May 132012

Last week we had a local millage vote – I heard it cost our community $30,000 to run the special vote, with only one proposal on the ballot – to increase personal property taxes around $400 per year to buy iPads for every child in the school district, from kindergarten through senior high. Parents of students would have also been required to buy insurance for each device their kids brought home.

The proposal was defeated by 2/3 majority.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Bring Your Own Device is a topic that gets a lot of mileage in CIO conversations today. The variety of personal mobile devices employees already own is a concern to us – how do we support them, how do we make sure corporate data is secure, and how do we enable employees to use them productively within the four walls of our office?

BYOD, much like instant messaging and the traditional cell phone, is an office trend that many technologists see as inevitable. It is a train we cannot stop, we would waste time, energy, money and lost opportunities to try to stop… and what would be the point to stopping it anyway?

Instead, we are speaking about how we will cope with the situation and turn it where we can toward productivity and competitive advantage for our business.

Personal Mobile Devices in Schools

In a school setting, the situation is much different:

  • Many kids already have mobile devices, but many do not – it is not a question of the second grader wanting to be as productive as possible, bringing his Android to school to get real-time access to his email or to covertly text someone during a meeting
  • Some parents have decided to delay or avoid giving their young children mobile devices, sometimes until they reach a certain age – for example, we just got my daughter her cell phone at age 14
  • For the program to be effective, the school must standardize on the technology platform – one common device makes it easier to manage acquiring and provisioning their learning programs

This last point is a key behind the millage. Schools already have limited resources, so the programs they make available on the iPad will create even greater costs if they have to also support any number of devices such as the CIO of a business organization must.

Of course, a CIO might dream to fully standardize on a single mobile platform, but in most cases they are forced to accept that iPhone, Android, various flavors of tablets and other devices cannot be standardized by sheer will power… and employees are buying new devices every day. As mentioned before, we develop strategies to cope with reality as we see it.

Technology for Technology’s Sake

With some of the differences aside, one connection I want to make in this situation was the way that the school district suggested that bringing on the new technology would help our students in the first place.

I have seen the technology at school (computers, laptops and iPads) used as much to babysit kids as to teach them anything. In this case, the school was advocating giving every student an iPad as if simply having it would have some positive impact on their education, as if the technology alone would make the difference.

Nobody at Apple had an iPad before it was invented. And yet it was.

In a recent Google+ conversation, a friend of mine wrote (I mean no offense to my “non-technical” readers in quoting this):

One of the problems with non-technical people is they mistake the medium for the message… The lesson, which everyone should know, is it’s not how a lesson is shared, it’s /what/ lesson is shared.

The Business/Technology Debate is Alive and Well

You may know that my eyes glaze over when IT leaders keep talking about business/IT alignment without seeming to really do much to make it happen. The 21st Century CIO needs to put all their energy into exploiting information toward business ends, and the role of the CIO may be evolving into other roles soon as a result.

In debates about the millage, I heard some citizens saying they would agree to a higher tax if it cut the teacher/student ratio or provided for certain programs for the kids: civic, special needs, educational, the arts, athletic… you name it.

Perhaps if the millage ballot had been more about business value than technology, it would have passed? It appears IT organizations are not the only ones who need to put the value first and bring in the relevant technology to make it happen.

Disclosure: my daughter has an iPhone and a MacBook Pro. She has had her own PC since she was about five years old. My son has an iPad… as with many technologists, there are many computers and computerized devices in my home. Meanwhile, I am skeptical that the public school is qualified to help children think with computers as opposed to simply operating them.

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