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Out of the lab, off the cart, into the classroom

Today should be a quiet day in the office. Schools are out on holiday break and it seems anyone who has a spare vacation day is using this and next Friday to create a couple five day weekends. (All my vacation days are committed until next July. Poor me.) Anyway, it should be a good day to work on budget.

I love creating budgets. (See here, here, here, and here.) While most of us have a fixed, zero-sum budget ("You have $X - make the most of it."), there is no excuse for not preparing and presenting an outcome-based budget ("$X is how much is needed to do what we want to accomplish.").

This year's budget proposal will differ from that which I prepared in the past, however.

The old model of simply replacing labs and staff computers on a regular basis is crumbling. Best practices, user focus groups and surveys, and curricular demands are increasing the pressure for technology to be portable, individualized - and in the classroom.

This fits with the "convenience" criteria in my old formula for predicting the Probability of Large Scale Adoption (2008) of a technology:

We need to take a hard look at several things in our district to make the most of our technology budget and increase the probability of technology being used by all teachers, not just the "pockets of wow" folks:

  1. Maintaining an absolute minimum number of separate labs.  While we will need at least one lab for the foreseeable future in elementary buildings for state testing and doing high-end productivity work (video editing), having labs dedicated to word processing, adaptive learning system use (Read180), educational gaming, or "computer literacy" makes little sense when these tasks can be done in the classroom using portable devices and the wireless network. Secondary schools will continue to need business ed and tech ed labs, along with a general testing/productivity lab - but do English teachers really need to drag kids to a separate room to write? 
  2. Breaking up carts and assigning devices to classrooms. As long as the devices remain on carts which need to be retrieved, reserved, and easily forgotten, some teachers will choose not to bother using them. Having a 3:1 or 2:1 device to student ratio in the classroom at all times will allow the teacher to regard these devices as a regular classroom equipment that can be used by teams, as part of teaching stations, or for interventions in differentiated instruction. And if a 1:1 ratio is needed. the teacher works with his/her next door counterpart to share.
  3. Replacing computers with full blown operating systems (Macs and PCs) with iPads and Chromebooks. Schools can purchase about three smaller devices for what they would spend just one full-blown laptop or desktop. For GAFE schools, 90% of the processing power of a Windows or Mac OS will just go unused.  And I would argue this goes for lab machines as well as classroom devices. As we old Iowa farmers like to say "Never use two mules when one will do."  
  4. Replacing teacher laptops with a classroom assigned workstation and a teacher-assigned portable device. Teachers needed laptops to take home when their files were tied to the device itself. Now work is stored in the cloud and can be accessed from any device, anywhere. While this not necessarily a change greeted with enthusiasm (How to be unpopular - no more teacher laptops), it make sense for teachers have access to the same technologies their students are using.

A budget which redeploys technology spending will be met with some resistance, I'm sure. What change doesn't?

But creative educational initiatives need to be met with creative budgeting as well.

Any economic strategies you can share which put more tech in kids hands without breaking the bank?

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Reader Comments (3)

I agree with the sentiment. The actual implementation needs prep, though. Like in our library and lab the most recent replacement was "thin clients" in place of full desktops. (The lab is pretty much only for testing anymore. And the classroom desktops are not being replaced.) The login process takes over a minute on a good day (and there is NO guest login ... sorry PTA volunteers!). The shortcuts to district links and basic tools are not in the least intuitive. Explorer is still the default browser and we can't change that. On days when the network feels like acting wonky? Nothing works at all. Feels like 60% of the time but to be fair it's probably 25-30% of the time. I'd take fewer RELIABLE devices over more ... persnickety devices any day. Then mobile devices attempting to connect to wireless. Oh, sigh. Older buildings attempted to be retrofitted to wireless networks. A complete joke in the portables and at least a partial joke inside the building. Give teachers 3 iPads but literally say "Don't try to use apps that need connectivity" ... it's so frustrating. Technology that works beautifully off campus causes so much frustration on campus. Does it have to be that way? I use tech all the time at home and try to encourage teachers. But so often at school it doesn't work.

December 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

Black Friday was way more quite in the office than today, for whatever reason. I'm also looking at budgets as I gear up for 15-16 and I'm focusing on diversification of devices available. I believe we pay way to much for Windows 7 netbooks that are dogs out of the box. No sane adult would be willing to do daily work on them. We can shrink our 1:1 budget at least 25% by going the Chromebook route, but the student data on needs has to reflect that being a realistic option (thus far, I believe that's what the data says). Based on student feedback, there is a real need to reinvest in desktop computers that can do more. That's been ignored over the last 5 years, and our labs that are classrooms show that. Can't do much with InDesign, or Illustrator with a sub i3 processor. My hope is to make the case for a more cost effective 1:1 device so we can put more money into desktops in biz ed, music and hopefully buy new instruments for science that have web-based reporting tools. I can see how ineffective a cart of iPads is in our current situation. If it's a checkout thing, it's a cool idea that gets forgotten.

Yes, sets of computers in a checkout format go underutilized, but devices (no matter the number) in the classroom will be used by innovative educators in some way, shape or form. I've always LOVED this post form Miguel Guhlin - and it gave me the vision to do investigation in the direction of diversification of devices.

December 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Angie,

You make some excellent points. When the processing power is transferred from the machine to the network (wired or wireless), the network needs to rock and roll. We are definitely in a transition era! Thanks for sharing your observations.


Hi Nathan,

I agree that inDesign and Illustrator need good processing power, and if we need to use them, there will need to be productivity labs for that purpose. But the same level of processing is simply not necessary for word processing, searching the web or doing about 90% of what we ask kids to do. (I also wonder if the same design principles we are teaching with InDesign could not be taught using other online tools?)

Thanks to the link to Miguel's article. Definitely worth a re-read.

Hope you had a great Christmas and good luck with your budget!


December 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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