New Laptop Policy to be Implemented Next Year
by Logan Troy on Friday, May 13th, 2016
Unbeknownst to most students, a committee comprised of administrators, faculty, and staff recently decided that our current technology approach isn’t working. The school will now follow, in place of the current, free-for-all system, a revised strategy that the school first announced in the parent’s newsletter under the title “Students Will Carry Laptops to Class Next Year.” Much as this title implies, students will be required to bring an approved laptop, (i.e. not a chromebook, out of date laptop, or computer unable to hold a charge) to all classes starting next year. While many students already tote their personal computers to class every day, many others either don’t own one or prefer to use those available at school and leave theirs at home.
So why suddenly implement a policy to solve a problem that most people didn’t even know existed? Mr. Price, Milton’s CIO and a co-chair of the committee, said, “Milton’s board of trustees approved a master technology plan just over a year ago. One of the plan’s recommendations called for the upper school to define a device strategy for its students. Our work this year, culminating with the decision to have students bring laptops to class next year, is directly attributable to that plan.” Mr. Price also noted that “the use of shared carts of computers in certain departments has, over time, proven increasingly frustrating.” Perhaps most students weren’t aware of these frustrations, but the new policy should soothe teachers who have been aggravated by various computer access-related issues.
The committee ultimately adopted this new plan because, as cited in the newsletter, 90% of students already have their own laptops. Therefore, the switch to 100% of students shouldn’t cause much trouble. However, the letter fails to mention that only 47% of students responded to the ATS survey used by the committee. The students who did take the survey undoubtedly needed a device to do so, and the odds that this device was a computer are extremely high. Additionally, some students who have one can’t, or don’t, bring their computers to school. And for the 10% who don’t own a laptop, buying one represents a significant financial burden.
Wes Hudson (II), who owns a tablet but not a laptop, said that “if they don’t provide computers for students who don’t have them, that’s ridiculous.” Julianna Viola (II), who owns a chromebook — an unapproved device — added she understands “why chromebooks don’t meet the school’s needs, but a lot of people will have Macs, and a lot won’t. I think it’s going to show off inequality and that’s not cool.” Similarly, some students are upset because no clear answer has been given regarding financial aid for this new plan. The newsletter stated that “just as today, the financial aid process will consider the financial situation of each family annually, including needs that extend beyond tuition, room, and board.” The article listed Mr. Bailey as a contact for families worried about the decision, but he had nothing to further clarify when the Measure contacted him.
From many of the students that I spoke with, the natural response was confusion about why the policy is really necessary. If 90% of students have laptops, then providing shared computers for the remaining 10% shouldn’t be an issue, especially given that the school owns well over 100 shared computers. This sentiment was best articulated by Maya Slocum (II), who said that she has “never once been hindered by not bringing a personal computer to school.” Indeed, the school’s substantial investment in computer labs and laptop carts seems to be at odds with the revised policy. Even if the current system creates friction at times because of the sharing and planning ahead it requires, completely abandoning the viability of shared devices seems like an overreaction, prompted by the board of trustees’ “master plan.”
On the other hand, one bright spot in the policy is that the administration won’t dictate the specific computers students must own. Jessie Shen, a student at Thayer academy — a school that provides MacBooks for all students — critiqued her school’s policy, noting that she is unable to download apps on her computer that “aren’t related to studying.” Needing the administration’s approval to download apps would certainly be irksome, but Jessie also thinks that Milton’s new policy “won’t work well because of the different computer systems.” Both Milton and Thayer’s policies have pros and cons, but most students seem to prefer the freedom allowed by our current policy.
Student pushback to a shift in school policy is almost inevitable, but in this case, the end goal of a more technologically integrated classroom will hopefully be worth it. Upper school principal and co-chair of the committee, Mr. Ball, summed up the motivation for the policy change by saying, “When used judiciously and in appropriate contexts, laptops provide students with an additional and powerful tool for learning. Students can’t benefit from that full potential, however, if only a portion of a class has a laptop on a given day, or if students are unfamiliar with the machine that they are asked to use. Our revised approach should unlock the potential of laptops for students, enhancing their learning.” Let’s just hope the cost for students isn’t too high.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=8039