriate. It is easy to do too much and get involved in detail that is not really necessary, so it’s worth checking this occasionally.

If the tutor is not already aware of your autism, talk to her/him about it in case you need to take time out away from the computer.

‘Time out’

Discuss with the tutor a strategy for situations when you feel overloaded. This could be triggered by visual stimuli, noise, the amount of work you’re expected to do, tiredness, etc.

Possible solutions could be to rest your head on the desk for a few minutes, or to leave the room and find a quite space, or to browse a familiar website for a few minutes. This is personal to you and you will know best what works for you.

Questions to think about

  • Where do I find out what equipment I need to bring with me?
  • Are there handouts available before the session?
  • Should I ask questions during the presentation of the session, or at the end?
  • What can I do if I start to fall behind during a session?
  • How can I take time away from the computer if I start to feel overwhelmed?
  • Is there any work I need to complete after the session, in my own time?

About the author

This article was written by Jackie Hagan, Learning Support Coordinator at the University for the Creative Arts at Rochester.