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MacBook, Chromebook, iPads: Why Schools Should Think Beyond Platforms

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By Shawn McCusker

How long can any device realistically be expected to remain an effective tool in the classroom? Three years? Five years? Yet today, when schools decide on a device for their 1:1 programs, that choice quickly gets written into their school “brand.” Schools become identified by that choice, and the evaluation of other devices ceases. There are even certifications to this extent, such as GAFE schools, Apple Distinguished Schools, and so on.

But it's important that schools who make “the choice” don’t simply stop planning at that point. As educational technology becomes key to the daily workings of a classroom, discussing the direction of its use should not end once devices are in their students' hands.


The choice of a platform should be focused on learning objectives, students’ needs, and community values, filtering out the extraneous factions and marketing battles. Debating the best technology platforms is part of our culture, and often we see that it ends either in a single winner (Blu Ray over HD DVD) or a divided populace with sides and factions (PC vs. Mac, Windows vs. Google). These rivalries are as much a part of our culture as rooting for our favorite team.


But they're also the byproduct of marketing and for-profit businesses, not a solid foundation upon which to build educational practice and policy. Schools cannot afford to allow these important discussions to be ruled by a decades-old Apple commercial or creative advertisements urging us to avoid getting “Scroogled.” Though such commercials are largely innocuous, they and the rivalries they create are toxic when they divide communities into camps and fiefdoms within education or limit our understanding of what is possible. These campaigns become a problem when they are allowed to become the focus of a school’s, or even the community’s, adoption process.

Selecting the right device for your school has everything to do with learning objectives and the tasks that students will do. Ideally, discussions of those objectives as well as the students’ needs should be emphasized over the devices.


As needs change over time, addressing them might mean switching devices (remaking the choice). As schools progress in their technology implementation, they may find that their needs have changed, and should not hesitate to change devices as their understanding of their students’ needs develops. This seasonal view of devices (rather than “device as school identity”) is essential to helping schools move forward, meet their current students’ needs, and keep the curriculum relevant and timely for the future. A focus on pedagogy and key technology skills will transfer from one device to another, making the shift easier; a focus on being a device expert, or mastering device specific mechanics, will not. Students will graduate into a world that will demand technological fluency, the ability to move and process information across various platforms and devices.

Chris Lehmann, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia recently made the choice to move his school from Macs to Chromebooks.

“Ultimately our learning goals won’t change. Their manifestation may change a little bit, but we started with a vision, and we still hold steadfast to that vision,” Lehmann said.

Just as important in Lehmann’s mind is another key part of what school leaders must focus on: sustainability. If sustainability is not taken into account, having made the transition and pedagogical shift to 1:1, schools would be forced to roll that change back. Moving to Chromebooks, and the monetary savings associated with doing so, secured the mission of SLA, creating stability in an environment of financial instability.

“At all costs, you have to think about what it means to sustain the choice. Not doing so would be devastating," Lehmann said. "The stability that this (change) gives us in an environment of instability was worth its weight in gold.”


The various and complex needs of a school might require making more than one choice at a time. When a school chooses a specific type of technology, administrators have taken the time to find what meets the needs of their students and their community, not simply the device with the loudest contingent of supporters.

But what if one device is not the answer? Tony Perez from the Atlanta Girls School works in a multiple-platform school, and moved from MacBook Pro to iPads in the middle school two years ago.

"We did this for several reasons: cost to families, capability of the device, classroom control, developmental appropriateness -- and it's a mobile device," Perez said. "We were interested in iPad as a content creation device."

In the past, schools had many different forms of technology. If schools used PCs, that did not prevent them from purchasing Macs for art programs where that technology might better meet the students' learning needs. Just as one would not use a wrench as a paint brush, the tools for one subject often don’t easily translate or serve the best purposes of others. Schools that embody this understanding go beyond teaching their students a single device.

"Our teachers began to understand that the final product could be flexible if mastery was demonstrated, something that has become a key understanding in our move to any platform, any time," Perez said.

If educational technology and 1:1 education are going to thrive, school leaders must be focused on constantly employing the best practices and tools in relation to the most pressing needs of their students. Managing and sustaining these programs means that the big choices don’t stop after a platform has been selected. Getting devices in the hands of students is just the beginning.

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