By: Marc LaFountain
I only wish that I had a nickel for every time I've heard this statement. (Maybe then I could start my own venture in the "business world.") I have heard this statement again and again in both K-12 and higher education. Often, the "business world" is referred to as the "real world." So, then it becomes, "We can't get Macs in education because the real world uses PCs."
Well, I have news for you: Education is not the "real world." And, education is not the "business world." Nor should it blindly try to be these things.
The "real world" or "business world" is based on a system where adults work year-round for one company with the attainment of profits as the ultimate goal.
The "education world" is based on a system where children and young adults work during different parts of the year for numerous teachers with the attainment of learning as the ultimate goal and profits often not even a consideration.
Do you see the difference?
To me, it seems obvious. But, so often I talk to people who want to do something so their educational entity can "be like business." (Wow. Does this mean I can buy stock in my local school district?)
Let's take a look at what students and teachers really need when it comes to computing.
Keep your eye on the ball
What is our goal for educational computing? Do we want our students to be able to use a Pentium II-based computer running Windows 98/NT and Office 97? Is that our goal? Or, is our goal that students understand and feel comfortable with the concepts and practices of computing? I think this understanding of and comfort with computing should be what we are trying to achieve.
Business changes. Fast. It has gone from not using computers at all, to mainframes, to primitive workstations, to advanced workstations, and on to network computers with amazing speed. It will probably be using something else by the time you finish reading this.
Business needs workers who are flexible and adaptable. Who knows which computers business will be using in 5 or 10 years? Business doesn't need people who can use a Pentium II-based computer running Windows 98/NT and Office 97. It needs people who can walk up to various types of computers in the future and feel comfortable enough with them to do work. These computers may be running DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Mac OS 7/8, Mac OS X, BeOS, UNIX, OS/2, a mainframe OS, or something we haven't even heard of yet.
We shouldn't be concerned with some hardware or software standard for educational computers. Let's keep our eyes on the ball. We should be concerned with giving students and teachers computers that meet their educational needs and allow students to become flexible, adaptable adults.
Emulation vs. Creation
So, what should computers do to serve students' educational needs?
Many would like nothing more than to see rows of first graders sitting in front of Pentium II-based workstations running Windows 98/NT and Office 97. After all, this is what the "business world" uses.
Business people use their workstations for word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and e-mail, with a little web browsing here and there. So, our students should be emulating them, right? Wrong.
While students and teachers certainly do all of these "business" things, they are first and foremost creators. They draw. They design. They take pictures. They animate. They make web pages. They make and view multimedia productions. They do this because creation, not emulation, is what leads to real learning.
So, when buying computers for education we should look for those that give students and teachers the highest potential for expressing their creativity. This may or may not be what is being used in the "business world."
I am not trying to say that education can't learn anything from business. It certainly can. But, you cannot take any business principle or practice and blindly apply it education. It doesn't make sense.
I am also not trying to say that every computer in education shouldn't be Wintel-based or should be Mac OS-based. Different computers can work better for educators with different situations and goals. What I am trying to say is that education should not blindly try to emulate business. Education should focus on doing things that enhance learning for students. Our educators must keep this in mind when it comes time to purchase educational technology. To not buy the technology that is best for learning would waste money. And, business certainly wouldn't want for us to waste money, now would it?
During the past seven years, Marc LaFountain has been a both a student and a computing professional in K-12 and higher education institutions.