Recommended Hardware and Software

I have had literally dozens of requests for my equipment list for my lab. Generally, I just copy off my equipment list and make a few notes about what I would change. This page is designed to be a list of industry standard equipment and software, along with alternate and affordable options. I’ll just be breaking this list down into the four clusters in my lab, and add an additional section for curriculum and other technologies I don’t have in my lab, but have used and found to be effective in a technology lab.

I am sometimes asked if this equipment list is for middle school or for high school. It is my opinion that kids will learn whatever you teach them, or allow them to learn. One of the benefits of a design based curriculum is that you can simply change the specifications for the project to alter it for any grade level. I firmly believe that the application and equipment is secondary to the process of problem solving, and quite honestly I don’t believe that it matters much what the students learn on from a pedagogical point of view. I do however, think that unless there is a specific reason NOT to use industry standard software (cost, for example), students should be afforded the opportunity to learn about industry on the same tools that industry uses. To do otherwise for some supposed “educational” reason is illogical. If we want students to learn about Desktop Publishing careers and tools, it only stands to reason that the student should use the same tools that a desktop publishing house would use. Don’t fall into the trap of using simpler tools, just make the problem specifications simpler, or the directions more precise.

I have been asked if I see a problem trying to teach PhotoShop and AutoCAD to an eleven year old student in sixth grade. My answer is simply, “No.” If the specifications are simple enough, a student can use almost any software (Industry Standard 3D Modeling and animation applications are possible exceptions, though I used Flash effectively in middle school) to complete a project.

The recommendations listed below are mine based on my experiences and discussions with industry professionals. If you have questions about the list or reasons for the recommendations listed, please e-mail me. I am also available for consultations at a reasonable rate.

Please also note that I’ve removed the sections that I don’t teach anymore, since I simply don’t know what’s current in those areas. So for manufacturing, CAD, programming, etc… You’d be better of finding someone who’s keeping up on all that. I’ve really focused on the communications sections now and I don’t keep up with the rest anymore. Sorry!!So here it goes, the Brain Buffet Equipment list:

Core Lab Equipment

Introduction: This section of the page is for the basic material that needs to be in any lab, and includes materials for design projects and lab management. Though this may seem like the “extra” stuff that’s really not that critical for learning, from the point of view of the teacher, this is critical equipment. It doesn’t matter what equipment you have if you don’t have the tools and materials to manage it.

The List:

  1. Computers- 1:1 ratio with students, relatively fast and capable computers.
  2. Network– Internet access and file sharing capabilities
  3. Research Materials-OTC training materials and online resources.

The Justification:

Computers:Obviously, many of your projects will need computers to run software and for research on the Internet. The bottom line is that you should buy a good machine. Many schools try to save money by buying lower end computers and saving a few hundred dollars on each one. This is a huge mistake, since the usable life of these machines is so much less than a nicely equipped machine, that you end up spending more since you have to update more often. Buy a good, middle-of the road machine for the lab. NEVER buy the lowest acceptable machine. Next year, it will not even be in the “acceptable” range.  I firmly believe that it’s important for every student to have their own machine. Labs that have half as many computers as students have half as many students working as labs that offer each student a workstation. It’s expensive, I know… but don’t scrape on computers, scrape on curriculum and specialized equipment. If you have to trade, give up a milling station and laser cutter before you give up a computer for each student. I also recommend Windows XP for now (we’ll see what happens to 7). It is the most stable operating system and has many helpful features like system restoration, file security, remote computer access and more. It is also highly compatible with older software (which I hope you won’t be using, anyway).

Network: A network is critical for Internet access and sharing files. Even if you have to build your own little network in your lab, being able to share files and have students save data on a central computer is a great benefit. There are also many software packages available that let you “monitor” student activity remotely.

Research Materials– Educational curriculum and textbooks are WAY overpriced. In a video production curriculum that was bought for one of my labs, the equipment was only 60% of the total cost. The other 40% (over $3000) was for the “curriculum.” Which was a 3 ring binder with Xeroxed pages in sleeves and a really terribly produced “instructional” video. Don’t waste the money on these curriculum, buy the books on the shelves at Barnes & Nobles or amazon. They’re only $50 and MUCH more professionally written and comprehensive. You will also teach your students how to use real books for researching (using an index, table of contents, etc.) in the process.

Even better- use (and later create) the free online resources out there. They don’t get ripped, stolen, lost, or outdated, and they’re free. Use all that textbook budget money for some cool extra toys- including a copy of Camtasia Studio for PC (screenflow for Mac) and a good usb microphone to make your own. For design education, there are literally millions of tutorials out there for Adobe Products. You can start here at under the student area and use my tutorials. There’s at least a year’s worth of work there.


