Monday, January 16, 2012

Should schools require students to purchase specific types of tech?

(this was originally posted in 2009, but I thought it was still timely)

Technology is a great educational resource and tool. There are literally thousands of types of technology, software, and hardware out there for educators and students to use. But what happens when a school requires students to have a specific brand of technology?

Many colleges require students to have a laptop and if they don't own one, they can get one at a discount through the school. Other colleges issue the students laptops with the cost included in the tuition and fess. Some schools now require students to purchase iPhone's or iPod Touches. While I'm all for students having great technology tools, I have a problem with schools mandating the brand or system that students use.

The iPhone and iPad are cultural and business phenomenons. Apple has sold millions of them around the world and it is difficult to go one day without seeing someone using one. The iPhone, and iPod Touch, have a huge number of great applications that are useful to students and educators. But does that mean that students should have to use it at a school? What happened to freedom to choose and a free market? Along the same lines, some schools or departments at schools, require their students to purchase Mac's instead of PC's. Other schools require students to purchase Windows based laptops.

This is not a good thing. Restricting students to a certain brand, company or system is wrong. Students should be allowed to purchase what ever brand or system that they are comfortable with. In this day and age, it doesn't really matter which system you have, you can do anything you need to. Mac's have Microsoft Office on them, Windows can do video, audio, and graphics. Web based applications like Google Docs, Zoho, and more mean that the operating system doesn't really matter anymore. Other smart phones can do what the iPhone can do. I did a comparison of the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and Palm Pre systems and found that every educational application available on the iPhone has some sort of counterpart on the other systems. All of them can go to the Internet, get email, view videos, view documents, take pictures, text message, and more. In fact, some of them have more educational tools available than the iPhone.

What about service contracts? A student with a phone from Verizon or Sprint shouldn't have to switch to AT&T because their school requires them to have an iPhone. They also shouldn't have to carry two devices if they keep their own smart phone and have to purchase an iPod Touch for school. If they already have an iPhone, they shouldn't have to switch to Windows Mobile, or Blackberry because the school wants them to.

Schools need to stay away from dictating the brand or system that students should have, and instead list what students should be able to do with their own laptop or smart phone. Schools need to also make sure that their applications are system independent. Lectures, applications, documents, and more should be able to be used on Mac, Windows, Linux, Palm, Android, Blackberry, or any other system. Schools should spend their time on making sure that students can use any system instead of pushing students towards a specific system.

If a school uses mainly web apps, there is little-to-no support needed from IT, and the web apps are platform independent. I've written about web apps vs. on device software before.

Freedom of choice and a free market system are the only way to encourage inventiveness and allow students to be comfortable with their technology. Let the companies do the marketing for their products. Schools should do the educating.

What do you think?