Duh, If it Doesn’t Work…People Will Stop Using It.

Here’s the message. Make sure that the technology is up and running 99.9% of the time and that it’s easy for the teachers, students, administrators, and support staff to use.

This summer I learned about the research study of 1:1 high schools in North Carolina that is being conducted by a team from the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. The team spent this past year studying 8 schools in the state that were implementing 1:1 laptop programs. While the initial evaluation report that was submitted to the State Board of Education has tons of interesting information, one of the key findings caught my attention today.

Attending to the details makes all the difference. Having ways to plug-in computers and
charge batteries, make printer supplies available, establish email class lists for teachers,
backup teacher and student machines, respond promptly to technical problems, and address
the many other day-to-day needs of making the use of 1:1 laptops go smoothly in
classrooms is essential for successful use of the technology to improve student learning.

Attending to the details makes all the difference. Having ways to plug-in computers and charge batteries, make printer supplies available, establish email class lists for teachers,backup teacher and student machines, respond promptly to technical problems, and address the many other day-to-day needs of making the use of 1:1 laptops go smoothly in classrooms is essential for successful use of the technology to improve student learning.

by James W. Bell Leeds
from Flickr by James W. Bell Leeds

Nothing can sabotage a 1:1 implementation quicker than failing to make the technology reliable and easy to use. Sometimes I think that if I prioritize the barriers for a successful implementation, that this should be the #1 barrier to address. If this barrier can’t be removed, then don’t bother moving forward. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen enthusiastic educators crushed when the technological glitches make it too difficult to do their work.  What happens in the end is that they just quit trying and they don’t bother with trying something new because they fear that it won’t work and It only takes a few instances when a teacher is standing in front of a class trying to figure out why the technology isn’t working properly for the person to give up hope.

I have a personal example from this summer that describes what happens. In June I went out and purchased a HP 2140 (which I love) and I decided to go out on a limb and only use open source software. I wanted to see if I could do everything that I needed with these tools. So, I enlisted the support of our school’s open source guru and within a week I was set up. It took a bit longer than I would have liked and there were a few quirks that made me a bit worried, but I was really looking forward to this experiment. It was OK that I had to use a headset to use Skype and I was even getting used to the music software which wasn’t quite iTunes quality. I even signed up for 2 of the open source sessions at NECC.

By the end of June I was talking up Ubuntu and all of the open source products that I was using at the time. I loved that the computer started up and shut down quickly, that I did not need virus protection, and that it was FREE. I kept telling people that I thought that schools could use low cost netbooks and open source to provide all students with tools for learning. I loved the whole idea…until, one day, my computer stopped booting up and I was stuck.

On my initial call to HP the representative told me that they did not support Ubuntu. I then went online and joined a forum to see if I could trouble shoot the problem. Now, I’m definitely not a techie so it was difficult for me to understand language like this,

“Replace sda1 with the appropriate device (a = disk, 1 = partition number), then mount the virtual disk therein”

My friend who setup the computer, the Ubuntu guru, was on vacation and not available to help me from afar. Just as I was about to panic I put in one more call to HP. This time they put me in touch with an open source specialist who helped me determine that my hard drive was bad. To make a long story short, I sent the computer back and asked them to reinstall Windows for me. I gave up. I just did not feel like I had the support that I needed to continue with Ubuntu. It’s too bad because I think that it would have worked for me.

Now I’m trying to figure out if I want to pay up renew my virus protection to buy Microsoft Office since my trial copy is about to expire.

At one of the NECC open source forums someone asked about the availability of IT experts in the field who can support schools that choose to use the platform. The panelists response is one that all of us should remember, no matter what platform you use. While there isn’t an overabundance of experts out there, it’s best to find someone who is good and then provide them with the training over the long term. Develop that person(s) professionally so that they can truly support your users.

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2 thoughts on “Duh, If it Doesn’t Work…People Will Stop Using It.

  1. It’s disappointing that your experience with Ubuntu turned out to not meet your expectations. More sadly, it was a hardware failure, not the operating system, that let you down. That said, a “blue screen of death” or Apple sad face would have been no more intelligible than the message you saw when the system failed. Most sadly, you chose not to persist in your adventure.

    As a long time educator you are well aware of the incredible resources schools allocate to technology. EdTech is huge business, and the biggest players count on schools to pony up vast sums of money to use their products. Pathetically, schools often pull resources from other educational programs to pay for this, while at the same time chaining themselves to programs, protocols and data formats which are proprietary and owned exclusively by the companies selling them. Such vendor lock-in assures a steady stream of revenue for the companies selling the products and the drug-like dependence of schools to those products.

    Your persistence in your experiment would in time have led to growing expertise in using Ubuntu. And that growing expertise would have led to increased enthusiasm. And when the time came to actually propose, investigate and implement a 1:1 program, that expertise and enthusiasm could possibly lead you suggest alternative solutions that are sustainable, affordable and sensible for your school.

    The arguments for sticking with the status quo are as predictable as they are refutable. Don’t let a simple glitch deter you from seeing the bigger picture.

  2. I was certainly saddened to make the switch back and I’m still thinking of ways to go back to Ubuntu. I did really try to solve the problem with resources on the web, but was unable to. I forgot to mention that when HP returned the computer the notes said that there was a software problem and that they did not replace the hardrive. My Microsoft Office trial subscription is almost up so I have to decide what to do about that.
    If I can figure out how to install Ubuntu and run the dual system, I’m all for it. Care to coach me through it?

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