To standardize or not to standardize

I've talked in a few posts about the tech refresh we've pitched to our town recently. They haven't actually coughed up any money yet, but I think we made a pretty compelling case.

I've talked in a few posts about the tech refresh we've pitched to our town recently. They haven't actually coughed up any money yet, but I think we made a pretty compelling case. I'm choosing to be optimistic (maybe it's just caffeine and sleep deprivation, but I have a pretty good feeling about this particular initiative). Part of the proposal replaces teacher computing at the middle and high schools. Right now, the middle school teachers are using ailing iBooks while the high school teachers have either a desktop or laptop. All of these are either slowing to a crawl or on the brink of some type of hardware failure.

While replacement is a no-brainer, I'm wondering if an across-the-board laptop-per-teacher model makes the most sense. When we initially purchased computers for every teacher at the high school, we gave them the option of a desktop or a laptop. Most chose the laptop so that they could work at home, move between rooms, use them easily for presentations, etc. About a quarter, however, chose the desktops. This group generally worked exclusively at school, had a laptop of their own, and/or wanted a 17" monitor instead of a 14" screen on the laptops. We saved some money this way and the desktops have held up well. Obviously, they don't get shoved in bags, lugged around school, thrown in cars, etc., but they also had faster desktop-class processors, more RAM, and larger hard drives, meaning that they aren't as brutally slow as their laptop brethren.

Where this has caused problems, though, is when the "desktop teachers" retired or left (the younger teachers largely wanted the laptops) and their generally younger replacements wanted laptops instead. Lacking seniority, younger teachers were less likely to have an assigned room, so they needed mobile computing. They also tended to fully utilize our digital projectors, the use of which is certainly easier with a laptop.

We would not have encountered this problem if every teacher had simply been assigned a laptop, yet the laptops didn't satisfy user needs as well as a mixed model. Similarly, at our middle school, all teachers were given laptops, yet very few needed or wanted anything mobile. While this has changed somewhat since they were deployed, there are still a lot of iBooks that sit on a desk 24/7.

Further adding to the complication is the wide variety of very satisfactory laptop configurations available near the $1000 sweet spot we've allocated for each teacher. 13.3" Macbooks or low-end 17" multimedia models (and basically everything in between) can all be had near this price point. iMacs, speedy desktops with large monitors, or even inexpensive machines hooked up to digital projectors are also within reach of the $1000 mark. While the costs are to be spread out with a lease, some teachers might actually be better served by an Eee that could be purchased outright for near the first-year cost of the lease on a $1000 system.

This begs the question, do we standardize for ease of management, ease of deployment, and consistency for future employees or do we engage the staff and give them systems (within the limits of our budget and leasing models available from the vendors of choice) that meet more individualized needs and instructional styles? I'm leaning towards the former; everyone can use a laptop, whether or not it's the optimum choice for an individual. But are we selling the individual short with that model? Worse yet, are we wasting money? Take the poll below and talk back with your thoughts.

[poll id=33]

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