Generation “it’s an appliance”

I watched a group of third, fourth, and fifth graders rush back from the gym into their multiage classroom last Wednesday. As they entered they grabbed for their computers out of a charging cart — the school is all one-to-one but the kids don’t take their laptops home — maybe ‘yet.”

It’s a mix of stuff in this small rural school. Mostly Windows 8 laptops for 3–4–5 but some MacBook Airs too.

The kids didn’t care about what they had, “it doesn’t matter at all to them,” one of their teachers said. And as I watched it reflected on something our Chief Information Officer has said many times, there is a big difference in how elementary kids approach digital devices and how high school kids approach digital devices, and suddenly it deeply clicked for me:

If a child is under 12 they have grabbed for whoever’s smartphone since they could grab. They have pushed on touchscreens since they were age two or even one. They have never cared about brand or operating system or whether this control shows up here or there.

Above: David is one, selfies are already a specialty. Via Hellie Bullock.

Our high school kids can still be a bit like us. Digital was, at some point, introduced to them. And with that introduction may have come brand preference/status, system norms, etc.

So we sometimes get suburban high schoolers who are sure that their MacBook is better — it costs more after all — or who know which phone is superior. But elementary kids know the truth, the brand or operating system of their laptops or mobile device is every bit as important as the brand of their home refrigerator when they rush in after school. These are appliances that connect them and offer support for those connections.

So a keyboard may matter. A hard drive may matter, accessibility tools may matter (these student requests led us to be dominantly a Windows 8/soon 10 laptop environment), but for most tasks, only the connection, and the freedom to roam, really matters.

That’s why we can’t observe high schools and really make tech decisions based on what we see there. We always need to be looking far ahead. What do our kindergarteners do? What devices lie ahead? Last week I saw the next ThinkPad. A ’Surface’-type device with a built in projector and 3D scanner.

So now, do we stop worrying about 90% of classroom projectors? Maybe. We can already imagine schools with very very few 2D kind of printers, so…

The art of school technology planning lies in living in the future. The digital appliance era isn’t even the future. It’s the now. So what’s next?

  • Ira Socol

Author, Dreamer, Educator: A life in service - NYPD, EMS, disabilities/UDL specialist, tech and innovation leader for education. Co-author of Timeless Learning

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