A friend recently let me know about the July 2008 report “Third-Year (2006-2007) Traits of Higher Technology Immersion Schools and Teachers” published by the Texas Center for Educational Research for the Texas Education Agency.

While the report points out that three of the four “high immersion” sites in TxTIP are using Apple Macintosh laptops instead of Dell Laptops, it evidently does not mention that only 7 of the 21 studied sites went with Macs initially. With just one-third of studied TxTIP campuses using Macs, three-fourths of the identified “high immersion” campuses are using Macs. Is that merely a coincidence? I think not.

Selection of a computing platform is one of MANY issues to consider when embarking on a 1:1 project, but it is a highly significant decision which impacts multiple aspects of a laptop initiative. If I was in a formal position of authority in our state or any other and was considering a laptop initiative for large numbers of students and teachers, there is no question Apple laptops would be at the top of my list for hardware. The iLife suite and the overall approach of Apple Professional Development is much more constructivist and project-based than what I’ve I’ve seen and heard about from campuses in TxTIP and other 1:1 projects which selected a Windows-based operating system. To be fiscally responsible I would certainly consider Windows-based alternatives as well as open-source laptop options as well, but based on my past experiences along with educational research findings like these I’d be highly-biased to favor the Apple platform. As I heard one of the leaders at the University of Texas’ College of Education share in April 2005, a successful laptop initiative is based on SO much more than just the question, “How inexpensively can you deliver that hardware to my loading dock?”

This is not to say that 1:1 initiatives can’t be successful and very learner-centered / project-based on a Windows-platform or on a Linux platform, but I will contend it is more difficult and much harder to find these types of success stories at schools using the Windows platform. All Macs come with software which naturally lends itself to creating, collaborating and communicating with others. On the Windows platform that is not the case. Software from Tech4Learning, ToolFactory, and other companies certainly CAN be included in the software package included with Windows-based laptops in 1:1 projects, but all too often project directors fallaciously assume “Microsoft Office is really the only software program our students and teachers are going to need.” That assumption is both false and ridiculous if attaining “high immersion” levels as measured by TCER in this report is a desired project outcome.

I’ve had this perception for several years. It’s interesting to see my perception is now supported by the year 3 report of TCER for TxTIP. This report and others published by TCER for TxTIP are available on the TCER website for download.

Earlier this year I heard that only three of the initial 22 middle school TxTIP campuses were expected to be sustainable (continue their laptop initiatives) past the four year grant period, and of those all three were using Mac laptops and two were in West Texas. (Floydada ISD and Post ISD) Can anyone involved in TxTIP confirm or deny this rumor?

As far as I know Floydada ISD is the only district out of the 22 original middle school/junior high campuses in TxTIP to use local funds to extend the laptop initiative to the high school level. Floydada High School was named an “Apple Distinguished School” last year because of the exemplary successes the district has had with technology immersion both via TxTIP as well as locally supported and funded efforts. It was no coincidence that in March 2008 Floydada superintendent Jerry Vaughn was named one of the national “2008 Tech-Savvy Superintendents” by eSchoolNews.

The need for and positive impact of good, strong, visionary leadership in our schools is evident everywhere, and it is certainly clear to see in a success story like Floydada ISD. I look forward to reading this entire TxTIP year 3 report in the weeks ahead, and will post more about this report as I make time to consume, digest and analyze it.

It’s been almost four years since this news broadcast segment ran in Lubbock, Texas, in October 2004. It is extremely gratifying to see those seeds of technology immersion flourishing in West Texas! :-)

Check out the “Opening Doors!” video from Floydada High School to learn more.

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  • http://johnpeters1959.blogspot.com/ John Peters

    Wes;

    Great story about laptop initiatives. Our school district gave all of our teachers Apple Macbook laptops this year. I hope to see it extended to our students in the future. When you look at how well Floydada has done and what their students have the potential to learn it is just pretty amazing.

