So what do teachers really want in a computer?

I handed out the following survey to the teachers in my school last week. Want to know what I found out?

I handed out the following survey to the teachers in my school last week. Want to know what I found out? Let's just say they're a fairly heterogeneous group when it comes to their tech needs, wants, and opinions.

As most of you know, all of the teachers at AHS will be getting new laptops through the Capital Planning moneys allocated recently. However, with Windows XP on its way out (June 30th is the last day computer makers can sell it), Windows Vista meeting with lukewarm receptions, and a lot of really interesting options available, I need to get some feedback before I actually start buying computers. Please complete the survey below and place it in my box next week. Feel free to stop me if you have any questions.

1.Should we all use the same computers or should we be allowed to choose from a few models that might suit individual needs better?

____Standardize ____Let us pick

2.Would you consider Macintosh computers? [Another teacher] and I are both running the latest version of the Mac OS and would be happy to give a demo. Mac laptops would look more like mine than [his - he has a MacBook Pro], but the features would be the same. The Mac OS is a bit different, but worth a look.

____Yes ____No

3.Would you be interested in a low-cost “ultraportable”? These are very light laptops with 7-9” screens and small keyboards. They aren't incredibly fast, but they are rugged, can slip into a purse or bag, and will get you online and using OpenOffice. I have a demo product coming soon from HP, but here's 2 links for more information about 2 possibilities:

____Yes, this would be useful ____No, too small

4.Would you be interested in using Linux? This is an alternative to Windows Vista. It is stable, functional, and pretty cool (for a geek like me), but, like the Mac OS, is a bit different. Some people who try it prefer its performance to Windows Vista; others don't like the learning curve. I have it installed on a laptop for your review if you'd like to explore it.

____Yes, I would consider an alternative ____No, I want Windows, even if it's Vista

5.How do you feel about Windows Vista? We would use Vista Business which is installed on the new guidance laptop and also on my laptop (Macs can run both Vista and Mac OS). Feel free to take a look.

____Vista is fine ____I'd rather use a Mac or Linux than use Vista

So what were the results? The majority want very little to do with Vista. Many have seen it in action on computers they bought for home and have been unimpressed. Many would happily stay with XP, but about 70% have expressed an interest in the Mac OS. Several have stopped by for a look and have been impressed with the interface, NeoOffice, and Office 2008, as well as the size and weight of the MacBook. Others have been put off (not surprisingly) by it's "differentness" from XP. This isn't to say they aren't willing to give it a go, but are rightfully wary of something to which they will be committed for at least the next three years.

Linux isn't exactly a dirty word, but I didn't have people clamoring to see Ubuntu running either. This seems to be largely a familiarity issue, but I think at least for this round, most folks will be sticking with something out of Redmond or Cupertino.

I was actually most surprised at the lack of enthusiasm over the ultraportables. This may change when they can get their hands on a review unit, but largely they felt that the screens and keyboards would simply be too small for daily use.

The one thing everyone agreed upon, though, was a desire to pick from a small selection of products so that they could choose something that would meet their needs. As much as I'd be tempted to standardize for interchangeable parts, easy purchasing, and insurance that new hires at least received a standard laptop (rather than whatever they inherited from the teachers they replaced), needs and interests are simply too diverse to do this with a clean conscience.

The three teachers who were actually interested in the ULPCs could quite genuinely make use of them because of travel for coaching or the need to roam between classrooms. The diehard Windows fans would lynch me if I gave them a single mouse button (despite the brilliance of a two-fingered tap). And so on. Obviously, I can't accommodate every need or desire. However, a choice between a 14 or 15 inch mainstream Windows Vista laptop, HP's MiniNote, and a MacBook seems like a reasonable menu.

Am I missing anything? Any reason to offer 17" monsters, PDAs, or some other portable (within financial reason, of course) for the teachers? Talk back below.