While an undergraduate student studying science education, I judged a science fair at a middle school located near the university where I studied. In my journal, I noted, “Students had printed graphs of their results and taped them on their displays.” I also recorded my conversation with the teacher, “she said they drew their graphs on paper, and then when she had approved them, they went to make them on the computer and printed them out.” I also had a sketch of one of the science classrooms which showed the location of the two desktop computers on the counter in the back of the room. In the same journal, I recorded a visit to another school a year later; during that trip, I joined a teacher with her students in the computer room. I observed, “students work in pairs on their Oregon Trail trip, taking notes on their trip;” the students then used those notes to compose a narrative of their voyage. My record of the conversation with the teacher detailed, “the Westward Expansion social studies unit is three weeks long and the students work on this during our time in the computer room.”
In those two cases from the mid-1980’s, we see computers being relatively marginalized and specialized part of the curriculum. In both cases, there was a very specific purpose of using computers, and the teachers played an active role in scheduling and controlling access to the machines. In the graphing example the teacher appears to have deliberately slowed the process of digitizing the graphs by insisting they be approved on a paper copy before the students accessed the computer. In the Oregon Trail example, the role of the computers in the curriculum was different as all students were using computers at the same time, and I noted in my journal, “the teacher encouraged students to work quickly as this was the last day in the lab.”
Those cases also illustrate one of the first major transitions in how computers were made available to students in schools. When they first arrived, desktop computers were installed one or two at a time in the classrooms of teachers who wanted them. Once installed, they were used in ways the teachers directed, and students used the computers while classmates were engaged in non-computer activities. This model is illustrated in the graphing example. As computers arrived in larger numbers, and the demand for instruction about computers increased, large numbers of computers were installed in special classrooms (usually rooms that had been retrofit with additional electrical receptacles). Once computer rooms were installed, the model of technology-based teaching changed. Teachers would “take their classes to the computer room,” and all students would use computers at the same time (usually for the same purpose), and no student used them until the class returned to the computer room during their next scheduled session.
Around the turn of the century, it was reasoned that students needed experience using computers in their classrooms where their other learning materials were located and to demonstrate the computers were useful for all learning not simply for specialized activities. “Technology integration” became the preferred model of technology-rich teaching. Technology integration was possible because of the coincident maturing of mobile computers and wireless Ethernet, so the computers that were moved into classrooms could be connected to the network. Of course, one cannot ascertain which of these was the motivating factor, but technology integration, mobile computers, and wireless Ethernet all arrived in schools at about the same time.
In the 21st century, it is common for IT managers to provide computers to teachers and students in three ways. Computer rooms, both (in-place and mobile), one-to-one initiatives, and bring your own device initiatives. Each has implications for IT management and for technology-rich teaching and learning.
Computer Rooms and Other Common Resources
While computer rooms have largely fallen out of favor, they continue to be maintained in many schools. As more diverse computing devices have entered the educational market and Internet-only notebooks became more popular, computer rooms have become more important for providing capacity for specialized purposes that require sophisticated software that must be installed on devices with full operating systems installed and that meet other hardware requirements.
For example, high school students working on the school newspaper may use their smartphones to capture images and draft stories using G Suite which is accessed via Chromebooks. When the students prepare the newspaper to print, however, they will use desktop publishing software that is installed on workstations in a computer room. That software allows for far greater control over the layout of the printed newspaper (and the production of electronic editions) than is possible to devices with less capacity that are used for early drafts of articles. Both are necessary for producing the final product.
While some computer rooms are filled with newer desktop computers with the greatest capacity of the various machines deployed in the school, other computer rooms are filled with the oldest machines. In schools, IT managers tend to extend the life of devices as long as possible to ensure long-term value from the purchase, so older computers are nursed along with little software installed and provide minimal, but still useful, functionality. Teachers whose students need to find information on the Internet or who need to create word processor documents, presentations, or spreadsheets may find a five-year-old desktop computer with only an office suite installed to be perfectly sufficient. Some faculty even prefer to use such systems with their students as they provide fewer distractions to students than systems with more tools installed.
One strategy that has become popular (among some IT professionals in schools) for leaving computers in service when the operating system is no longer supported is to install Linux on the computers. Linux is an open source operating system, so it can be installed without paying licensing fees, and it tends to be updated by the community indefinitely, and it (generally) requires less processing capacity than commercially available operating systems, so it can stay in service longer and on older machines. A teacher who creates a valuable lesson using a particular Linux application will find it continues to be available, in an unchanged form for as long as the computers are functional. A teacher who creates a similar lesson using a web-based application or a commercial operating system may find the site removed or the application becomes incompatible with the operating system before he finds a more suitable replacement.
Even in one-to-one environments, there are situations in which teacher must share computing resources. This can include computers with full operating systems, specialty printers, high resolution projectors and similar devices. Such devices that cannot be provided in indefinite numbers must be shared among teachers. The need to share and access to those resources and schedule time and activities so that everyone has similar access is a part of managing the technology-rich classroom. Sufficiency decisions must be made with the respect to the other demands of financial and support resources, and one support system that must be maintained by the IT professionals is a public system for viewing schedules and reserving time to use shared devices. It is reasonable to insist such schedules be available and that teachers use them.
The state of Maine, in the northeastern United States, is widely recognized as the first large jurisdictions to implement a oneto-one initiative when the state purchased Macintosh laptops for each seventh-grade student starting in 2002. The rationale behind one-to-one initiatives is that it ensures all students will have access to a computer at all times and in all places in the school. One-to-one initiatives have become more widespread as Internet-only devices (which we have seen are a fraction of the cost of laptop computers) have become more popular. Beginning a one-to-one initiative does introduce several complications into IT management.