  • http://noeltigers.com wmchamberlain

    As a first time owner of a Macbook, I totally agree with you. Unfortunately, I am still hoping for enough money in the tech budget next year to be able to purchase enough $400 laptops for one 1 to 1 classroom. I love the Macs, but I can’t afford to purchase them for a classroom. It just isn’t economically feasible. (Not to mention my tech guys would have a heart attack if they thought they would have to support them!)

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Well, my encouragement to you in your situation is to make sure you purchase and obtain enough commercial and open source software packages so the laptops become creativity, collaboration and communication tools for students instead of just eBooks and word processors. Certainly with web 2.0 tools just a web browser can be a very powerful tool, but I think we still need plenty of educational software programs loaded on student laptops– and I’m not talking “math blaster.” This list of software programs which comes pre-installed on the XO laptop is worth checking out, especially since all those programs are free/open source. Some may just run on Linux but I think many can run in a Windows environment too.

    If you are really serious about affordable laptops, I hope you’re looking at Linux. Sadly when I was at NECC talking to some of the resellers of the Intel ClassmatePC, I learned at least one of them was NOT going to discount their laptops at all when customers went with Linux instead of Windows. They were just going to keep that extra money that the school wasn’t going to pay for a Microsoft license and NOT pass the savings on to the educational customer. How wrong is that?! Hopefully that will change, but I didn’t hear any indication of it changing at NECC.

  • Darin King

    I would tend to agree with the premise of your post. The iLife suite of software is excellent for promoting project based, constructivist experiences for students. Our district has been mainly Macs since the early 1990′s.

    I do have some issues with Macs.

    1. The overall quality of Apple products has decreased dramatically the past 3-4 years. For example, we purchased 500+ Macbooks in 2006 and OVER 35% have needed warranty repairs. Completely unacceptable. Shoddy system boards, CD drives, hinges and cases. For comparison, our 200+ HP laptops purchased at the same time have had about 6% warranty repairs.

    2. Mac’s are priced way too high. Have you ever tried to explain to a school board member why a DVD burner costs an extra $200 on a Mac? They look at you like you are an idiot. Or how about why, after about 8-12 months of a new software release, the newest hardware suddenly stops running the older software? Or, why do we have to pay for a 3 year warranty when it is included in other business class computers that already cost less? These are real life questions that school board members will ask.

    When I started in Ed Tech back in the mid 90′s, I could and did easily defend our district purchasing Mac’s for many years. It is getting much much harder lately.

    But, back to the issue. I do believe that schools that use Mac’s are more likely to have successful 1:1 initiatives. Is it because of the hardware and/or software? I would suggest there are many variables that come into play, but my experience still tells me the Mac’s have something to do with the success.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Darin: TCO calculations are definitely very important. I have heard nightmare stories about Windows-based laptops stacked up in closets because the school district and/or the vendor they worked with didn’t have workflow processes in place which turned them around quickly and got them repaired and back in the hands of users quickly.

    I own a 1st gen Macbook myself and have had much more trouble with it than any other mac I’ve owned before. A later model my wife has has not had those problems. I used the heck out of my MacBook the past 2 years and was always glad there wasn’t a warranty “clock hours” limit because I was sure I’d have exceeded “normal use time….” Warranty repair percentages certainly should be lower than 10% to be reasonable.

    I’d love to see Apple come out with a laptop focused specifically on education and priced much less as well, in the $500 range or less. I don’t know if we’ll see that or not. I think we’ll continue to see the downward pressure on laptop pricing coming from those advocating for Linux and open platforms. I need to use Linux more and specifically use video editing applications on Linux. While I am a big fan of Macs and have seen great successes in laptop initiatives using Macs, as I said in the post if it was up to me I would also explore the option of going with a Linux computing platform for a 1:1 initiative. I think the vision of the project needs to drive the hardware and software acquisition process. What do you want and expect learners to do with these computers? One of the biggest struggles is helping people see beyond more traditional productivity software use and web 1.0 Internet use.

    In terms of “success” with laptop initiative using Macs, I agree with you that my experience tells me Apple has a lot to do with past successes, but research reports like this one from TCER also support this. I think it is important that we base our recommendations and perceptions not only on our own experiences but also on research, and many of the documents coming out of TxTIP are helpful in this regard.

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