Wireless Writing Program – eventual hardware changes

Friday I received our regular Apple education pricelist. Nothing unusual about that however it was announced that the white macbook which we are currently using has been discontinued. Parts will likely be available without issue for the rest of our cycle (we’re at 1.5 of 4 years) however for our expected refresh we will need to make decisions about hardware. Here are some of my musings.

PC or Mac

Mac. I have no interest in going to PC. We have looked extensively at this in the past and for a variety of reasons from hardware, software, security, educational support, institutional support, warranty certification, etc.,  Apple is the way to go in my opinion.

The Hardware choice

Looking at Apple’s selection of hardware and considering costs. Two model options are worth considering, the iPad and the Air. The macbook pro is on the outside for costs unfortunately.

The Air has two models for education that are similar costs as the unibody white macbooks for us. The 11″ and 13″. Here are some thoughts on the Air

  • lighter, slimmer than current models. Some question about how well it stands up physically compared to current unibody model
  • staff and teachers familiar with it as it is still a laptop
  • no DVD drive, fewer USB ports, new video dongle needed
  • some current software won’t run on its OS X Lion operating system (ie Word X)
  • most of the software will still run in Lion that we are aware
  • no or very few replaceable parts
  • pretty similar to how we’ve done things in the past as far as I can see

The Ipad represents a significant change. They would have a significantly lower cost than the Air provided they have the same lifespan. iPads and their operating system are meant to be used as individual devices, accounts will take some detailed thinking. We’ve had sessions with apple at an educational and technological level to discuss this. Here are some thoughts on how things will end up changing if iPads were the route

  • None of our software can be ported to iOS for iPad, everything will be new and different!
  • iOS devices don’t have an accessible filesystem, it is stored via the app (application on the ipad)
  • Different sharing of those files either by online tools like dropbox, or email, or webdav folders at school. Represents a rethink of how things get shared to teachers and students.
  • Great opportunity for more personalized management to the classroom level, customization by teachers for their classroom. A generic “image” of an ipad can be built but then teacher can adapt it relatively easily using the carts and synching via a laptop that would be provided
  • Need a synching cart and laptop for a class set
  • logistical challenge for licensing. Easy (as in we know how to do this well) with regular laptops to license and deploy software. Brand new ball game for iOS.
  • Keyboarding is quite different
  • lower cost for applications could mean that families could opt to provide their own device that the student would keep. With laptops the individual software costs were considerable if parents wanted to provide their own rather than use a district supplied device. At low cost we may even be able to provide that app.
  • no replaceable parts
  • new video dongle or apple tv and hdmi projector needed (cool options with apple tv)
  • won’t work with smartboards, however a laptop would be assigned to the class as part of a class set of ipads so they could continue to be used. They can also be setup with the classroom desktops we use.
  • brand new way of working and thinking

Both of these devices have little in terms of serviceable parts for our technicians. This is something we saw on the horizon and have discussed in the past. I have no worry about that as staff will still have plenty of work with our myriad of servers, desktops, networking etc. Some time will be freed up and be replaced with more knowledge work. I expect this would be helping people use devices rather than fixing them.


Looking back at our start and history with WWP we’ve done some amazing things. We’re one of the longest running 1:1 programs in North America. When we started the question was frequently asked “Why are you giving a $2000 laptop to a 12 year old!?!” Now the question is frequently asked, “can’t I just bring my own device to school?”. Not everyone for certain asking that question, but we need to strongly consider encouraging BYOD, using genres of software rather than only “Fandangle V3.25.67345.345”,  and continuing to provide for everyone who may not have or may not want to bring their own device.

What’s Next?

The challenges are opportunities for us to look at and consider how we do things in the program. While technology should not be the driving force in education, it can be the impetuous to change from what we have always been doing because we’ve always done it that way to something new. We’ve gotten quite comfortable using similar software tools that we have used for the last 9 years in WWP. Now we’re faced with a new type of screw that we don’t have a screwdriver for.

Since we are in year 1.5 of 4 you’d think we’d have some time to think about this? The reality is we expect a bulge to move into grade 6/7 next year that will require some more devices to be purchased. So which to go with?

Given that the Air represents something similar and many questions can be answered on paper, we’ll be looking to pilot at one to two classrooms with iPads this fall. Along with the pilot I’ll be using the SECTIONS model from Bates & Poole to help make the decision http://www.elearning.ubc.ca/toolkit/sections-model/ for the long term regarding hardware.

If you are a teacher in grade 6 or grade 7 and would be interested in being one of the pilot classrooms, please speak with your administrator. I’ve asked the administrators to express interest based on conversations with their teachers.

As always, public comments are welcome and will help us guide our practice. Private comments via email are welcome too!

6 thoughts on “Wireless Writing Program – eventual hardware changes

  1. Hi Jarrod, I won’t be here, retiring, but I have two main concerns for the iPad. I have an iPad2 and love it for what I use it for, but having been a wireless writing teacher from the very beginning, I feel I have a good understanding of what the students need in the classroom. The main problem with the iPad for me is, there is no good word processor, (I’m not sure about some of the other programmes) and that there would be the extra expense for the school of having to buy new printers.

    • Thanks Jayne for your thoughts. Word processors are certainly different! I hadn’t thought of printers and they are definitely harder to deal with for iPads. Definitely some points to ponder.

  2. I have been in a WWP classroom since 2004. I think one of the benefits of laptops has been the opportunity for students to learn proper typing techniques on a keyboard through daily word processing practice. It is difficult to replicate that type of practice with a couple of visits per week to a computer lab. The MacBook Air would continue to help the students learn that basic fundamental skills of word processing better than an iPad would. If there was a choice between the two, I think I would lean towards the Air.

  3. Unfortunately input from teachers in written form to Admin. during our LRB approved job action is not possible. When a resolution is reached at the table the local will encourage teachers to respond. Until that time any request for input from PRNTA members in written form places members in a very awkward position. Admin. is welcome to contact individuals verbally at any time during the job action.

    Andy Sears

    • Thanks Andy. I appreciate that and will leave this venue for communication open and hope it will be able to be used sooner rather than later.

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