As we come to the end of our first four-year cycle in our 1:1 laptop program, it's time for some major updates and changes for the 12-13 school year. Many of these changes will be technical changes, behind the scenes and invisible. Some of the changes, however, will mean big differences in the way teachers, students and administrators use technology on a day-to-day basis.
The main thing to understand is that the 1:1 community is moving from an "Enterprise" model (where a great deal of the computing experience is centrally controlled) in the direction of a "Consumer" model (where the user is in complete control of most or all of his/her computing experience). This is happening because people all across the computing world are discovering that Enterprise models tend to be excessively restrictive, and make it very difficult for users to adopt and make use of rapidly-emerging new capabilities. When IT departments are in complete control of the user's computing capabilities, those IT people tend to arrange things to make their jobs easier, rather than to give users access to advanced, up-to-date hardware and software technologies.
This realization is pushing hardware and software producers to focus less on including management features in their products, and more on building power, performance and flexibility into systems and devices.
This is a double-edged sword for educators. On one hand, we love being able to provide advanced technologies to our staff and students in support of our educational goals. On the other hand, we want to be able to monitor student technology use, and provide a level of safety and reliability to all users. These two desires are often at odds, and we constantly struggle to find the proper balance of power vs control.
The following is a list of things that I think I can safely say are on the near horizon for us:
- Users will take responsibility for data security. In the past, all our staff and student laptops were configured to automatically synchronize (sync) with our servers every few minutes in order to save important files to our servers. This is good in the sense that we can almost always recover users' data after a major failure of a laptop. It's bad, however, in the sense that it takes tremendous server and networking resources to keep this happening reliably. And, even with all those resources, there are enough bugs in the system to cause continual minor glitches such as long login and logout times, and frequent sync errors. On rare occasions, these glitches aren't so minor, and result in lost data. As a result, we will be moving from a centralized model of data security (server sync) to a more user-centered model. The user will be instructed on best practices in data backup, and will be expected to take responsibility for keeping his/her data safe and backed up. We will provide the necessary support to make this easy for users to do.
- Users will make more use of online resources. With the development of online applications, such as those provided by Google Docs, we will move away from large sets of purchased and installed applications on our computers, and toward making use of web-based applications and storage. The big advantages here are cost (generally free), ease of sharing (no attaching files to emails, then worrying whether the other person can open it) and data security (since the data is stored online, "in the cloud", computer failures do not generally result in lost data). If you're not familiar with Google Docs or Dropbox, you should be. We need to move toward using these online tools for the vast majority of our content creation, sharing and storage needs. We will provide the necessary support to make users comfortable in doing this.
- Users will move in the direction of the "paperless classroom". Printing is costly and unreliable. Having computing devices in everyone's hands means we can do digitally much of what we used to do with printed paper. We all need to re-examine the things we do, and the ways we do them, to find ways to reduce the need for printed resources. Again, online applications like Google Docs provide an easy way to share documents, and can be a tremendous aid in moving in a paperless direction. Can we do away with all printing? Probably not (although I know schools that have). But surely we can dramatically reduce the number of printers we need to purchase and maintain, and the amount of paper and toner used.
- We will move away from controlling student online access, and toward teaching students to be responsible online citizens. It's becoming increasingly difficult to strictly control student internet access without impacting students' ability to access valuable online educational resources. Twitter is an amazingly useful tool to communicate and collaborate with people all over the world. Facebook has become the de-facto web presence for much of the world, and is used as a component of all sorts of educational websites. Simply blocking these resources is not realistic anymore. Our users must understand and practice responsible online citizenship. We will provide tools and instruction for this to happen.
- All users must be technologically literate. This means more than simply being able to operate the devices you're required to use. It means deliberately learning about current technologies, and striving to understand them and apply them where possible. Any educator today not making extensive use of Twitter, for example, is missing out on HUGE opportunities to gather and share resources with other educators from all around the world. Without it, you are literally cut off from large chunks of the world. And being technologically literate gives the user more flexibility to adapt quickly to changes in available technology, or regroup when the inevitable failures occur. No one can be an expert in everything, but technological literacy must be a personal goal for each of us.