I’m trying to decide if I should recommend that my students, particularly my freshmen, get a cheapo Chromebook laptop for school.
We have laptops at school, but they are a pain to use. They are Microsoft machines, and crippled in a lot of ways so students can’t mess up the school network, access porn, or otherwise be malicious. The problem is that these machines, particularly with the blocking software and slooooow logins are usually less functional than most student’s phones. And given that students are not good at managing logins, they are a pain for me to troubleshoot. Plus getting the laptops in and out of the cart and running for all students means I waste about 20 minutes a period playing computer guy as opposed to teacher. They have tiny screens, poor keyboards, and trackpads that the students don’t like. Additionally, the laptops are not reliably available. The computer labs are better, but testing and weird usage make them even less reliably available.
I have a few wealthier, pickier, or techy-er students who bring their own laptops when I warn them that we are going to have a laptop day. Our building wifi works well, so these students prefer their bigger screens and more functional devices. Since I do everything for my class on turnitin.com and Google, they can use Apple machines, Chromebooks, or Microsoft machines without me having to worry about it. Their machines don’t require my policing or troubleshooting.
So, should I recommend that as many students as can bring their laptops as often as they can? I already let them use their phones most of the time, so it is not as if laptops would be a classroom control issue. My classes already have the digital divide problem where the poorer students don’t have good phones or good data plans. I can’t see a lot of downside to recommending a computer for all students. The results don’t seem like they’d be that different from the existing phone issues.
That said, actually recommending it means dealing with the effect of the students actually starting bring machines. I’d also have to recommend a machine or three for parents to purchase, which raises the possibility of all sorts of complaints. What am I going to do if a third of the students start bringing their machines and the other two thirds don’t?
I do plan on making a soft suggestion this year, so I’ll find out how it goes.