Some IT managers deploy on-site one-to-one initiatives, which means each student is assigned a device, but it stays at school. While this does minimize the risk to damage of devices while they are being transported and loss of devices (or power supplies) when they are off campus, it does restrict the technology-rich activities to the school building.
A reasonable case can be made that on-site one-to-one initiatives put disadvantaged populations at a further disadvantage. If the one-to-one device is the only computer to which the student has access, and if access to the device is needed for off-campus learning, then restricting a students’ use can limit his or her opportunity for an education. One-to-one initiatives that deploy Internet-only devices can also be criticized because of the demand it puts on families to purchase Internet access and to install a wireless network at home, so the school’s device can be used (to its full capacity) there. Further, if individual students do not have devices (because it is not charged, or it is broken, or has been taken away for violating the acceptable use policy), then the student’s ability to engage with the curriculum may be diminished.
When deploying devices one-to-one, IT managers also take care in writing and communicating a clear acceptable use policy. This is especially important with devices that are taken home, and are going to be used on networks and in settings that are not protected and managed in the same way that a school network is.
IT managers also must plan steps to improve technology support so one-to-one devices are repaired quickly. These steps include seemingly simple, but often overlooked, steps such as providing power strips so laptops can be used even if they are not charged, and purchasing extra devices so spares can be deployed while malfunctioning devices are repaired. Many schools that deploy one-to-one initiatives will configure the devices so that files saved on the local disk drive are automatically synchronized with a cloud storage system (such as G Suite) which minimizes loss of data when computers fail. All of these support steps can increase the total cost of owning devices in ways that are not predicted when the initiative begins.
Bring Your Own Device
While a one-to-one initiative is designed to ensure that all students have consistent access to a computing device that is provided by the school, bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives are those designed to deploy a one-to-one initiative in which students and their families purchase and own the devices they bring to school and use to interact with the curriculum. These efforts are grounded in the observation that students arrive in school with smartphones and laptops, and there is even evidence suggesting parents are willing to provide devices for their children to use in school (Grunwald Associates LLC, 2013). Deploying a BYOD initiative does have important implications for both teachers and for IT managers.
First, because the device is not owned by the school, IT managers can exert minimal control over what software is installed. Consider the mathematics teacher teaching in a BYOD environment. She may encourage students to use their devices to graph functions. While she may have a preferred tool, students may arrive to class with a variety of graphing tools installed on their devices, so she may face the challenge of supporting students as they use many different tools. Further, students may be less able to help each other if they are using different tools. Of course, some perceive this to be an advantage of a BYOD initiative, as students are likely to be exposed to many different tools for (in this case) graphing functions, so they are becoming more adaptive users of technology than if they are taught on a single device. This situation can also motivate professional development such as that described in “Chapter 2: Technology-Rich Teaching and Learning.”
Second is the problem of providing software. A teacher who has prepared a template for an assignment using Microsoft Word, for example, may find that students who do not have that program installed on their devices may be unable to work with the template. Either the teacher must make the resources available in a manner that can be opened by every device, or Word must be provided to every student and on every device. While the common use of cloudbased productivity suites (see “Chapter 5: Web Services”) is minimizing the instances of the problem, it remains and can be problematic, especially if learning activities include tasks that require the advanced features of applications.
Third, the school has little control over how the device is configured, so BYOD can increase the need for malware protection and other steps to ensure the security of the network and the school’s data. In many BYOD environments, procedures are in place for ensuring devices that connect to the school’s network meet minimum security standards, and network administrators in these schools are prepared to prevent devices known to be malicious from connecting to the network.
Finally, the expectation of support can be problematic in BYOD situations. Technicians employed by the school cannot be expected to provide troubleshooting and repair services for the diverse collection of devices used in a BYOD school. Further the school must assume liability for damage done when their employees provide service. The result is that BYOD initiatives may find students without devices as they await repairs by other technicians, and they may find their devices quarantined from the school network if it is found to be the source of malware. These can all limit students’ access to devices that may be necessary for their education.
In the preceding sections, several models of dispersing computing devices in school have been presented. It is unusual to find schools in which a single method is used. Especially as Internetonly devices have been purchased, computer rooms are maintained for projects necessitating greater capacity, and many educators use mobile devices for professional purposes (and encourage their students to use mobile devices for educational purposes). Consider Riverside School, a hypothetical small rural school enrolling students in grades 7-12. Riverside has a one-to-one program for students in grades 9-12; each high school student is given a laptop with the Windows operating system installed and full productivity suites, along with a host of other tools that are used in specific content areas. About 15% of the students decide to provide their own device (usually a Macintosh laptop) rather than using the computer supplied by the school. The IT managers have purchased “take home rights” for some software titles, so students can install licenses purchased by the school on their own computers while they continue to be enrolled, and students are pointed to open source software to install for some classroom activities. In addition, there are carts with laptops shared amongst the classrooms in each wing of the school; those laptops are used primarily by students in the middle school grades who are not yet included in the one-to-one initiative.
Further, there are two computer rooms in the school. One is located in the library and it is filled with older machines nearing the end of their life. These desktop models are used for accessing Internet, including G Suite, the school’s cloud-based productivity tool. Some teachers prefer to use that space rather than laptops in their classrooms as the library affords more space. The other computer room is filled with 16 newer and more powerful desktop computers than those available in the library. That space is used primarily for desktop publishing, digital photography and video projects, and other specialized courses and projects. This leaves teachers with options. They can choose the system that meets their need, and the needs of all users can be met with minimal disruption.