by Carl Dennis
Educators are under pressure to keep up to date with their students and to bring formal education into the 21st century. Implementing technology should put pedagogy first, but other considerations weigh on the decision of what to buy. Teachers and schools face the difficult task of determining what tools will best kick-start learning in their classes. However, there are upsides and downsides to every choice- and they are not always obvious at first glance. Let’s take a look at the four horses of classroom tech and what they bring with them.
The White Horse
Apple made an early start into the education market as far back as the mid-1990’s and into the early 2000’s the first, colorful iMacs and impressive Power Mac G4 towers. Apple drove innovation in the mobile market with the introduction of iPods. Suddenly, podcasts were portable, and students could listen to lectures on-the-go.
More recently, “classroom tablets” has come to mean “classroom iPads,” and many schools are quick to adopt these sleek devices. However, even with volume purchase programs, apps can add a large amount of additional cost to the deployment of iPads.
Apple’s history, attractive designs, and slick corporate image certainly make them an enticing option for classroom implementation. The additional costs that many schools fail to account or plan for are often apps, device replacement/breakage, student data storage and mobile device management solutions (e.g., filtering to prevent inappropriate use or website access).
The Red Horse
Arising as a competitor in the mobile marketplace and coming on to the hardware scene late, Google is showing strong potential and real gains in the classroom. With comprehensive suites of tools like Google Apps for Education (GAfE) that are either free or extremely low-cost, it seems Google has declared war against Apple’s long-time hold on educator hearts and minds.
Google’s tools include many features that promote 21st-century skills, not least of which are the powerful collaboration tools built into each Google product. Implementing these features is a matter of a few clicks, and making sure the hardware (laptop, tablet or mobile device) supports the feature- like having a camera and microphone for Hangouts.
A downside to Google products is that they live in the cloud, meaning the school’s networking hardware will need to be up to snuff to manage an entire school population working almost exclusively online. This could represent a significant cost for schools behind on technology implementation as they will incur the cost of network equipment and connections, as well as devices on which to use Google products. But Google has a solution for that too- Chromebooks!
The Black Horse
Microsoft is making inroads in the mobile department with the Surface Pro 4 and new Windows Phone devices that feel like the “full fat” Windows products that are most familiar to users. Office is slowly becoming more mobile and collaboration-centered: good news for 21st-century learners.
Microsoft also maintains a home-field advantage in higher education, as many businesses and work environments are Windows-exclusive and Microsoft Office-centered. Office 365, while markedly more expensive than GAfE, offers student and staff a word processing and office experience closer to that found in the real world – a bonus for teachers looking to enable authentic, real-world learning environments.
The rarity of Windows mobile devices and the relatively high cost of most (if not all) Microsoft products, make Microsoft’s stance towards the education sector unclear. Microsoft recently acquired the wildly popular game Minecraft and its “edu” version, but new pricing remains a concern to users of MinecraftEDU. It is unclear how Microsoft will introduce itself to a generation of learners accustomed to free Google Docs, free apps on mobile, and microtransactions if they have to pay at all.
The Pale Horse
Linux is, sadly, all but non-existent in the classroom. This free, open-source operating system (and ecosystem of programs) runs many of the biggest data centers and virtually every supercomputer in the world! Despite promoting free, open collaboration, many community projects on Linux need more helping hands and strong leadership.
While Linux may be free, and run on virtually any hardware schools already possess, support and deployment costs would be much higher than other alternatives, and significant professional development would need to occur- over and above the need for basic tech literacy in educators. Despite offering exciting learning opportunities via community development, collaboration, and real-world learning, Linux remains an outside contender for space in the classroom.
So Who Wins this Horse Race?
The future of classroom technology is exciting, no matter which horse you bet on. However, educators and administrators should be sure to examine the extended costs and pedagogical benefits of all technology they implement. Educators with advanced knowledge should be consulted to get the most out of each piece of technology. Everyone wants a pony, but not everyone can afford the upkeep.
Partnership for 21st Century Learning. (2015, May). P21 Framework Definitions.