Computer Requirements and Recommended Software for specific areas of study:

Introduction: Communications is an integral part of business. Whether the materials are used inside the company for training, or outside the company for marketing and PR, communication related materials are vital. This section will be divided into the different projects most commonly found in a modular Tech Ed Lab for communications, as well as a Communications Tech lab like mine. This section will basically list the project, recommended software and alternates, and recommended books for resource materials.

Digital Imaging/Desktop Publishing:

Hardware PC (2.8GHZ Quad Core processor, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB Drive, DVD+/-RW Drive), Color Laser Printer, Good inkjet printer
Software Adobe Creative Cloud
Additional Resources LYNDA.COM!!!, Adobe’s Free Curriculum, Photoshop WOW book, Down and Dirty PhotoShop Tricks, any of the “f/x” books are good, Photoshop Top Secret DVD’s, Learn by Video series.
Comments There’s a thousand books and Internet sites on PhotoShop. Don’t waste your money on “Educational Curriculum.” PhotoShop is the undisputed industry leader. Color laser printers are more expensive up front, but in the long run, much cheaper in supplies. You only need one per lab for daily printing. Good epson InkJet printer for printint AT LEAST 11×17 documents for your wall of fame. (love my epson 3800)

Web Page Design:

Hardware PC (2.8GHZ Quad Core Dual Core processor, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB Drive, DVD+/-RW Drive)
Software Adobe Creative Cloud
Additional Resources LYNDA.COM!!!,Learn By Video, and Adobe’s free curriculum.
Comments Dreamweaver is the most popular package right now and has been for many years. Edge is making headway. The days of coding in notepad are gone… you’ll need a decent computer.

Video Production:

Hardware Video PC (2.8GHZ+ Quad Core processor, 4-8 GB RAM, 500 GB SSD Drive, 1GB GEFORCE VIDEOCARD,  EXTRA DATA DRIVE (SSD or RAID) DVD+/-RW Drive, DSLR cameras or High Quality Camcorders)
Software Adobe Creative Cloud
Additional Resources LYNDA.COM!!!! Adobe Classroom in a book series is great! There’s also TONS of great online tutorials- be sure to check out for great after effects training.
Comments Editing digital video with a non-linear editing package is the standard these days.The computer running these systems is going to have to be FAST and POWERFUL. There is a lot of horsepower needed to edit and manipulate video. For your editing systems, make sure you have the hard drive space, RAM, and Processor speed you need! The specs above should let you edit Full 1080i HD video. Make sure you get that raided or SSD drive, though!!! (if you don’t know what that is, google it and understand it. You need a drive array to edit HD.) If you’re not doing HD or just using HDV formats in NTSC, you can get away with just a fast drive (at least 7200 rpm, 10,000 RPM preferred)Today, the videocard is REALLY important. Be sure your machine has an approved Geforce videocard with at least 1 GB of VRAM to get the best processing for complex video.


3D Modeling & CAD

Hardware PC (2.8GHZ Quad Core Dual Core processor, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB Drive,  1GB GEFORCE VIDEOCARD, DVD+/-RW Drive)
Software 3D Studio Max, Maya, Cinema 4D
Additional Resources There’s a ton of resources these days for 3D modeling. Check them out online and look in the local bookstore on on amazon for good books.
Comments My only experience with 3D modeling programs is 3D Studio Max about 6 years ago, and then I recommended Cinema 4D because it was cheaper for schools and popular. But as of summer 2014, Autodesk is giving away their software for educational use- even in the classroom– for free!!!!

Extra Hardware Options

There are a ton of extra projects you can do with communications and graphics software, if you get the additional hardware. Here’s a list of cool extra hardware pieces and what can be done with them:

  • Dye Sublimation This process lets you print in full color using a regular inkjet with special inks on a ton of surfaces. You’ll need a heat press to transfer the image, but with Dye Sub you can print on coffee mugs, luggage tags, T-shirts, etc… Look into it, and if there’s only one extra you can afford, make it this one. You won’t regret it! By the way, you need a Heat Press as well.
  • Screen Printing This process lets you print on T-shirts (like that Van Halen shirt you can’t get rid of), but it’s a messy and kind of involved process. A Great fundraiser when you get started, but you’ll need a sink and cleanup area and some space for the large equipment. Research before investing!!!!! Visit a local screenprinter- they’re often VERY helpful!
  • Vinyl Signage – Vinyl signage lets you print large images on vinyl banners, or to cut out vinyl images for application to other surfaces. Lots to learn, and I’m still a newbie, so call sign warehouse and check it out yourself. Oh, and it’s GETTING CHEAPER and easier to get started!
  • Laser Engravers – Laser engravers let you engrave into plastics, bricks, glass, and some finishes on metal. Also very expensive, it’s a cool addition to your lab.

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