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More than a Lab: How the BHS Computer Lab Provides Real-Life Experiences, Business Training and Serious Competition

More than a Lab: How the BHS Computer Lab Provides Real-Life Experiences, Business Training and Serious Competition

Picture a computer lab from your high school. What do you see? Maybe it's a room full of huge desktop computers with towers and monitors that take up half the desk. Maybe it's got floppy disks (large or small depending on how old you are) or maybe your high school simply didn't have one. At Burnsville High School (BHS), students are now using a refreshed and revamped computer lab for a wide variety of activities to prepare them for their future.

The lab was built over the 2022-23 school year and when it opened in the fall of 2023, it featured all the software needed for traditional classes and esports. The lab is a hub of activity throughout and beyond the school day. No matter the subject, classes are able to use the lab in all seven periods of the day, and before and after school, members of the Blaze esports teams use it to practice or for competitions. The main goal of the lab is to provide students with a sneak peek of what awaits them in their chosen pathways, whether that is the workplace or higher education. 

“We teach to industry standards, so we use software that’s industry standard,” said Michele Carroll, a Career Technical Education (CTE) business education teacher, and high school building leadership team leader for CTE. “We use Adobe and Microsoft to start so that students see what business would have them do since those are seen in most workplaces.”

A digital version of real-world situations

The lab uses software and systems that give students a unique digital perspective, including simulations of a wide variety of career pathways. 

“Our biggest emphasis is marketing, so they’re creating videos — PSAs (public service announcements), commercials — posters, you name it,” Carroll said. “We also use simulations where students can see customers walking around on the screen. Sometimes they get mad at you and a little bubble will pop up and say ‘I’m not shopping here ever again.’ It’s good for kids because that’s sometimes what customers do.”

The lab fosters a collaborative environment, with virtually every Pathway using its resources to take learning to the next level. Engineering students use computer-aided design (CAD). Construction students collaborate with students from manufacturing, engineering, design and technology to build houses and design the interiors. Culinary students share notes on recipes and make adjustments according to the number of people a meal will serve. 

The BHS computer lab provides tools for students across various pathways.

“It’s a seamless transition from traditional methods to digital files,” said Carroll.

Carroll added that the use of technology has allowed students to feel more assured and comfortable as they learn.

“It’s enhancing learning now, and it gives students a better understanding and more confidence,” she said. “They have a much better understanding of what they’re studying and what they’re getting into.”

Students also have the opportunity to take a Microsoft course where they can earn dual credit with Normandale Community College. “Learning how to use all the functions of the [Microsoft] Office suite is something that helps them to be career-ready,” said Carroll.

There’s no Oregon Trail here. A look at esports at BHS

For the members of the Blaze esports teams, the lab serves as a practice and competition space with equipment that can handle the fast-paced world of competitive gaming. 

One of the pros and cons of esports is that students can practice on their own as long as they have the equipment at home, but not all schools have computer labs that allow students without their own equipment to practice at school. 

The new lab allows teams of students to gather together to practice and compete.

Unlike traditional sports, there’s no set schedule, so having the lab available to them is a huge advantage for BHS students. The team will practice in person at least once a week when possible, but different games have different schedules. One may play on Wednesdays and another on Thursdays, so the team’s practice schedule has to be flexible. 

Esports is a growing enterprise with a bright future. Blaze esports is made up of several different teams playing different games with most players being part of multiple teams. It’s fairly casual at the high school level, but it still presents gamers with opportunities to continue after graduation. Colleges, especially smaller ones, are using esports to attract students with fierce competition and tournament play getting national attention. Some have paid staff and labs dedicated solely to esports. At the college level, they’ve also introduced physical training so that participants' minds and bodies are in top shape.

It doesn’t quite get the attention of college football yet, but the team helps students learn about what scholarships might be available and connects them with colleges so they can make the best choices for themselves.

Like their counterparts in traditional sports, gamers benefit from participation by learning how to work as a team, sportsmanship, setting high expectations and exploring new challenges. 

The new lab shows a student-focused commitment from District 191 to provide students with the opportunity to grow their skills in an activity that is growing in popularity. With access to these tools, there's no question that students will continue to excel not only in the esports world but will continue to develop the computer and life skills that will serve them well as they pursue college and career opportunities.