The Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me while I attended public education in the state of Maine. No other program has provided me with so many learning opportunities and I am thankful for Governor King and the work that he did to get this program started. In 2011 I was able to share my story and experience with over 1,000 people at the annual MLTI conference at the University of Maine at Orono. From there, I began to share my story more and more as I attended many more conferences about technology in education. From the “Juice 3.0: Taking Risks” conference in Camden Maine, to the “State Educational Technology Directors Association” conference in Washington D.C., I traveled all over to share the experiences of MLTI and what I had been able to do. I even traveled through three different states to present at the annual “Apple Inc. Tech Update” conference to share what I had done. All of this, just because of one opportunity I was given as a 7th grade student. Sadly what I’ve learned today, changes the looks of MLTI’s future drastically, and it is in my opinion, that I can no longer voice such excellent support for the MLTI program.
The Maine Learning Technology Initiative has worked with Apple Inc. for the last 11+ years on providing MacBooks (and iBooks before) to every middle school student in Maine. The program even expanded a few years ago to any public High School that was interested in joining. For the past 11 or years, students have learned how to use the Mac OS X Operating System, teachers have been trained on specific software, administrators have been taught how to manage the schools infrastructure, and overall, it’s been a thriving environment. Apple appears to have been a huge part of MLTI from day one. From the laptops, to the wireless AirPorts, right down to even the finest details of having the Apple Inc. logo embroidered onto T-shirts and sweatshirts at MLTI events. Now that a new contract has been made with Hewlett-Packard, everything changes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a lot of wonderful people in the MLTI program, and they are all fabulous at what they do, but in my opinion, I am concerned about the future of MLTI. Essentially, MLTI’s current stance seems to be, “Now that we’ve built this wonderful system. We are scraping everything, and starting over.” It’s sad to see this happen to such a wonderful thing. One thing to note is that “choice” came out of the HP deal, where schools now have the option as to choose what they would like for a machine. Choice is good, but fragmentation isn’t. Instead of having a unified system where everyone is on the same page, we now run into the problem of “who’s got what” and “what get’s taught where” and it just seems like more of a mess than it’s worth.
If the point of this whole deal was to save money, consider me blind because I cannot even dream up an example as to how this does. Money is not the only cost in this equation. Does it make sense to go through every school and remove everything? Having to replace everything, at every school does not seem like a way to save money. If MLTI had stuck with Apple, we’d just be replacing laptops. Instead, MLTI would be replacing entire systems, they would be removing all students prior knowledge of their laptop and software, they would be taking away valuable hours of teacher training and they would be making all of the students current school files obsolete because they won’t open on a new HP machine. Essentially, as I said before, MLTI is starting over. They’re going back to 2002, and rebranding themselves as a whole new program.
So what did they see good about the HP deal anyway? Well to be honest, I’m still trying to figure that one out for myself. Here’s a thought that Anti-Apple folk have to say, “The Windows Operating System, is a far better choice because it is used in the business world.” Oh my, I hope this isn’t the only factor that they looked at. First off, let’s set some facts straight. If this is the only reason to put a Windows machine in the students hands, then there is something terribly wrong in their decision making. Personally I can’t stand when someone pulls the whole “Windows is in the business world” because frankly, not every student in the entire state of Maine plans on going into business. To be honest, nowadays, there are actually many businesses that use BOTH Mac OS X and Windows, depending on what they do. So why focus on one operating system, when students could get a better understanding of both? Why not teach students how to use Mac and Windows? For classes that need software on Windows, they can use Windows. For classes that need software on the Mac, they can use Mac. Then, for personal use (here is where we incorporate choice) the student could choose which operating system that they prefer. You might be asking, is there a way to run both Mac OS X and Windows on the same machine? Well yes, yes there is. Apple provided an easy solution to this problem long ago. The answer is Bootcamp*. Bootcamp allows a user to run both Mac OS X and Windows on their Apple Computer. Now that this problem is solved, there does not need to be anymore “Windows is in the business world” excuses.
I know I’ve written a lot, and I know it may sound harsh at times, but I write this because of my concern for the students. I love the topic of technology in education and I love the goals of MLTI, but the decisions that have been made lately cause serious concern for me. Is the cheapest laptop the best solution? I don’t think so. Is destroying an entire infrastructure the best solution? I don’t think so. MLTI has been able to create a wonderful ecosystem where students are given opportunities that are priceless. Why take away everything and start over? Why not build from what we have and not take it away? Sure, the HP deal may save money now, but in the long run, was it worth it? Was it worth starting over? Is it worth saving money at the expense of a students education? We’re not just talking about changing the workflow of one student or one teacher, we’re talking about thousands of students and thousands of teachers. Staff will need to be retrained on most everything. Students will need to learn new software. Current school system will need to be adjusted or changed to deal with the new HP laptops. Overall, it seems like more work, with less value. It certainly seems as if the best option for schools is to take their “choice” and go with the new MacBook Airs. They already have the system in place, students already know of to use Mac OS X, and staff have already been trained. To top it off, the MacBook Air is a solid piece or aluminum, much more sturdy than plastic on other machines. Essentially what it comes down to is the old saying of “you get what you pay for.”
I’m hoping that in the coming weeks more light can be shed on the situation and we can get a better understanding of where MLTI is going. I fully support the ideas of the program, and wish it all the best, but for right now, I just can’t bring myself to accept the fact that what MLTI had, will soon be gone.
Article found here: http://mrchrisjones.com/mlti-thoughts/