Apple Archive

The Sad State of Macs and PCs in School

- 2002.05.10

Andrew Hill wrote an article recently about software not being updated as frequently as it should be in schools because the cost of supplying people to do this is too high - and then the Macs are not used because they have out of date software.

This might be true. However, it seems that the real obstacle to the Mac getting used and working correctly is the student. The other day I heard a student suggesting that "most kids are used to Windows, so can't we get Windows computers for the iMac lab?" Hm, PCs in a Mac lab.

When going past the Mac lab you often hear comments such as "these computers always crash," or "I can never get to the network on these Macs." This leads an uneducated (computer wise) kid to believe that Macs don't do what you want them to. Of course, then they find themselves saying, "these Macs never work," even when they have never actually tried it for themselves.

This gets spread around the school, and eventually the iMac lab becomes empty, with people preferring the PCs in the library that tend to work properly. The fact that they don't always print to the right printer doesn't seem to matter.

I believe that students should be given the benefit of having both computing platforms in use in their schools, because they may have to deal with both later on in their lives. However, many students just don't understand how to use the Mac. They don't understand that the Chooser is used to log onto the network and that they should not check the little "connect at startup" checkbox next to their folder. They also don't seem to be able to grasp the concept that logging off the network is as simple as dragging their network folder to the Trash, and quitting an application is done using the File menu or command-Q, not clicking the close box.

The Mac has many benefits over the PC in an education environment. They run Microsoft Office, which is the most commonly used business application. They also run Photoshop, Quark XPress, PageMaker, Illustrator, and countless other graphics applications easily and quickly. The Mac is also very easy to set up, and set up time is important when setting up a computer lab. Installing software from an external hard drive onto a Mac is easy. For most labs, all computers are supposed to have the same software and have desktops that look the same. Creating a disk image and installing that onto all of the Macs with an external USB or FireWire hard drive is simple. PCs take longer to set up because each version of Windows requires a software key - different for each machine.

Even if I believe that Macs are well suited to schools, they also have a lot going against them. Student's comments count for a lot. If the kids can't use or don't like using the computers, teachers will report this to the technology coordinators, and the message will eventually get to the Board of Education. The BoE will notice that Macs cost more initially. Even if they do cost less in tech support, setup costs, and last longer, the BoE will figure that if the kids don't like them, they will purchase the less expensive PCs, saving themselves money - or so they think.

Not that PCs are bad - I use one often - but in an educational situation they can be a nightmare to support, which means that they actually cost more. When they work, they work fine, but when they break down, well, then you've got a problem. Windows takes ages to reinstall, and if the school has a special disk image that they need to install, they may have to do extra work to install it.

The other thing you get with PCs are people who tamper with them. They don't do this on the iMac, as there is only one button on the front to play with, but on most PC monitors, it is easy to change settings from the front of the monitor - and people tend to do that. Sometimes they will increase the size of the picture so that you cannot see anything on the screen or decrease the brightness so nothing shows on the screen. Apparently they think it is funny. Well, I've got news for them: Purposely making a computer unusable for the next person is not funny at all.

This can be a tech support nightmare, as the next person, probably clueless about computers, will go get a tech, and he will spend 15 minutes trying to figure out why there is no picture on the screen when the brightness and contrast are really both turned down all the way.

It is a waste of other people's time, and time is money. The time techs spend on ridiculous things like this costs schools money. There are two things at fault here. First of all, I do believe that for a school, the Mac is better suited because it is harder to tamper with. Second, some students are simply so computer illiterate that they don't have any idea what to do when they come across a computer that has been "played with."

Students should be taught to be comfortable with the computer, and the lessons should be taught seriously. I see kids sit there, looking afraid to touch the mouse while a website is loading.

I see other kids typing, one key at a time. What was all that sixth grade Mavis Beacon stuff for? I guess it was "play Sim City behind the teachers back" day, as no one seemed to learn anything from it.

Computer skills are essential. They are not recommended; they are not suggested; they should be mandatory, and students should be proficient in both Windows and the Mac OS.

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