Tech by VICE

Inexpensive Laptops Aren't the Only Thing Teachers Need in the Classroom

"Sometimes the traditional paper and pencil methods are better."

by Meaghan Beatley
May 5 2017, 12:00pm

Image: Microsoft

In the battle for children's tech souls, where do primary and secondary school teachers fall in the great Google vs. Apple vs. Microsoft debate?

Now that that Microsoft's unveiled its new Surface laptop in a bid to compete with MacBooks and Chromebooks—both of which have dominated the education market—we asked K-12 educators whether they thought the new arrival deserved all the hype it's received. The lightweight device—it's under three pounds—will debut on June 15 at $999 for its base model, which includes Intel's latest Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD. It comes equipped with Microsoft's new OS Windows 10 S, deemed "education friendly" because it requires minimum maintenance and because apps and programs can only be obtained via the Windows Store.

Samantha New, a 7th grade public school math teacher in New Jersey, was categorical: regardless of the brand or model, "In my opinion, laptops are overrated," she told Motherboard.

"My students use Chromebooks and although they're helpful in some ways, I feel like they are forced on us," she said.

New's district's one-to-one initiative ensures her students are equipped with the devices—which are paid for by district—and teachers are encouraged to use them as much as possible. But that's not always convenient.

"Sometimes the traditional paper and pencil methods are better," New said.

"Many of the programs we have don't have equation editor which makes teaching math on the computers nearly impossible," she added. "I'm sure cost is a priority in deciding Chromebooks over MacBooks because I know our tech coordinator would prefer MacBooks."

Chromebooks for education can cost as low as $191 a pop, while the cheapest MacBook Airs and iPads ring in at $849 and $299, respectively, according to Apple's US Education Price List.

Melody Feo, a middle school math and science teacher in New York until this year, told Motherboard she was pleased with the MacBooks her classroom used, which she primarily used "to scaffold for different learners" (meaning that while some students worked on assignments online, others worked directly with her).

However, she conceded that, "the downside is that Smartboard technologies wasn't Mac-friendly, so there were a few bugs using the software." And—the oft-repeated complaint among teachers we spoke with—"kids inevitably get distracted."

"It's hard to monitor what the student are doing," Cecily Jurlano, a 4th and 5th grade combo teacher in Maryland whose classroom uses Chromebooks, told Motherboard.

But to Jurlano, Google's advantage is its surveillance possibility.

"A plus about Google classroom is that with their documents we can see the students working on it just by opening their doc on our computer," she said.

Richard Burns, a high school social studies teacher in Maryland whose students are required to use iPads, told Motherboard, "The iPads are often a distraction in class as a number of students use them for social rather than academic purposes and it is difficult to monitor would students are accessing."

Burn's school is private, meaning students are expected to shell out for their devices. This is problematic for "a few students from lower middle class backgrounds who do have trouble covering expenses," he said.