Apple Archive

Educational Computing Done Wrong

- 2002.05.17

In education, it seems that there has to be an official statement of computer use, whether the school wants to use Macs, PCs, or both - but officially stating that they use Macs and actually keeping the Macs maintained are two different things. Obviously, the computers should be upgraded as needed with current software installed.

It seems as if hardware and software purchases have been combined in some schools, where upgrading software seems to require the purchase of new hardware to go with it. Sounds good, right? When the next version of a software application comes out, you'd presumably get the latest hardware to run it. Right? Nope. To save money, it seems that they just take a couple years longer to purchase the new hardware.

Now that doesn't sound too bad, right? Well, to save a little more money, they decide not to upgrade some of their software and just use the old versions on newer machines. This wouldn't be bad either, except you have to remember that they haven't touched their previous computers or software for five or six years - then expect all that software that worked on System 7.1 and 7.5 to work perfectly on OS 8.6 and 9.x.

Some software will, but it seems that too many educational programs and games don't like to function in newer operating environments than they were designed for. Some titles that come to mind are the Carmen Sandiego series and older versions of the Sim series. These aren't bad games, but there are newer versions available for use on newer computers.

However, what seemed to happen a couple years back in the middle school here in town was that all software titles that were installed on the old machines were installed on the new ones. Of course, none of them were actually tested to make sure they worked. When 5th grade students clicked on one, they would promptly get a bomb on the screen instructing them to restart the computer. For a 5th grader (or anyone, actually), it's frustrating to go through five or six applications and have to restart after opening each one because they aren't compatible with the newer OS.

Word eventually gets out that 90% of the applications installed on the computers don't work, leaving you with the choice of ClarisWorks 4.0 (still compatible with OS 9, although it seems surprising that version 4.0 would be chosen over the 5.0 that came with the computers), SimCity 2000, or some type of Number Munchers that works only if you don't click in some obscure little box somewhere on the screen that you aren't likely to click on when you aren't paying attention.

Please, this is not how school computing should be, especially not for 5th graders. Software should be kept up to date and should be identical on all machines. Having one machine running Mac OS 8.5, another running 8.5.1, another running 8.6, and yet another running 8.1 helps no one, especially when trying to determine what applications work on what computers. Applications should be tested on the computers to verify their compatibility before they are actually put out for student use.

I was in 8th grade when I had to suffer through this, and while it really bothered me, at least I understood why these applications wouldn't run. Most other students assumed that it must have something to do with the computers being different colors (tangerine, strawberry, lime, blueberry, and Bondi blue) or because the computers have that little Apple logo on them. It's amazing what some 8th graders think cause computer problems.

And it's not just the students. I used to hear many teachers talk about how crash-happy these Macs were, and how if the school bought such and such type of PC, they wouldn't have a problem. Of course that is untrue. As long as they use outdated applications on a modern OS, they will have problems - no matter the platform.

Keeping computers in a school working well is necessary, but keeping up with the times is also important. There's no excuse to be running an iMac with 32 MB of RAM and OS 8.5. With RAM so cheap these days, there is no excuse not to buy some, and OS 8.5 can be freely updated to 8.6 via Apple's website. It can updated to OS 9.1 or 9.2 relatively inexpensively.

I understand that this costs time, but what's more important, a few hours doing a network install of OS 9 and snapping in another 128 MB of RAM so that the students will have a better computing experience or wandering around the school finding some teachers to help with printer problems? (It seems teachers always have printer problems. If there is a teacher around, there is a printer problem to be fixed.)

After all, what are the computers in a school computer lab for? Learning. Who does the learning? The students. Keeping the computers working well and fully updated will greatly contribute to the major focus of helping the student to learn efficiently and effectively.

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