Computer Oil – making the most of your classroom machine

WD40 is the magical sprayable oil which can fix almost any mechanical problem with a few well placed squirts. It is a mechanic’s best friend.

Sadly, WD40 does not work for computers, in fact it would probably not do your computer much good at all! When you are using an Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) for teaching, or any type of computer based applications, things almost always go awry. Believe me, I know!

Having worked as multimedia coordinator with hundreds of computers, where I supported not one but two flagship schools in central London which had both staff and student machines, each with a multimedia room and one with an additional computer lab, I have done a lot of trouble shooting both for my own and other teachers’ classes. One of the most common mistakes people make is to overestimate the power of their computer.

It is difficult to remember to conduct the basic maintenance that keeps a computer running efficiently when you are using it in front of a class. People tend to open up hundreds of new tabs on their browser, running very processor heavy sites such as BBC iPlayer, without closing windows which are no longer needed, or keeping other applications running in the background. IWBs often come with their own software and usually they are connected to low-spec computers which the school or institution buys en mass on the cheap, so don’t overwork them. If you want to keep your computer and IWB running and avoid crashing it, keep open only the windows and programs that you need and close things down when you are done.

Although I just told you to close windows, you still need to watch out for overheating issues.  The computer’s CPU produces a huge amount of heat when it is running, as much as the filament of an electric kettle. Overheating will cause your computer run more slowly and eventually crash. Think about the position of the computer. All computers have fans and vents, make sure these are not pointed at a wall or enclosed by a desk, as this will reflect the heat back into them. Also, don’t put things on the computer, as this can again lead to overheating. Another overheating risk comes from running too many applications and keeping too many windows open. The final thing you can do to avoid overheating is to ensure that the computer is not left on all night. Turning it on and off after each lesson may not be practical, but shutting it down each night will keep it running for longer and also is much better for the environment. You can create a scheduled task in control panel using a batch file which means that the computer will shut down automatically at a specified time each night. Just be sure that you remember to turn off the monitors and projector screens as even in standby these use a lot of power and again this is bad for the environment.

The computer will also run faster if you only have programs installed which you need. Many programs, such as apple Quicktime, will start themselves and run in the background upon startup even though you’re not using them. Check which programs are running in the startup and remove them from the registry to make the machine more efficient. You can also speed up the computer by ensuring that all the temporary internet files have been cleaned off, and that you defrag your hard drive often. By default, most Windows installations are set to use Virtual Memory, which is hard disk space acting as RAM. If your hard disk gets full and the Virtual Memory quota cannot be met by the physical remaining space on the disk then the computer is prone to crash.

If you are not sure about any of these things, ask your IT support to check them all. If you don’t have an IT support then you should ask your school or institution to hire someone in for the day to check all this, or do it yourself using online tutorials and ask for a pay rise!

Computers are sensitive animals. Many of them are made to work like slaves for long hours in hot sweaty conditions. It is not unknown for computers to be badly beaten when the pressure is too much and they begin to flag. This is not wise if you want your computer to work like a well oiled machine. If you click on something and it doesn’t work instantly, this means the computer is running slowly. Often people then fire a volley of double-clicks at the computer, which just means you are asking it to do the same job hundreds of times. Nothing slows a computer down faster than this clicking spree. Be patient with your machine, and don’t be fooled into thinking that whacking it has any effect.

If you combine all these small tips, you will notice a marked increase in the speed of your machine. If the machine really is a piece of junk, you can always buy more ram or re-format the hard drive and see if that makes it any quicker. Failing all this, ensure your school or college invests in decent hardware, but even if your machine is a top of the range machine, remember that a little love goes a long way and that there is no oil in a can panacea to make it run reliably unless you use it sensibly.