Ten years ago the administrators and a select group of district office staff each received cell phones paid for by the district. At the end of each month the cell phone users trotted into the district office to pay for any personal calls made using the phone. Since almost no one had their own cell phone back then, this awkward situation continued for some time. Eventually as cell phones became more ubiquitous and staff began purchasing better, more full-function phones for personal use, the district dropped the cell phones from the budget. It didn’t make sense to carry two mobile phones.
Fast forward ten years and we’re almost to the same decision point with teachers and computers. As lines continue to blur among desktop computers, laptops, mini-laptops, iPads and smart phones, it doesn’t make sense for some teachers to have to set aside their personal device to use an older, slower, less functional desktop when they come to work. Many of the younger teachers have balked at using the teacher classroom computer and have asked to be allowed to use their personal laptops. Using the personal device means they carry everything on one machine or have access to everything from one machine.
Because of limited technical support and the obvious budget woes of school districts across the country, it isn’t realistic to think that a district would have the resources to purchase and support a variety of devices running a wide range of operating systems. And since cloud computing seems, at least for the near future, the direction technology is moving, it makes sense to let teachers buy and use what they are comfortable with, give them easy access to the Internet and then step out of their way.
Maybe, at least initially, each teacher could receive a stipend ($200) to apply to a personal device. This would save the district about $500 a computer that could be applied to other technologies like projectors, document cameras, smart boards, student computers or just used to offset layoffs and other reductions.
The same rationale could be applied to high school students. Allowing students to bring to school personal devices that they could actually use as part of their education would make the school a place where technology is useful instead of the place where personal technology devices are banned.
There are two key points here: 1) School Districts need to give up the idea that we can control when, where and how teachers and students use technology; and 2) It is critical that school districts begin to stretch the definition of what school is, when it happens and where it happens. Right now some school districts are being dragged, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the real world use of technology where desktop computers, computer labs and scheduled times to use technology are outdated.