“With great power comes great responsibility.” - Voltaire
While working with schools this past summer, SET consultants noticed that setting up various forms of school technology (e.g. imaging laptops, installing audio/visual hardware etc.) was more challenging than in past years. We did some informal research and found that many schools across the country faced similar challenges. Leading technology companies, such as Google, Apple, Windows, Promethean, Epson etc. had made significant updates to their operating systems and hardware as summer started without giving prior notice. Technology companies typically update their products every year, causing some amount of rework and forced adaptation for those trying to continue using existing functionality, but this year was different.
This year’s updates/upgrades were drastic and, in a number of cases, caused slightly older (≤ 1 year old!) models of technology to lose some of their functionality/compatibility. For example, one brand of laptop our client routinely purchases changed its model type and rolled out laptops that eliminated three vital ports going down to just one port. The lack of ports means that teachers and students cannot plug in and use peripheral devices (e.g. interactive projectors, DVD players, mice, science equipment etc.). Subsequently, new cables had to be purchased along with expensive adaptor dongles to split the single port into multiple other ports. Not only is this a drain on already limited school budgets but also a significant increase in time spent troubleshooting and testing. Unannounced updates and functionality changes make both short and long term planning significantly more challenging.
Technology companies are pushing innovation with their products but often seem not to realize that K-12 schools need education pricing, additional time to integrate new technology, and earlier communication of changes. Here are three things technology companies should be aware of while they roll out new updates/upgrades:
1. Classroom Technology and Space
The challenges we experienced this past summer revolved around incompatibilities between updated computer operating systems and new hardware from leading technology companies. For example, new projectors didn’t work with some new laptops, proprietary software didn’t work on some laptop operating systems, and cables and ports stopped being compatible. Although some of these challenges are not new, they were significantly worse this past summer since every major company made significant updates with what appears like minimal compatibility testing or K-12 considerations. This caused significant increases in unplanned expenses and much greater time troubleshooting. We suggest that tech companies don’t eliminate older functionality overnight but instead apply a phased-approach to updates/changes that it both well communicated and supported.
Additionally, classrooms are typically not malleable or flexible spaces, although many are trying to use “flexible furniture” to allow for greater student and teacher mobility. The lack of flexibility often means that device chargers (particularly for laptops) snake throughout classrooms creating tripping hazards and further decreasing mobility. We suggest to all tech companies to consider a different battery solution for K-12 environments. Perhaps a replaceable battery pack or larger batteries holding greater charge could be viable solutions.
2. Budget Cycles
Schools often create and verify their budgets for the following school year between late fall and winter of the previous school year. These budgets are often inflexible, with the new fiscal year starting during the summer. We suggest that tech companies be aware of this timeline when releasing (and discontinuing) devices as well as either offering one year price matching on new hardware or education pricing so as not to increasingly restrict what schools can purchase.
3. Summer and Setup
Schools often have to purchase laptops, tablets, and other forms of hardware in the late spring to ensure that it arrives during the summer in time for the imaging and setup processes. This past spring/summer we experienced multiple tech companies releasing new hardware models at the end of spring and discontinuing the slightly older models soon after school purchase orders (POs) had already been approved. This forced schools to react and purchase new hardware that didn’t arrive in time to allow for testing. We suggest that technology companies bear in mind K-12 setup timelines and either continue making older models available for academic organizations or provide earlier notice of new model rollouts.
K-12 schools utilize vast amounts of technology, and SET implores technology companies to be cognizant that academic environments have different (and often more) constraints than other organizations. We invite more discussion with the many technology companies serving our schools to develop greater understanding of how they can better support students and teachers.