Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The PC versus Mac Debate Can End

Last month I had the honor of presenting to a number of school board members from across Iowa on the merits and implementation of one-to-one laptop computing in the modern school classroom. This was at the 66th Annual Convention of the Iowa Association of School Boards. I was impressed by all the thoughtful and conscientious citizens who are voluntarily serving their community schools for no pay and often considerable grief.

Much of my session was spent answering questions. I did not want to make a formal presentation, instead striving to make the time as relevant as possible for the participants. The most common questions I heard was, "Should a school purchase PC's or Macintosh computers for its one-to-one computer initiative?"

In response to this question, I emphasized the computer platform is the lesser part of the issue. The greater part is what the school is intending to do with the machines. Simple mathematics suggests that merely purchasing enough computers to have one for every student is the process for becoming a one-to-one school. However, this simple formula is missing the point. The computers need to fit the classroom objectives and methodologies, not the other way around. Deciding on a platform is ultimately influenced by what a school intends to do with the devices.

For our school, we wanted to create student-centered classrooms where the students are instructing themselves and each other. We wanted classrooms where the teachers are more guides to learning with the students the active participants in the class. Therefore, we wanted powerful machines that can access online resources and facilitate project-based learning. We want our students finding resources, comprehending the material, breaking down the information, and reassembling new knowledge. Therefore, we chose computers that could do audio projects, podcasting, and video production, in addition to some of the more standard functions available from most manufacturers.

The next question board members asked was usually this: "Yeah, but what if our teachers want Macintosh computers, yet nine out of ten computers in the business world are PC's?"

In my opinion, PC versus Mac operating systems is no longer much of a debate. The two systems have grown together over the last 20 years to the place where a person takes very little time to retrain for the opposite system. I made the change myself a few years back, and in less than a week, I felt completely comfortable in the new platform. Moreover, as computer operations move to more web-based systems and cloud computing, the type of computer becomes even less of an issue.

Ultimately, the operating system is a very small question. It is no longer worth debating. A much greater consideration is the performance ratings of the different machines and manufacturers. And again, it is more important what a school plans to do with their computers in order to choose a machine that meets its aim.

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