To recap, last week I recounted a story of how I needed a dose of emergency chocolate in order to survive a technology encounter with students. Believe it or not, the week got worse on the technology front. Once we fix the problem, it will officially be funny, and then I will tell it. I’m hoping for tomorrow. That was Pool A, where all students bring their own technology to class.
Today I will dissect the issue of Pool B, which is a common conundrum for small schools, i.e., all students are given the technology that the school wants them to have in the classroom.
Important note for readers: I’ve never taught at a school where this has happened. However, the reason why I am a competent teacher is because I can see many of the ways a plan can go wrong before I start it. This allows me to fix problems before they happen. Due to all of the concerns I have, I would ask a school to think long and hard before going down the “let’s get them all the same computer” route.
Here is the scenario which is often presented to schools: A family or a group of parents or a business offers to purchase computers for students. I have never known this gesture to come from any place but kindness, but here are the issues with this. I see these issues coming down the pipe because I’ve dealt with variations of all of them.
- Does the school have an idea of what type of technology really makes sense? Do we want PCs? or Macs? or tablets? Are our heads turned by the fact that we have a major computer company in our backyard? (Before anyone points fingers, I did live in Silicon Valley, twice.) Do we want the computers to be able to connect to the internet? Do we want to require that all students use Word or Pages or OpenOffice? Or do we want to give them all email addresses and require them to use Google Drive? Do we limit internet access to specific sites, or allow students access to all internet sites? How do we know what is best for our students?
- Does the school have a staff member who is really computer-competent? It means having a person around at all times who can fix issues as they come up during the day. And they will come up. Should a pornographic gif magically show up on a student’s computer and the computer belongs to the child’s family, you shut the lid, call the parents, and send the computer home. If the computer belongs to the school, you need someone who can get rid of the image, quick. If a teacher accidentally erases the internet browser, you need someone who knows how to figure out how to get it back on. You need someone who won’t decide to rip a massive hole in the wall of your classroom to get at the wires because the connection between your LCD projector and your computer gives you a green screen, when ultimately the only problem was that the connection cable had one too many pins. You need a person who can put Wi-Fi up properly so that you don’t have to go into the darkroom when you are allergic to photo chemicals because the internet goes out every thirty minutes and you are trying to use a documentary on Netflix. (Take out the router power cord. Wait for a minute. Plug power back in. Watch all the pretty lights blink. Use inhaler. Go back to the class and ask if the documentary started again. I’m fairly certain I lost a significant amount of class-time which I’d like to take out of our tech guy’s hide.) I could go on. And on. And on.
- Does the school have the correct infrastructure? A few anecdotes: at one school, I had one working “drop” in my classroom even though the room looked like it had three. When I told this to the school’s superintendent, he looked at me and said, “What’s a drop?” (Drops were what we used to call the network ports where we hooked our computers up to the interweb-thingy.) At the same time as I was struggling to get network access (just for me, not even for students), every desk at the district office had brand-new flat-screen computer monitors. At more than one school, I brought in an LCD projector and had hoses for electricity sprawled across my floor just waiting to trip someone.
- Does the internet even work? See above. But I digress.
- When it comes to the school providing computers for each student, infrastructure is about boundaries. How possible is it for the students to get into the school’s data? Hacking happens. Sometimes just for the fun of it. Are students allowed to stream video? Are they allowed to back up their computers, or do you need someone to back up for them? What about installation privileges? If students are allowed to install software, the likelihood of them encountering a virus or a trojan or whatever skyrockets. Can your tech person handle it? Who owns what is on students’ computers, and what happens if they do something illegal with it? Who is liable? And don’t get me started on students downloading video games, which can then fill up available memory or otherwise make the machine unusable.
- The school would need to foot the bill for any software students might need. For a small private school, the cost of licensing software is not inconsiderable. And upgrades can also be expensive. Can they afford it?
- Tech classes. So, the school owns all of these computers, and naturally enough, it wants them to last. This means you need to teach your students how to take care of them. Where do you fit this in a schedule that’s already packed tight? I honestly do think that students need to have tech classes just to teach them how incredibly unsafe the world of the internet is. What with identity theft and predators, it’s scary just for me to be on.
- What happens when computers get broken, or lost, or stolen? Because they will. Will the family be expected to pay to replace it? What if that family is on assistance and can’t afford it? What if that model of computer is no longer available, and the only ones that are available have compatibility issues with all the other computers?
So, that’s just me brainstorming. Any school who thinks that a gift of computers is not fraught with issues is kidding themselves. I’m not saying a school shouldn’t do it, but they need to have a plan for how to manage it.
I’d like to go into Pool C, which is where the school would require that all parents purchase computers for their children that are all the same make, but I don’t need to post those ideas. Just pour the dirty water from Pool A into Pool B and splash around a bit. You’ll see the concerns without my help. Just don’t clog the filters.