They may not be for students, but handhelds might be a nice alternative for teachers who don't need a full-blown desktop or laptop PC. As I described in a previous blog, we offered our teachers a choice between a laptop and desktop, based on their needs and usage. Teachers who didn't run PowerPoint shows frequently in class, work often from home, or otherwise need the mobility of a laptop chose a desktop. But what if we had offered them a third choice?
There are many teachers who use computers only for occasional research or to access data in a student management system. Handheld computers are now readily available for very moderate prices and can easily satisfy the requirements of basic Internet access and the ability to create, view, or modify a variety of simple documents. They are also sophisticated PDAs, tools already used by many educators.
Many teachers, as well, already have computers purchased with personal funds. Handheld computers, given their ability to synhronize with other computers, would provide teachers the ability to more fully utilize personal computers for academic purposes. Similarly, if teachers have invested in a personal computer, then a school-owned computer may have less utility, as well as limited incentive to use it fully.
What this really leads us to is the idea that, while all teachers deserve and should have access to computing facilities, not all teachers can fully utilize an expensive laptop. Unfortunately, politics and egos must be overcome when determining the best way to allocate scarce funds for teacher computing resources. Many would be best served by a laptop, others by desktops, or handhelds. Still others might be served by shared computers in a given department if individual teachers in that department have truly limited computing requirements.
A few very honest teachers will admit that they have no need for a dedicated PC. However, as a teacher myself, I know how difficult it can be to pass up anything that might be offered to us. Resources are often so chronicly limited that we can hardly be expected to choose a less expensive or less glamorous option. We teachers can be likened to the youngest children in a large family. We know that we should grab the biggest and best of whatever we are offered since it probably won't be offerred again anytime soon.
Our role in Ed Tech, though, is to overcome politics and interdepartmental squabbles. Rather, we need, as with any good system, to identify requirements. What does a given teacher really need? Some may, in fact need higher-end workstations. Others may get by quite nicely sharing a computer within a small, non-technical department. Only by analyzing and acting upon such requirements can we allocate resources appropriately, equitably, and sensibly. An old history teacher of mine used to say that the "the fair is in Puyallup." Any readers in Western Washington state will get that (here's a hint for the rest of you). The point is that IT is not about fairness and every person getting an equal share of the technological pie. IT is about requirements and satisfying needs in the best way we can.