Giving educators the tools that they want (and need)

Best operating system? Lowest TCO? Best workstation? Highest productivity? None of it matters if educators don't have the tools they need to to educate their students -- our children! Don't you think we should start by asking them what they need?
Written by Marc Wagner, Contributor

Education IT, whether in K-12 or in a college or university setting, all too often finds itself trying to provide cost-effective solutions without having any idea what our educators need to do their jobs most effectively. 

Among our readers, the debate rages on between Windows and Macintosh and some flavor or another of Linux.  (Their religious fervor often borders on jihad!)  None of our readers even think about UNIX anymore (even though MacOSX is UNIX, running under a proprietary shell) -- yet, when it comes to desktop computing, UNIX is the grandaddy of them all!  But that's another article!  It doesn't matter which technology is superior.  Or even which is most cost-effective.  What matters is that our educators (and their students) USE IT to advance their education. 

It is easy for Education IT to declare that ninety percent of the work done on any personal computer consists of writing papers and surfing the web (presumably in the name of 'academic research').  It is also easy for administrators and school boards to declare that schools can use just any old computer which still functions to do those things.  And it's even easier for our readers to declare that their favorite platform is "the best".  But that isn't sufficient.  In fact, it's this kind of 'my way is the only way' mentality that holds back learning. 

Engaging students takes more than putting them in front of a computer that their parents discarded two or three years ago.  And just because they can learn without the modern trappings of information technology doesn't mean we should expect them to when using those tools greatly enhances their learning by engaging their minds. 

When was the last time that your educators' needs were taken into account in the process of figuring out what new hardware and software to buy?  Do your educators have their own IT budget?  Giving them some discretionary IT money so they can make the best choice for their needs (and the needs of their students) is a GREAT way to give them a stake in computing at your school or university. 

In recent weeks, Chris Dawson has written a number of excellent articles regarding his soon-to-be completed mixed-platform approach to computing in his high school.  I suspect that his broad approach to meeting the widely diverse needs of his teachers and his students is the exception and not the rule -- especially considering that most school districts (and many universities) are only just now beginning to embrace the life-cycle funding of information technology. 

In fact some universities have gone so far as to abandon any significant investment in student and instructional computing under the mistaken belief that by requiring students to own their own computers that somehow address the instructional needs of faculty and their students. 

Educators are often only marginally better versed in what information technology can offer them and their students than the general public and part of our job to to help advise them.  Unless we engage them in the process, and give them a stake in the outcome, we cannot possibly serve their needs effectively.

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