Things That Keep Me Up At Night

by Rob Landers, Director of Technology – School District of Washington

As I thought about what to do for my editorials, the most obvious things I could think of were topics that bugged me. Things that I had problems with. Things that don’t work the way they should, etc… But I didn’t want this to devolve into a complaint-fueled tirade every time it was my turn to speak. However, from an Ed Tech leadership position, there are numerous things that I deal with on a regular basis that cause me a great deal of concern, and I’m not necessarily sure how to address them. For my part, I’ll be discussing a few of these concerns with you all as we move forward. My goal is not to add to your headaches or worries but instead to spark conversations about how we can address these issues that we, likely, all have in common.

Having said all that, this month’s topic doesn’t really keep me up at night. It does, however, cause me a great deal of concern about how well we are preparing our students for the future. You see, in Washington, we have gone 1:1 in grades 3-12 with Chromebooks. Students are quite adept with these devices and have mastered the use of Google Drive, and, by most accounts, these devices serve our purposes quite well. But something happened a while back: our Network Administrator, whose daughter is in high school, was using one of the Windows PC’s in the library and couldn’t figure out how to save something so that she could get to it later. When her dad suggested using her H:\ drive, he was met with silence on the other end. Turns out, she had no idea what a Home drive was (or what any other network drive was, for that matter). And that’s coming from a child whose father is a “computer guy.” So I started asking my daughter (also a high schooler) what she knew about network drives and use of a Windows-based PC in general. The answers were pretty much the same. This is what got me thinking. If kids whose parents are very tech savvy, or work in the technology field, have little to no understanding of Windows PC’s then what do other kids know? Intuition tells me that they would know even less. And what happens when we send our “21st Century Learners” (a term which I despise, by the way….) out into the workforce and they are put in front of a Windows PC to do their work? Will they know what to do? The employer is certainly expecting them to know. I mean, this young person has just spent the last decade using a “computer” for most of their work on a daily basis. How could they not know what to do when faced with one of Mr. Gates’ finest creations?

The fact of the matter is that all “computers” are not created equal. There are major differences between systems and differences in how the user interacts with the device. For example, one of the biggest issues I’ve run across when a Chromebook user is on a Windows device is the concept of saving your work. Chromebook kids just don’t do it. They don’t know to do it. They haven’t been conditioned to do it like we were. Google just does it for them. It seems like a small thing, but when a student is standing in front of you, tears welling in their eyes, because they lost half of the paper they just spent an hour typing, it’s no longer just a small thing. In fact, it’s a pretty big thing to them. Now imagine if that was the sales projection data that the CEO wanted on her desk five minutes ago…definitely not a small thing at that point. And I’m sure that Mac districts have struggled with this, to a certain degree, for years. Sorry, but it’s a new situation to me, and I truly believe the difference between Mac and PC is less than the difference between Chromebook and PC. So I feel like we’re in a bigger hole now than in the past.

So what do we do?

Seriously, I’m asking you the question.

I don’t think there is an easy answer. If you’re like us, you’ve probably removed all of your computer labs from your buildings, and removed Computer Classes from your elective rotations. So now we’re really in a pickle.

We are just now starting to formulate a plan to attack this situation. Fortunately, we do have a very robust VDI system here in Washington. We believe we can leverage that system to help mitigate the situation. The idea is that we will develop a list of “Windows Competencies” (™ and © pending…) and then will work with our curriculum coordinators to embed these competencies into our existing curriculum where it makes sense. Then, in the course of those curricular lessons, teachers will have their students access the VDI (which presents as a Windows 10 desktop) so that they can learn to master those skills. Will it work? That is yet to be seen.

As I mentioned, we are early in the process and are still trying to identify the Windows Competencies on which we will be focusing. It’s not much at this point, but it is a plan. And having a plan is a great start. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t keep me up at night. Or maybe it’s all the bourbon.