The other day, a friend shared a conversation. “My daughter’s school said they’re a Google District. Do you know what that means?”
I had to laugh. Here at Abre, we ask new customers if they’re a Google District, a Microsoft District, or an Apple District. The question is crucial because it affects our playbook. It also affects the playbook of instruction.
It Starts With Decisions
Google, Microsoft, and Apple are the three biggest operating systems. The type of operating systems schools decide to use helps determine the device they choose to use. To some extent, this decision also carries implications on what instructional programs schools can or cannot use.
Often, a school will decide on the device to buy first, then go along with the corresponding operating system. For example, a school might decide to outfit their students with iPads. This decision has downstream impacts as they’ll then use iOS for their operating system and Apple Apps for their instructional programs.
For school IT professionals, the level and types of support are different with each operating system and device. As IT professionals are usually strapped for time (especially in K-12), they usually advocate for what they think is easiest. This might mean sticking to something they already know. Or, it might mean a new technology or feature that presents obvious time benefits.
On the other hand, instruction professionals, like teachers and administrators, are drawn to devices and software that they think will bring the most benefits to academics.
Sometimes there are disagreements between various stakeholders because objectives don’t necessarily align.
For most of the 90s and aughts, Microsoft dominated education. School labs were outfitted with desktop machines running Windows 95 or Windows XP. Occasionally, schools would invest in Apple computers. But, given their price point, these devices usually went to specialized labs that focused on art and graphic design. Desktops shifted to laptops as wireless technologies improved (and had the bonus of freeing up space in many schools as computer labs became classrooms).
In the mid-aughts, technology started to run in the cloud. Anyone could access applications via an internet connection. While it took a while for this reality to set in for many districts, the browser became the operating system.
This shift was profound.
“The Web as a platform” opened the door to creative applications for education. Coding for the web is accessible to a variety of folk (including students). Anything created to work on the internet would work on any device. Programs became platform agnostic.
The Current Lay of the Land
K-12 schools in the United States basically embrace 1 of 3 platforms for education.
Windows is the legacy and entrenched platform. Tech departments invested vast amounts of knowledge and human capital in supporting Windows machines. It’s what they know. In terms of cost (or total cost of ownership), Windows fits pretty well in the middle. Additionally, there is quite a bit of edtech – particularly legacy edtech – built for Windows.
Chromebooks are simple laptops that run ChromeOS. Chromebooks launch a web browser (Chrome), and all applications run via the web. Chromebooks are cheap and inexpensive. They’re drop-dead easy to maintain and monitor. For this reason, many tech departments favor Chromebooks as one can mostly have students support what little maintenance they require.
Apple iPads and/or MacBooks
iPads are simple to use, great for the individual user (as in 1 iPad assigned to 1 user) and feature a vast amount of education apps. iPads (tablets in general) are especially useful to younger students and their instruction. From a Technology Department’s perspective, maintaining, monitoring, and deploying iPads is a challenge. It takes a significant amount of work. iPads and MacBooks are also expensive.
Who Dominates the Current K-12 Education Market in 2019?
Google. Given the simplicity of Chromebooks and their inexpensive costs, schools have embraced such devices. Google also gives away its GSuite (their version of Office Applications) for free to schools and districts (compounding the cost savings).
What Does This Mean for Parents?
As a parent of school-age students, I generally find the platform question to be relevant in three areas.
- The pocketbook (how much will it cost to buy equipment and/or software)?
- How my child’s data is being used (for instructional growth or profit)?
- Does a particular platform best support instruction?
For me, the last point is the most significant, and yet, I can easily see different areas being of varying concerns for parents. Understanding the beneficial interaction between platform and instruction can be complicated and sometimes confusing (it’s also not super clearcut). In future posts, I’ll start to explore examples that help explain this interaction.
In general, there’s no “one” solution to what’s best when it comes to being a particularly platformed school. If districts and educators are intentional and thoughtful, they can create instructional gains no matter the platform.