Finally, we can increase the number and use of computing devices while reducing our classroom technology expense. This has been a promise we have been chasing for more than a decade and it is here, but only if we exert some discipline.
Many of us are sharing thoughts about why a 1:1 technology environment will advance progress towards Nth Century (21C) learning. I could not agree more; the trend is inevitable and irreversible. I am thankful that our school has now committed to start a 1:1 program (we selected iPads for this roll-out). There is another side of this issue that all educators should understand and appreciate, even if it has that smell of the underbelly of school reality. As a long-time finance and operations person, the guy responsible for developing budgets and signing the checks, there are some important budgetary risks and opportunities to take into account.
Personal technology development has offered the chance for increased productivity and decreased cost for decades now. It has delivered on the first part, with productivity increases that are too steep to graph. We have not seen the same results in terms of decreasing expense. About six years ago I projected out for my senior team the on-going replacement cost for computers at a time when we were about 2.5:1. Even at that ratio, and even keeping computers as long as 6-7 years in some cases, we were spending as much each year on new computers as the rest of the K-12 classroom budgets, plus athletics, combined. I told them that this was unsustainable. The result: we ADDED more computers and more expense over the last six years. We have become completely addicted to more and better computers in the classroom.
When we decided to take a serious look at 1:1, I drew a line in the budgetary sand: if device “A” can do 90% of what device “B” can do, at half the cost, the discussion should end right there. Not all teachers will be happy; they will have to ditch some old programs and try some new ones; they will have to change their curriculum (finally); and you may decide to keep a COW or lab around campus with really high-end machines for special work.
We decided to go with iPads over the protests of some teachers who are accustomed to a laptop environment. Here are several points with regard to expense that were critical in our analysis:
- As noted, they are half the price of laptops, especially if you make some good decisions about file storage (we are going with 16 GB iPad II’s). We believe the tablets can do 90% of what laptops can do. How do we know this? A year ago we gathered data from our servers (you very likely have the software to do this) and found exactly how much time each student computer in the school was used during the year for each software application. More than 90% of computing time is either word processing or web viewing, and we think, combined with cloud-based applications, the tablets will do these just fine. In fact, we hope to significantly increase the amount of time students spend on the web.
- Some schools will choose to have the parents buy the devices directly, eliminating a major operating expense. Probably half of our students already own an iPad, so incremental cost will be zero for those families. For many independent schools this is a very attractive option that can save hundreds of dollars per student per year in operating cost.
- We will make an intentional shift to digital texts as these become more accessible in the near future. I anticipate that three years from now this could offset the entire cost of the iPad from what the parents are spending now on hard copy books (we average over $500 a year per student in middle and upper schools).
- By starting down this path, we open the possibilities for our faculty to start creating their own texts and other digital class materials. As a community we spend about $400K a year on third party texts. I would much rather pay a chunk of this to our own teachers in summer PD money to develop and maintain their own materials.
One additional point: I love Apple, and am happy with our decision to go with the iPads as I think it is a game-changing device. Though we have never leased in the past, and leasing almost never makes sense from a purely cost viewpoint, we are doing a two-year lease this time. We want the flexibility to change our mind in a rapidly evolving field. But take note: the warranty that Apple charges on a lease is a 25% premium on the base cost. That means if fewer than one in four machines fails, you are losing money on that deal. I am not happy with Apple for charging so much and encourage others to look at alternative financing structures.
Hope this helps; have love and patience with the folks in the business office!