April 30, 2013

Maine laptop choice leaves schools relieved, confused

Officials are pleased to have the flexibility to pick their provider, but there's uncertainty on cost.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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The stance may be a successful one. Several school district officials said Apple employees had told them they intended to offer tier 1 pricing for both their iPad and MacBook proposals. Apple's education support unit in New Gloucester referred inquiries to the company's corporate communications office in Cupertino, Calif., which did not return calls on the issue.

School officials reached by the Press Herald were cautiously optimistic they would receive the lower pricing and were therefore upbeat about the governor's decision, which followed weeks of delays that have made budget and program planning difficult.

"The state has given the opportunity for everybody to pick what was best for them," said Jef Hamlin, information technology director for RSU 34, which serves Old Town and two other communities, a district committed to laptops as opposed to tablets. "We don't have a marked preference for one operating system or the other."

"It makes it very flexible for us as schools to decide what fits best for our students and staff for our systems," said Crystal Priest, district technology coordinator for SAD 4, which serves Guilford and surrounding towns. "I'm very excited about the idea of choice, but at the same time I am concerned that going forward this is going to fracture equity and professional development issues from school to school, as kids won't have access to the same software, equipment and platforms."

Kerry Gallivan, technology director for Topsham-based SAD 75, said his district wanted to stick with an Apple platform but was waiting for more details before it went ahead with a decision. "A lot is up in the air right now," he said. "There are more questions than answers."

Chris Toy, a Bath-based educational consultant, said the end of the all-Apple statewide system will present new challenges, but none that can't be overcome. With multiple platforms, the state may encounter situations where vendors blame one another for a given problem, delaying action, and some teachers will need to learn to work on multiple systems.

"Maine has certainly shown that if you present us with something complex, we figure it out," Toy said. "In the end, it's not about the machine, it's about whether the new vendors will also have experienced, trained educators who will work with teachers, administrators and tech people to help integrate the technology into teaching and learning."

John Newlin, executive director of the Lewiston-based Maine International Center for Digital Learning, agreed. "I don't think we know yet how it's all going to play out," he said. "We're in a bit of a wait-and-see situation."

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com 

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