Before You Buy That Laptop For Everyone…

    Having a conversation with a school administrator, he shared his frustration with his district’s plan to buy the same laptop for every teacher in his school district. On the surface, this is a great idea, but in a world that is becoming more and more personalized, is purchasing the same device for everyone the best plan?
    As someone who loves his MacBook Air, I have not used a school district provided Windows computer in years. I am guessing there are people in districts that are strictly Apple, that would prefer Windows.  Is the best approach making someone use what they aren’t comfortable with?
    As I was thinking about this, I thought about something that I would consider if I was in the same position. Although this is rough and a hypothetical in my mind (some districts may already be doing something similar), I just wanted to propose a different plan.
    What I would suggest is the following…
    Instead of buying everyone the same device, why not provide an allowance for people to buy something that they were comfortable with.  This could be something that was over a three year period, so that you are not worried about providing an “allowance” to someone that immediately leaves.  I think the idea of everyone having a mobile device they use consistently is important, and some people may prefer a district provided device.  So the options could be that you are provided the district device OR you are given an allowance to purchase your own.
    Here are some of the immediate benefits of an allowance program:
    Less professional development would be needed for training on the device as people are more likely to purchase something that they are comfortable with.
    Less IT time would be needed as you would not have to go through the process of “networking” as many computers, and if the computer was to have issues, that would be the responsibility of the owner, not necessarily the district.  Although the allowance program might seem like a major cost, if you look at the significant decrease in IT time with district provided devices, it could be a major cost savings and could allow for time to be allocated to other areas.
    People would be more comfortable with their own device and could tailor it to themselves.
    Here are some of the issues that you might have to consider:
    If everyone buys whatever they want, there is a lack of consistency on devices, meaning some things from the district might not work properly.  To combat this, I would suggest a device has some minimum requirements to be considered for the allowance program. You might even want to suggest some devices that would fit within the program.
    Your Wifi network would have to be robust enough to support an influx of devices.  This should be standard within schools now.
    Cloud computing solutions would need to be the norm within your district. For example, you would not have to purchase something like Microsoft Office for computers if a minimum requirement was that it had word processing capabilities. You could simply use Google Apps for Education.
    The way that I look at this type of program is that you are making more of an investment in people than you are technology. Providing them options and create spaces where they are more comfortable with the technology they use, will probably lead to more innovative practices in the classroom. It would also create a better understanding of personalized learning solutions for teachers who don’t only hear about it, but are now immersed in it.
    This is a really rough idea that has been floating around my head, so I appreciate any comments or suggestions, but the way I look at it is that if teaching is an art, shouldn’t we create systems that allow educators some freedom to choose their own brushes?


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