This chapter focuses on the need for efficacious IT managers to provide access to sufficient devices so that teaching and learning needs can be met. Sufficiency is a complex concept grounded in:
- The number of devices that are available (too few impedes sufficiency);
- The nature of the devices (to little capacity impedes sufficiency);
- The manner in which the devices as available (more inflexible options limits sufficiency);
- The preparation of teachers and the support they receive (teachers who lack the competence or confidence to use technology impede sufficiency).
Each of these factors can be limited (for example by budgets or other resources), so the sufficiency of devices is often negotiated, and IT managers seek to improve access to minimize the adverse effects of these negotiations on teaching and learning.
Price versus Capacity
When making purchase decisions, IT professionals must negotiate cost and capacity. In general, devices that have greater capacity are more expensive; this can be seen in comparing the cost and capacity of devices with full operating systems (most expensive and greatest capacity) with Internet-only devices (least expensive and least capacity). There is an inverse relationship between cost and capacity and the number of devices that can be obtained per unit of a budget. Using $1000 as the estimated price per unit of devices with full operating systems and $400 as the estimated process per unit of Internet-only notebooks, IT managers would budget $25,000 for a classroom full of computers, but only $10,000 for the same number of Internet-only devices.
While the lesser cost of the Internet-only devices may motivate IT managers to opt to purchase those devices, they are going to provide limited capacity on each device. The result is that IT manager must reconcile financial considerations with educational considerations. To avoid limiting educational options through their technology decisions while also minimizing the cost of purchasing devices with greater capacity than is necessary, IT managers can diversity the fleet of devices they manger. They can purchase a large number of inexpensive devices with minimal capacity, and small number of devices with greater capacity. This strategy makes the most devices available for the least demanding (but most frequent) information tasks (such as using word processors) while also making some devices available for the most demanding (but least frequent) information tasks.
Further, those devices will affect decisions about the network, and may result in changes to how technology personnel do their work. In all cases, it is the instructional users who must decide the sufficiency of access. School and technology leaders who reject decisions that emerge from instructional users must take responsibility and be transparent. If the devices are “too expensive,” then the school leaders must articulate that and defend the decision. If devices are “too complicated” to install and maintain with the current level of knowledge or staffing, then that rationale must be made clear, and school leaders must support IT professionals so they can manage the systems teachers need.
There are no heuristics that can be used to determine what is appropriate levels of and types of technology useful for students, and in many cases, a diverse fleet of devices affords the greatest pedagogical uses, but requires the greatest expertise for managing it. As a student proceeds through her day in a typical high school, she may encounter a variety of information tasks that each require a different type of device.
Capacity versus Information Task
Another common negotiation is between the available capacity and the nature of the information task in the curriculum. In situations in which the complexity of the information task is beyond the capacity of the devices, teachers may reconcile the complexity of the tasks with the capacity of the devices. Consider video editing, which is a task that can be completed on a range of levels. While Internet-only devices may be sufficient to access and a web-based video editing system, those systems provide far less video editing capacity than a full video editing application. (These limits include the length of the video that can be produced, the options for editing it, and the resolution of the final product.) Especially as students gain experience and seek to create longer and more complicated video products, the browser-based products will be insufficient.
Teachers must decide when their students and their goals have extended beyond the simple tools and full applications are necessary. This negotiation is informed by the nature of the students, the goals of the video project, and the availability of the full devices (which might be shared among many teachers).
IT managers must recognize that the information tasks teachers anticipate including in their lessons are likely to become increasingly complex over time. As teachers’ and students’ skill increases, they will expect to include greater capacity more frequently. A solution that provides low levels of complexity, but that can be accomplished with minimal capacity may prove insufficient as skill increases. Efficacious IT managers will respond to changing levels of expertise in teachers and they will also attempt to be proactive by anticipating need and encouraging teachers to participate in IT planning.
Educational Usefulness versus Device Management
In the previous sections, an oversimplified version of technology decision-making has been presented. Cost (a very important consideration for reasonable decisions) and computing capacity (also important in consideration for ensuring sufficient computing is available) have been identified as the factors relevant to purchase decisions. While cost and capacity may be the dominant factors when deciding how to provide sufficient access, other characteristics of the devices will have implications for which devices are purchased and how they are deployed.
Boot speed, which determines then length of time it takes for a user to power a device on and have it ready for use, is an important factor in many educational situations. A slow boot speed can lead to students being distracted from the learning task or frustrated that he or she is falling behind others. A device with a full operating system is likely to have the slowest boot speed; especially older models of desktops and laptop computers that store the operating system on a mechanical hard drive which is slower to start than one that stores the operating system on a solid state hard drive. In most schools, devices that run a full operating system also connect to a server to authenticate users and to load permissions and other services. All of these factors can extend boot time to the point where it impedes some educational uses of the devices.
Further delaying boot time in some configurations of full operating systems is the need to install updates. If computers have been unused for an extended time (for example during a school break), then the first users may find the devices will not function until updates are installed. In some cases, a computer can be unusable for tens of minutes while updates are installed. To minimize the disruptions due to slow boot time, IT managers can purchase devices with solid state hard drives or they can purchase devices with mobile or Internet-only operating systems.
For several decades, enterprise networking has provided centralized control of user accounts. In the typical enterprise network configuration, users authenticate against a single directory, and the user is assigned to groups depending on his or her role in the organization. Access to network resources (such as file storage, printers, and applications installed on servers are all controlled by rules managed by the network operating system that manages those permissions on the device with full operating systems. Many of those permissions were set to control access to devices and to prevent unauthorized access to network resources. The arrival of mobile devices and Internet-only devices challenges the methods of network management and security that are well-established; these new devices cause IT system administrators to change their practices.
As teachers develop greater technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) of the devices they have available, it is reasonable to expect they will discover and refine more sophisticated uses of the devices they use and that they will seek capacity beyond that provided by existing technology. For these reasons, efficacious IT managers avoid single-device fleets. Although these can provide easier management and consistent capacity, they can result in schools maintaining unused capacity and can limit access to devices or to devices with sufficient capacity. The pedagogical implications of sections may be unpredictable to IT professionals and the management implications may be unpredictable to educators.