Tech in the Classroom: Cool or School?

Attending the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE) conference this week is a great experience.  While we are excited to help some of the most innovative teachers and administrators learn more about using Google Apps and Chromebooks in the classroom, we are just as pleased to learn from them.

Schools are struggling to develop comprehensive plans for classroom computing.  Carts, one-to-one programs, and “bring your own device” (BYOD) programs are all in the mix. Beyond the technology selection, schools must address budget limitations and ensure fair access to solutions across the economic boundaries of students and families.

The “Cool” Factor

Add to the challenge: community pressure to use a “cool” technology.  School boards, administrators, and parents in many districts want to see new, cool technologies even if those technologies do not best meet the needs of the students or the educational program.

The most common example we have heard has been pressure to use iPads.  We agree, iPads are very cool.  With a wide array of apps, iPads bring the web, books, and video to life in a dynamic way.  They are lightweight, portable, and easy to use.

Easy to use, that is, until you need create content.  For all it’s strengths, iPads are not an efficient device for writing and editing.  Without a keyboard and with limited software options, iPads are not designed for serious data entry.  Typing a five paragraph essay or a term paper is not really feasible.  Educators and administrators discuss the difficulty in managing sync servers to get data off the devices, and that students given iPads still have a need for another device — laptop or desktop — to get their work done.

The perception, however, that iPad’s are a step forward and laptops are a step back creates pressure on schools to pick a technology that falls short of students’ needs.

Some New Options

Fortunately, schools are finding other options that may just meet the “cool” criteria. New tablets with attachable keyboards blend the touch screen, “post-PC”, experience with capabilities of a more traditional device.

Chromebooks, which lack the “touch” experience, are specifically designed to meet the challenges of web-based learning, one of the fastest growing trends in classroom computing.  They give students and teachers access to real-time and managed collaboration, video and multimedia capabilities, thousands of educational web sites and apps, and legacy applications via virtual desktop services.  Chromebooks, Chrome OS, and the Chrome OS Management Service also provide an ease of administration that can reduce administrative costs by 60% or more.  Pretty cool.

Picking a Path

The responsibility of selecting a student computing platform and program is not one to be envied.  Those making the hard decisions are making multi-year plans and committing large sums of money.  They deserve our support and the freedom to pick the best solution for the students and the school system.

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