some feedback for a K-8 school’s technology plan

A schooI’s technology plan I read is mostly about computers for students and teachers, other equipment, and goals for integrating equipment use into the classrooms and professional development plans, without describing what students would do with the computers. Some feedback I gave:

I like the quote from John See’s on the cover of the plan, start with the applications, not the technology:

Typically, technology committees go before school boards asking for a computer lab, or computers for classrooms. The first question board members will ask is, “Why do you need them?” Why not answer that question in the plan? It may be better to go to a school board saying, “This is what we want our students to be able to do”

I would imagine the applications kids use to be various combination of:

  • reading, researching, exploring
  • writing, editing, taking pictures, collecting research, making docs
  • sharing, messaging, commenting, evaluating
  • planning, calendaring, collaborating (via the above applications)

All of these are best done in a networked context, where a kid or teacher has their own space but can easily get or move information around. Basically, a Web site, or sites. And none of these are particularly well served by specialized software like Word or PowerPoint (in fact, the software is usually a distraction to the task I’d imagine). So, what’s really needed for the applications is:

  • A campus-wide wireless network, 54Mbps or so.
  • An internal and external Web server.
  • Any computer that can run Mozilla Firefox 3
  • A bunch of new Web sites that enable the above applications (could be built on top of an application server like Drupal)
  • A set of policies for learning contexts that govern what data and work can go from internal network out to the public Web, and vice versa

This is different in that:

  • A lot of fancy new computers are not needed (just more older ‘commodity’ computers that can run a good Web browser well)
  • No further work on the internal ethernet network is needed (better to replace ethernet with more wifi hubs or extenders)
  • The real time, resources, and energy should be spent on the Web-based applications that will be directly part of the curriculum, instead of equipment

And there are great alternatives to expensive computers:

  • Standardize on free, bulletproof software instead of a single hardware platform: a robust Web browser that can use Web-based applications like Firefox 3.
  • A 1 year-old refurbished Dell laptop with Ubuntu costs $400, new MacBook costs $949, but they have identical performance running Firefox.
  • Computers can be more easily maintained by standardizing on one simple configuration for everyone. If a computer is running badly, it can be wiped and re-imaged (instead of troubleshooting software installations).
  • Software can be limited to what’s free and available on all operating systems (Mac, Win, Linux): a Web browser like Firefox 3, a text editor, and media management applications like Songbird & Picasa.