Saturday, March 16, 2013

Desktop Computers Aren’t Dead–Tablets Brought them Back


Our district began an initiative to replace teacher desktops with laptops.  The goal is to give teachers powerful devices they can take anywhere.  Good laptops cost about a thousand dollars, though. So schools would share costs with the district.  The district would pay ~1/3 of the cost of a laptop, and the school would pay ~2/3.  file5831283456069 (800x600)Schools get good equipment at an affordable price for their teachers, and as part of the agreement teachers would take 6 sessions of professional development over the course of the year, and share a lesson or a blog post at the end of the year. 


The thing is, teachers didn’t always get rid of the desktop. 

Some teachers connected theirs to a projector or SMART board if they were lucky to have one.  Now they don’t attach and detach cables as often.  Some keep them at their desk, but take the laptop to meetings, pro-d days, and home.  The battery life is 2-3 hours, but that’s typical. 

Some teachers don’t bring their laptop home though – even though it is a smaller sized laptop, they still find it heavy.  This made me go bonkers first – but hey perhaps this should tell us something. 

This makes me think that perhaps the solution is not buying one expensive laptop.  Instead, schools should buy 2 cheaper devices – A desktop / tablet combo. 

We already know how to manage desktops. They cost ~$250 for a refurbished desktop (or less) with 4GB of ram and a dual core processor.  Fixing and upgrading desktops is easy – just a few screws and your fingers are all you need most days.

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Team this up with a $600 tablet, and you have great computing power  for well under a thousand dollars.

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(photos from and

Teachers typically work in one classroom.  For their larger computer tasks, they can go to the desktop.  Its got the power to do video editing, and 4 gigs of ram for running larger applications like Photoshop and SMART notebook. 

But don’t sit there all day – pick up your tablet and go from desk to desk, presenting info, looking up stuff, sending quick messages, and making assessments. 

Take the tablet to meetings.  Take it on field trips.  Take it home. 


I don’t have a preference at this point over Windows RT or the iPad.  Both have long battery life, light weight, and durable bodies. Both give our IT department fits because they can’t yet manage them the way they can other devices.  While this doesn’t mean teachers should stop using them, it does slow the works down considerably. 

Which means for now we offer the laptop as the best single device solution.  But for the classroom teacher, the best long term solution may be two cheaper devices.


Rob Heinrichs said...

I think one of the biggest issues that we face is trying to come up with a plan that can last more than a few years. The laptop initiative was a gat idea in my opinion be caused it moved towards more mobile computing for all.

I liked the three year cycle as well. This meant that we would be seeing new technology on a regular basis. Switching to desktops/tablets may be a good idea, but we've only been through one cycle of the laptop initiative. I think we need more time to see how this initiative impacts our schools & district.

I am writing this on an iPad, so I know the power of the tablet, but most people would struggle to use it effectively for their teaching. I think most people would not find it useful as a work tool for taking home. Maybe smaller laptops are the answer? The ones we have are still fairly large by today's standards.

James McConville said...

Great post to kick off the idea that desktops should still have a strong role in our schools.
I like anything that is always powered, can be shared with multiple students each day and is inexpensive and durable.
Sounds like a desktop to me.


James Gill said...

Thanks Rob and James for your thoughtful comments.

Rob, I think we will see at least a full cycle of teacher laptop initiative before we begin thinking of other models. That's a good thing. Besides, we don't yet know how to deploy tablets effectively as a district - but we're close...

James, thanks for your comment. I am thinking about how a desktop could be useful for teachers as their main base station, but you are right about student use. When I think of how kids in your class bring their own devices, being able to offer kids who don't have a device (yet), a reliable piece of technology that supports multiple user login would be key for getting closer to the 1-to-1 ratio.

Brandon Hudson said...
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