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One platform or two (or three)?

You've heard it said  or said it yourself -  "We're a Mac district." or "Our school only has Windows computers." or "We've standardized on Chromebooks." Supporting a single computing platform is such a common practice for schools, I didn't think too hard responding to a question that came in last week's e-mail:
May I ask for your quick thoughts regarding mixing PCs and Macs in a 1:1 deployment?  We will be launching our 1:1 in August of 2015, and we (the technology committee on which I serve) think there could be some issues with mixing platforms. May I ask: "What are the potential negatives to consider before going to a hybrid environment?"

We think mixing platforms means your software options can be limited to web based software (like Google docs) instead of local installations of Microsoft Office.  (I know...there is a cloud based version of Office...).  What has been your experience or what are your thoughts on this?  We're currently 99% Mac.  Thank you for any information you can provide.

My response:

Philosophically, I like the idea of each person being able to use the device he or she prefers. Such a practice honors the individual's learning styles and behaviors.

But on a practical side, a single platform makes much more sense, given the fixed amount of funding one has to spend on technology. A single platform maximizes training opportunities, support and maintenance, and security. (My last school was 99% Macs and my current school is 99% PCs. These economies apply to either platform.) I will only adopt software personally (and encourage it in schools) that is Windows/Mac cross platform. (Sorry iBook Author, Explorer, Keynote, etc.) 

I would say that the upcoming decision about computer OSs will not be Mac vs PC, but a machine-based OS (Windows or MacOS) vs a cloud-based OS (Chromebooks or Chromeboxes). When a Chrome device can do about 95% of what a regular computer can do at half the cost in purchasing and 1/10th amount of support, it seems a great way to put more tech in the hands of more kids.

Given a fantasy world of unlimited tech support, unlimited hardware and software budgets, a mixed platform would offer personal choice of desktop, laptop, or tablet; operating system; and software. But I've yet to work in such a world.

And I would say more than ever, machines are uniformly able to do most computing tasks. The choice of a Mac or PC, a tablet or a Chromebook, a desktop or a laptop reflects personal experiences (and hence comfort levels), rarely the need to do specific tasks.

Are tech departments being stubborn or practical in supporting a single platform and thereby reducing support costs?
Love to see some discussion around this. 

The impeded stream

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. 

- Wendell Berry 

The quote above has been in my e-mail sig file for a number of years - and now and then someone comments that they like the sentiment. The selection is from this poem:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

"The Real Work" by Wendell Berry, from Standing by Words. © 1983

Berry speaks for me. In my work I don't know what to do on a very regular basis. I am smart enough. I have a lot of experience. I can certainly sound authoritative when I need to. I like to believe I have acquired some modicum of wisdom through my experiences.

But more often than not, I am honestly baffled by new situations, new people, new problems. Much of technology use in education is about making it up as you go along since there are often no best practices established. 

One of my all time favorite articles appeared in Phi Delta Kappan in 2005.  In "Embracing Confusion:  What Leaders Do When They Don’t Know What to Do", Jentz and Murphy write:

... confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling organizational issues. In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.

Too many leaders feel the need to know it all and know it all the time. And too often their self-confidence (or thinly disguised lack of self-confidence) leads to poor decisions based on a closed mind.

Embrace your inner confusion, listen to the impeded streams in your life.



Writing to be read

But the familiarity of bad academic writing raises a puzzle. Why should a profession that trades in words and dedicates itself to the transmission of knowledge so often turn out prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand? - "Why Academics' Writing Stinks" Chronicle of Higher Education, September 26, 2014. 

I turned in the second draft of my book on creativity Teaching Outside the Lines to my editor at Corwin Press a couple weeks ago. Commercial book publishing is a long and involved process of which actually writing the first draft is perhaps the easiest and most enjoyable part. (See "So you want to write a book" Blue Skunk, 12/29/11).

I wrote the second draft with an eye to comments made by six or seven reviewers to whom the manuscript had been sent. While I would love to say that each and every reviewer had nothing but praise for the brilliance of my work, I'd be a big fat liar. Seeing faults in our writing (as with our grandchildren) is difficult, if not impossible. That's why everyone needs the outside, critical eye. 

While many of the suggestions for improvement dealt with content (more stories, more examples, see this work by ______, clarify this idea, etc.), this book's criticisms, more than any of the other eight I've written, dealt with its tone.

While my writing style has always been purposely informal (to avoid the pitfalls of academic writing in the opening quote), I intentionally worked on a more conversational voice in this book on creativity. What I did not realize until some lines were singled out by several reviewers, was that some of my off-hand remarks were taken as sarcastic. Ouch!

As the Spanish proverb states, if three people call you an ass, look for a saddle. I re-wrote, eliminating the side comments that could be viewed as mean or dismissive while still keeping the narrative voice and personal tone of the work.

After writing for professional publication for 20+ years, I am still not sure exactly what it takes to get one's writing read...


  • Brevity.
  • Compelling topic and an original treatment of it.
  • Userfulness and WIIFM (What's in it for me) clearly stated, upfront. 


Personally, I always like a bit of humor and humility in my non-fiction reading. Serious topics do not always demand serious writing styles; difficult topics don't always require difficult language.

It's always seemed to me that the best ideas in the world if trapped in incomprehensible writing, might just as well stay in the mind of the originator.

What do you, as a reader, like in your professional writing?

Oh, here is the rest of the schedule for my book...

A brief outline of the upcoming production process for your book follows, and the items in bold are stages that will directly involve you:

  • Copyediting — November
  • Typesetting — December
  • Proofreading and Indexing — January
  • Corrections — February
  • To Press — March
  • Publication! — April