Monday, February 10, 2014

Why tech equity isn't always equitable...

Everyone should have iPads!

Everyone needs a SmartBoard!

They got a Chromebook, why didn't I get a Chromebook?!

I'm sure we've all heard similar laments from staff, or directives from higher-ups. I understand the desire to make everyone feel included, make everyone feel like they're involved. But is it always the best idea to strive for equity?

Equity isn't always the answer.

When it comes to instructional technology, I think equity is the worst determining factor you can use when buying and issuing technology.

The middle school across the street from our elementary school has a 1:1 Windows netbook program. I want no part of equity with that. Why put a cart of Chromebooks in a Kindergarten class not yet up on the school's Google Apps for Education platform when you can put more devices in a 5th grade room with student bloggers?

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

I have a 66" SmartBoard in my lab. It was ordered before I arrived. I tried to cancel the order. Why? At the time it was a $7,000 investment. My lab is a 1:1 iMac lab. My point was, and still is, if everyone has a computer, and that is the core benefit of the computer lab, why do I need an interactive whiteboard for $7,000? I can share my screen with students, and the IWB features don't offer me a lot of usability beyond tapping since we use a wide variety of software suits and web applications, not the built in IWB optimized software. Give me a projector and a flat surface and let me use the remaining $6,000 for more useful student tech.

I come to this realization based not on a single instance, or ever a preponderance of requests, but after years of growing budgets and increased tech interest. Years ago there was enough money for one or two new iMacs every year. Equity wasn't a big issue since the volume was was minimal.

This year I was fortunate to have almost $18,000 in initial tech funds, specifically earmarked for technology. We also received funds from a New York State vs. Microsoft lawsuit settlement, worth roughly $25,000 for hardware and $25,000 for software.

This year rocks!

But how to spend it? Our 3rd-5th grades are fully up and running on Google Apps. Do we go 1:1 with Chromebooks? But what then of the Kindergarten through 2nd grade classes? Do we have to buy them something solely because we are buying items for other grades and classes?

Does everyone get a SmartBoard? And if they do, is it because they want one, and need one? Or are we going to put a SmartBoard on the wall of every classroom just so everyone has the same stuff? And don't forget, it's not just the SmartBoard... we have to buy the laptop to go with it. And since the rooms with new SmartBoards will have new MacBooks, we had better get new MacBooks for the classrooms with older SmartBoards, otherwise there won't be equity....

A little tongue in cheek hyperbole, yes, but done to illustrate a point.

If we buy and implement to be equitable, are we buying and implementing effectively or simply being effectively equitable?

We have teachers who love having students create and present PowerPoints. Why not give them 10 ChromeBooks? Other teachers prefer poster projects better suited for paper. Putting 10 Chromebooks in each room, just for the sake of equity, might turn the second teacher off to tech, feeling it's being forced on them. It might also make the first teacher resentful, feeling like they are missing out on additional devices they would use just because every teacher "needs" the same stuff, regardless of desire or potential use.

I don't want iPads.

Our Science teachers have a cart of 20 iPads. They love it. People (parents, colleagues, administration) keep asking me when I'll get a cart of 20 iPads for the lab. I tell them never.

I have up to 32 students per class, 22 periods a week. I have a Mac server with individual student accounts as well as every 3rd-5th grader up on our GAFE platform. I have 30 iMacs and 3 MacBooks in the lab. Essentially a 1:1 environment. Putting 20 iPads in my room would mean 10 students wouldn't get a full period with a device. 20 shared iPads would also mean saving student work wouldn't be as easy, since iPads can't support multiple user logins.

Don't get me wrong, I love iPads. But I don't need, nor do I want, 20 iPads in an iMac lab. Give 20 to Science. Give 20 to Art. Give 20 to Music. But don't give 20 to me, even if you think it's equitable.

If you give me 20 iPads then my 30 iMacs aren't being used. If my 30 iMacs are being used then the 20 iPads aren't. Equity isn't the answer if it's equity for equity's sake. If we were to force equity among our cluster (Art, Science, etc) teachers, then we'd be spending money on tech for equity's sake, not for usability's sake.

I'm in a great place.

I am. My school is great. Students love coming to school. Tons of parent involvement. Great staff and administration. Art, Music, Science, Gym, partnerships with the Met Opera Guild -- we have a wide range of opportunities and experiences for our students, and they thrive. But every once in a while I have to fight the instinctive urge for equity. My administration is great about funding technology, but every once in a while I have to push back a bit and ask "why" when a purchase or implementation plan is suggested. For example, we just bought 53 ChromeBooks for classroom use. The administration's original implementation plan was for every 2nd-5th grade classroom to get one or two. I pushed back. Our 2nd graders are not up on our GAFE platform yet. So, instead of giving one to every 2nd grade classroom, for equity, why not give more to the 3rd-5th grade rooms, who use GAFE daily? Thankfully, my push against equity was approved. Once the 2nd grade is up on GAFE I'm fully behind putting ChromeBooks in their rooms. But to give them a single device now instead or more in the upper grades would have been equity at the expense of usability.

Equity should be about what is needed, not what others got.

In my ideal world I'd get to ask each teacher what they wanted and why. Get a sense of the tech they crave and are willing to utilize immediately and effectively. Then we'd buy them what they want. For some it might be 20 ChromeBooks. For others it might be an Elmo. Others might want a mix of laptops, tablets, and desktops. I would love to never buy a SmartBoard for the teacher that doesn't want one, but upgrade those teachers that live on them. If a teacher doesn't want tech in their room? Not my ideal but I'd say ok. I'll spend their tech funds to give more to the teachers that want and use.

I'm all for equity as long as it's not the same.

I'm all for it as long as it's purposeful. I'm all for it as long as it's viable and sustainable. Most importantly, I'm all for it as long as "equity" doesn't mean the same item, but rather the same attention, consideration, and expectation. I don't think equity should be about an item, a device, or a tool. Keep in mind, each student and teacher might have a different definition of tech equity.

Equity should be about access and opportunity to use what is most important and valuable to the students and teacher in any given classroom.

Don't force tech for the sake of the same.

Support tech to ensure access and opportunity, thereby creating true equity.

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