Laptops: necessity or accessory?

Laptops: necessity or accessory?

Anna Mason, Editor-in-chief

Following the Baltimore County school board’s approval of a $140 million technology contract with Daly Computers in April 2018, laptops were issued to the student body, in its entirety, approximately three weeks after the start of the school year. The program seeks to expand a pre-existing four-year-old technology proposal into high schools through rolling out 133,000 devices. The device contract was implemented this year because if it had not been, the county’s lease would have expired. According to the county, the new devices will “open up a world of learning opportunities.”

Students and teachers alike have been transitioning to the initiative, with teachers in particular taking a variety of approaches to supplement devices previous long-standing lesson plans with devices.

English teacher Britta Schaffmeyer believes that technology is essential for preparing students for college and future careers, and has enjoyed the guarantee that students will have access to online materials, a guarantee that laptop carts could previously not provide.

“I’ve been trying to infuse technology in my teaching since we’ve had the laptop carts,” Schaffmeyer said. “Otherwise, I’m just making my students ill-prepared for college anyway.”

Nevertheless, the introduction of laptops has not changed the teaching style of computer science teacher Nathanial Cool, who still prefers to use desktops. On the other hand, statistics teacher Victoria Bracken cited the opportunities created by the laptops during class and at home.

“On a snow day, to put a quiz on Schoology and grade it quickly–you could’ve done that before on Engrade, but you couldn’t expect every student to have a computer to complete it,” Bracken said.

Despite not currently utilizing devices in his classes, Cool acknowledged the benefits devices could provide both now and in the future.

“Having laptops opens up a sea of digital resources for teachers to use,” Cool said.

In particular, teachers, including Schaffmeyer, praised the equitability provided by the devices.

“Baltimore County Public Schools is setting up a situation where all students will have equitable access to computers and online learning,” she said. “And I think that that is a responsibility of a public school system–to make sure that all students do have accessibility to what they need in order to learn.”

In a county where 44 percent of students who eat school meals qualify for free or reduced lunches, technology liaison Matthew Lovett says that laptops can help level the playing field and bridge the gap between those who can and cannot afford technology.

Senior tech intern Ridhi Kamboj says that despite her initial reluctance over the costs of the laptops, she now recognizes the role they play in the lives of students.

“It’s a resource to many kids who don’t have what they need to be successful in school,” said Kamboj.

However, persistent technological issues ranging from the school’s Wi-Fi to battery failures have plagued faculty and students. According to a survey administered to English classes, 65 percent of students have experienced some form of technological difficulties with their devices.

“The internet reliability issues caused by the influx of laptops was definitely a problem,” Cool said while citing the drawbacks his computer science classes have faced.

In addition to concerns about technological issues, senior Cindy Shou believed that the county did not take into account the opinions of the student body while creating the initiative and that the price tag does not justify their use.

According to the aforementioned survey, despite 84 percent of students claiming to regularly bring their device to school, just 28 percent described their in-school laptop use as “very frequent.” Additonally, just 12 percent of students claim to use the devices for activities not related to schoolwork. Regarding the overall usefulness of devices, the majority (56 percent) are indifferent.

At the end of this school year, students will return their laptops, cases and chargers, and next year, the devices will be scanned back out. Despite the county choosing to distribute 11 inch HP ProBooks due to their relative durability, students and faculty raised concerns about their sustainability.

“In a year or two it’ll be outdated—it’s already outdated because the core processor isn’t as advanced as the one in my home computer,” Shou said.

Bracken agreed, describing concerns that may arise in the years to come.

“I think it’s great this year, because everybody’s got their brand-new device,” she said. “How are students going to feel next year when they’ve taken good care of theirs but they get back a device that wasn’t well cared for?”

Regarding the future of devices, faculty members cautioned that laptops cannot provide across-the-board solutions for any one particular issue and cannot replace the value of teacher retention.

“We must always remember, the computer is no more and no less a tool to be used to learn and interact,” Assistant Principal Christopher Parker said. “It is not a single answer to all things.”

Staff writers Anna Boland and Owen Campbell contributed to this report.