The biggest concern for the school is the cost. Macs ARE more expensive than PCs, nobody can contest that. What one has to do is balance up the advantages with the disadvantages and decide whether those additional costs are worthwhile. Does your school get in full suites of Macs? Does your school just get in 5 or 10 for targeted departments, such as Film Studies and Art? You must also consider the computer technicians / network supervisors. Will they need additional training? This will cost money. Discussing your proposals with them is vital to ensure successful implementation. New software and hardware might be needed too, introducing another expense. It’s worth evaluating all of this to get a better overview.
One main issue is that students will need time to get used to how Macs work. Using different software and hardware can be a bit daunting for many students, whilst others will take it in their stride and really enjoy the experience. Initially, productivity for most will be reduced whilst they get used to it. Is that such a big issue? Do the benefits outweigh the initial growing-in period? Consider this first: perhaps students should get used to software and hardware other than the norm in order to allow them to engage more easily with new technologies. In teaching we encourage them to learn in different ways and to learn skills that let them handle complex problems effectively. Using this pattern of thought, surely we should be introducing them to different types of technologies, like Macs, to give them the opportunity to develop their IT skills and ability to use alternative technologies. There are countless new technologies appearing all the time, and it’s partly up to us to ensure our students are technology-literate and able to take new technology and use it well.
Indeed, once you’ve used a Mac for a while it would get easier. One of my students suggests that “once you actually know how to work OS X, they’re FAR more productive than any Windows – especially XP…I think mine’s crashed twice in the three and a half years I’ve owned it. They all work together flawlessly. Faster…smoother.” However, bear in mind that this student is very computer savvy – he could probably make XP run like a very well-oiled machine. What about those students that find is less easy to get used to new technologies, or that simply don’t care about using a computer as efficiently as possible? They’ll find it difficult to get used to. It’ll take them a greater length of time to do so. The general response from students of that ilk were along the lines of “people our age are used to PCs”, “wouldn’t be able to write an essay on them very easily”, “been brought up on PCs, I don’t think I could cope with a Mac“.
My students do have experience of using Macs – we have a small suite of them in the music block, used for Music Technology, Drama, Dance and suchlike. We also have a set of them for Film Studies. I imagine there are plenty of students that enjoy using the Macs, though this is some brief feedback I received: “we had to do drama work on the Macs in the music block once – worst lessons EVER. I could have got double the work done in that lesson if I had a PC”, and “they’re so different, the only thing I can do on them is play music in the dance dept.” Apologies for the bias view, but in my limited (Twitter) survey there weren’t any positive experiences; I’m certain there will be some amongst students though.
For students and teachers, compatibility could become an issue. Some of us are very happy with transferring different files between operating systems, converting files if necessary. Most of us, I suspect, are not. I think these issues could be ironed out over time though, again by getting used to it. With regards to all of the issues of the initial period of change, an appropriate level of staff training, during an INSET day for example, and student training through IT lessons or otherwise will help with effective implementation and continued success.
For departments, however, compatibility could become a more expensive problem. Each department uses a variety of software and hardware that may or may not work on the Macs. Even if it were not to work immediately, it is going to take a lot of time to search for the correct software and drivers to make the hardware work on Macs – something that most teachers will be unwilling, and perhaps unable, to do. If there is no compatible software or drivers, well…time to buy some more. Having already spend £100s/1000s on this already for Windows-based machines, why would we want to spend even more money on something that we already have and know that works on Windows?
It comes down to cost. Each Mac is expensive compared to a Windows-based PC. Potential technician training costs money, and then you will have to buy some new software or hardware to do the things that you’re already doing well on a PC. Further to the costs, students and teachers alike are going to struggle to get used to them, for a short length of time anyway.
Why would you want to do all this? Well, Macs run well – everything links together with great fluidity, and once you do get used to them they can be used more effectively. Not to mention the reduced virus threat. Students could end up being more productive on them. In our current times we do need to ensure our students are technologically literate, and this could be a perfect way of introducing them to a different way of doing things. It doesn’t need to be a school-wide Mac implementation either; it could be for those targeted departments mentioned earlier. This reduces or eliminates many of the previously mentioned issues regarding cost and it would make the buying of software and hardware considerably simpler.