I find it to be part of the human condition that we are always guilty of accepting things as truth that are often unproven theories that appear to work well. I also find it common that process that work are often assumed to always work with little or no evaluation as they age. This is a three part series of posts where I will criticize common practices and structures that exist in modern educational technology programs.
The Classroom and Entitlement
Why do we give teachers laptops? In 2009 I conducted a survey among the staff at my school. A school of 2300 international students, and a reputable IB Program.
In this survey, 65% of teachers said they would prefer a classroom system integrated into their classroom. 85% of those surveyed had a laptop they owned and preferred to their school issued laptop. After a cost analysis of laptops vs a thin-client system connect to a custom control panel , I made a proposal to the administrative team.
I had a plan to phase out laptop entitlement over three years and rebuild all the classrooms. The project did not move forward. I was told, and convincingly, that all contracts guarantee a laptop, and without that promise it was difficult to recruit staff. There was no promise of a good laptop, or a new one, just a laptop.
The majority of teachers I have encountered use their school laptops mainly for content presentation or to play media. From a purely technical standpoint, a laptop used for this purpose is inferior to a system optimized for presentation and media. Many schools even purchase docking stations to make it easier for teachers to move their equipment from room-to-room. Teachers often struggle to connect laptops quickly and get their classes started.
Also consider that the more frequently people touch and move cables, equipment, etc. the faster equipment degrades.
The fact is a classroom would be better off with a server based content delivery system, excellent displays, digital sound, network based maintenance interfaces, and follow-me profiles that allow teachers to be in any location and have an identical experience. Yet schools are married to a model that creates chaos, delays lessons, and is riddle with frequent damage.
I own my own laptop. I have found most people who are given an entitled laptop also have one at home. Many teachers leave their laptops at school, and connected, so they do not have to worry about resetting it. They use their personal laptop for any off-campus work.
Laptop entitlement also seems to work only one-way. The school is entitle to supply equipment, but the teacher is not required to use the equipment to develop innovative or engaging lessons. They are not required to do more than presentations, play media, and use a limited number of online resources. All of these activities can be accomplished with other technologies that are easier to use and faster to deploy.
It seems laptops should be earned. They should be given to people who have a plan that requires something more than a well integrated presentation system.
Opportunities for teacher collaboration are often used to justify entitlement. Collaboration can be accomplished using the vast amount of personal technology that teachers bring to school everyday. Phones and other devices are used by teachers everyday for non-educational purposes, yet, these smaller devices are ideal for note taking, planning, and other collaborative activities. Statistically, if most teachers have a laptop at home, then they can still work at home. In fact, they can be enabled to use their personal technology at work for any work that happens outside of the classroom.
When teachers consider signing a second or third contract, maybe that is when a stipend or technology fee should be offered to incentivise those who are contributing to the stability of the community. This incentive process would further increase the number of teachers buying and bringing their own laptops to school, if they need them. In addition, teachers may decide a laptop is not needed, and they may buy something more specific to their department. This would probably lead to many teachers experimenting on their own with technology and then making a plan with the school to incorporate new technology and new educational initiatives.
Overall, this approach seems more natural. There is a natural evolution of technology based-on need. Every teacher begins with equal resources, some will choose a different way of working, while others will maintain a traditional focus.
Classrooms do not seem to be going away. Schools seem to keep building classrooms as they did in the past. It stands to reason that classrooms need to evolve. Resources need to support the real work that is happening and not the work that could happen. Teachers need to think about what they need and request it based-on a plan. Teachers also should be given a chance to acquire what they need or what they are interested in learning. Schools differentiate for students, maybe it is time they do the same for teachers.