Teacher Laptops

Our quest to get new laptops for teachers is done, but not without some 12th-hour drama.  Trying to complete a major purchase (215 mobile devices) when there isn’t any money and the future budgets are so uncertain requires the committment of everyone – including the Board, district leadership, and tech staff.  I have to commend the Board’s vision and committment to our teachers to authorize a purchase of this magnitude when there’s so much uncertainty and pressure on our budgets.  Working with the Business Services department, we were able to pull together enough funding that wasn’t part of the general fund (EETT funds, eRate reimbursement funds, etc.) to fund the laptops.  Working with Dell, we were able to locate a unit that met our performance requirements and our budget limitations.  We tested a Dell Vostro 1014, running Ubuntu, and we tested all the software we could identify that teachers would need and other software they might find useful that they probably didn’t know about.  We ordered the laptops, and had a delivery committment from Dell.

Then I went on vacation.

While I was on vacation I got notice that there was a problem and I contacted Dell.  Our Dell rep said he was very sorry, but they would not be able to deliver the Vostro 1014 laptops as promised.  In the course of our conversations over the next three days, Dell was also not able (or willing – still not sure which is the case) to deliver any of five different laptops that would meet our performance and budget requirements.  Dell would be more than happy, according to our rep, to provide us with some significantly higher-priced units, but our budget constaints wouldn’t allow it.  At that point, Oscar and Tony (my crack tech staff) went to work and contacted all of the major vendors.  Mind you, we now had very, very little time to make this work – after weeks of testing units, building an image, getting field testing from our Technology Champions – we had three days to find a unit and still be able to get something in place in order to conduct training and get units in the hands of teachers before the start of the school year.

Oscar and Tony located a unit from Toshiba with similar specs to the Vostro (even better – bigger screen, numeric keypad on the keyboard!).  We overnighted a unit for testing.  The video chipset runs flaky under our Ubuntu mix, though, and we are out of time to work on a fix.  Now, we have a conundrum – give up on the mobile units for teachers, or delay our move to an open source operating system.  I’m not going to force teachers to go through another school year using now 7-year old laptops.  We’ll stick with Windows 7 for now, and see about Ubuntu down the road.  We’ll certainly solve the issues with Ubuntu and the laptop, and if teachers want to make the switch we’ll accommodate it.

So, mission accomplished – we will be providing brand new laptops for our teachers.  Strategically, we are moving ahead.  Tactically, things didn’t go quite as planned.  But, as always, that’s the way of the world.  I can’t begin to express my dissatisfaction with Dell – we trusted them for a critical purchase, and they let us down, big time.  Kudos to Toshiba for stepping up and coming through in an absolute pinch.

Why Netbooks For Students?

Sam Gillickson posted a blog on June 30, 2011 talking about 21st Century learning and technology tools.  While he focused on iPads, I’ve taken his blog and substituted netbooks.  The message is the same (but netbooks are $300 cheaper!).  Read his original blog at http://tinyurl.com/3gupono.

You Want Netbooks for Your School, But is That Enough?


Everywhere I turn schools seem to be buying netbooks. Critics question whether investment in a relatively new and untested technology can be justified (this statement certainly pertains more to iPads than netbooks!), especially given the current economic climate. To some degree, I think their scepticism has merit.

Buying netbooks for your school may not improve the standard of education.

Technology is a tool. The issue of greater consequence should be how you plan to use them. To be clear, this isn’t a question of whether you should use this particular app or that app. Overall, I think the whole “netbooks discussion” centers far too much on a review and critique of available apps. The particular app that you use for Math or the cloud app you use for collecting documents all have their purpose on a micro level. The macro question however is one of vision…

“How will I use new technology to change the fundamental practice of education?”

You see, without a clear vision your educational dollars may in fact be wasted.

If you want netbooks so that you can distribute digital reading material to support a largely teacher driven, content based program … it’s not enough.

If you want netbooks so that children can practice drills without any knowledge or context of how the skill being drilled has relevance to their daily life … it’s not enough.

If you want netbooks so that you can develop and disseminate flash cards that help students cram for testing … it’s not enough.

If you want netbooks because you envision them improving education by making existing processes more efficient … it’s not enough.

And of course, if you want netbooks because they’re cool and everyone else is buying them … that’s clearly not enough.

On the other hand…

Maybe you want netbooks because they can enable students to access and evaluate vast pools of knowledge in order to help them resolve problems and form original opinions?

Maybe you want netbooks because they provide an instant gateway for students to research themes that have intrinsic interestto them?

Maybe you want iPads because we live in a global society and iPads are an excellent way to communicate and collaborate with people around the world?

Maybe you want netbooks because they have an integrated camera and microphone thereby allowing students to express themselves in a variety of media instead of purely text?

Maybe you want netbooks because you see them as tools that may enable education that is both differentiated by abilities and interest?

Maybe you want netbooks because you see that it might ignite student motivation to learn.

Maybe you want iPads because you recognize that they help students with less resources tap into their creative potential to develop music, art, photography and more.

Maybe you want netbooks because you have a vision of how they might empower students to pursue their passions and takegreater control over the path of their own education?

We’re still talking about bringing education into the 21st century – yet we’re already eleven years into it. Our society, culture and industry are all forging ahead at exponential speed leaving the practice of education in their wake. We could quote overused cliches such as, “it’s not about the technology” but frankly finding ways to place technology in our schools is an important first step. However it’s just a first step. Technology has become a core component of almost every facet of our daily lives but modernizing education requires significantly more commitment than simply providing students with access to technology.

Are you buying netbooks or other technology because you see an urgent need for change in our aging, “business as usual” system of education? If not, then it’s simply not enough … and our kids are screaming for more.