Implementing Macs into Schools

Mac Keyboard
Is it really worth implementing suites of Macs?

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.

Key points

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?

In summary

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.

3 Comment

  1. Great post, well explained! I know there is something great about Macs as so many people love them – but there are so many factors inhibiting their introduction. I think long term cloud computing is the answer to some of the issues you mention

  2. mrthomson says:

    Just to clarify – as I’d not made it clear – my school is looking to introduce some more Macs. Certainly, the Headmaster is keen. As stated in the article, we already have two small suites for Film Studies and Music. Various members of staff have attended days at other schools that use Macs effectively, and other conferences, and do like the Apple approach. I’m not sure, on a large scale! Nor, so far as I can see, is the school sure what approach it will be taking; perhaps with the redevelopment of our Sixth Form building there’ll be a suite placed in there.

    We’ll see!

  3. Hannan says:

    I agree with most of the points here but I definitely think we would benefit with having Macs in the school – obviously it would be very expensive having Macs everywhere but we could definitely do with Mac ‘suites’. I do disagree with the fact that students would have to learn how to use them though as it’s all so basic – you can learn how to use a Mac from the videos on the Apple website. We would still be using Microsoft Office so that would all be the same apart from a slightly different UI but that’s all good – and there would be no need to convert any files.

    I’m sure with one maybe two training days teachers would be fine with using a Mac OS – only because once the basics have been explained (which I believe is what makes people think ‘oh no, I can’t use a Mac’ or as you said kids have said it’s confused them in Music) it’s all well and good and the same as a PC. When I first used a Mac I couldn’t understand why the ‘cross to close something’ was on the left and not on the right – but once you know that once you know how to close something, and once you know on a Mac you quit a program then you’ll always quit it and soon be using shortcuts.

    I just think the fact that a Mac is so easy to use and especially now more than ever software is cross-compatible – there is no need to convert files as a Mac reads everything. We could install Parallels or VMWare and have Windows running on the Mac for the students who still really want to use Windows. The fact that they cost so much more is very true and is an issue compared with Windows PCs but because they are so efficient and long-lasting overall the cost would be cheaper – there wouldn’t need to be technicians running to classrooms to fix problems, or viruses, or crashes – it would all just work. Maybe an odd problem now and then but nothing that a teacher wouldn’t be able to sort themselves.

    The eMacs in the music block are so old yet they are still doing the job (although they may be getting a little slow now for Music Tech A Level students) they were doing the job fine for a very long time. Fair enough now we’re updating them with iMacs but not that much has been spent on them.

    I’m not too sure the point I’m making here – supposed to be revising but saw this post and thought I’d comment…But yeah, I probably won’t be around to see Ricky School as an Apple school – but I sure do hope the 6th form block gets kitted out and can’t wait for the music block to finally be updated.

    I think the issue with Macs being a new system is becoming less of an issue – especially with so many kids using iPods, iTunes, iPhones and the ‘feel’ of the Mac is running through all their products and OS’s like Windows 7 are just trying to be more smooth and user friendly. Files don’t need to be converted, don’t need to change the file system of your USB drive/HD – don’t need separate drivers for the mac – it really does all just work. And I think students would pick it up very quickly.

    I volunteer at Watford Learning Centre and junior and KS3 pupils attend there – under achieving and sometimes gifted and talented. They get amazed by the ‘white Apple computers’ and at first they are confused – but it only takes us one lesson and on their second session they’re fine. After 3-4 sessions they’re using the iMacs as if they’ve used a Mac OS all their lives. They love having a break and using Photo Booth after their activities and when doing their final team challenge there’s Year 7’s who are struggling at school producing high quality films in iMovie. i definitely believe that Macs are the way forward, in education especially. 🙂

    Didn’t quite expect my post to get this long!

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