Schools that have the full (call it the college edition) MSDN AA program should see Windows Vista as an available option for download today. The high school MSDN AA program doesn’t include operating systems and that is reflected in the much lower cost of course. Very few high schools want to install a new operating system during the school year so having Windows Vista come out now probably doesn’t effect many schools. For a lot of schools January, when Windows Vista hits wide release through retail channels, will be soon enough to start fully evaluating Windows Vista. There are a lot of reasons that school system managers will want to seriously consider upgrading machines that will support it. The security and control improvements are, I think, very interesting for school computers.
I know that as a technology coordinator I almost never installed new software during the school year. That was something we did over the summer. Additional software, at the request of a teacher, staff member or administrator, was a different story obviously. If someone needed software to do their job it is important to get it for them within budget constraints. But tossing a brand new fresh out of the box operating system on unsuspecting students and faculty was to be avoided.
We (my technical staff and I – ok my assistant mostly) did maintain a couple of machines on which we tested beta and early released software all year long. We beta tested both Windows 2000 and Windows XP before they were released for example. We made sure that all of the schools standard applications (accounting software, student record system, and teaching tools both hardware and software) worked with the new operating system. We contacted suppliers to find out if they were also testing and what they were doing to proactively make sure their products would work with the new operating system. When the software was released and we were building systems up over the summer we generally had a good handle on things.
The same was true with development tools that I was using to teach programming courses. I beta tested every version of Visual Studio from Visual Studio 5 through the first .NET release. I was evaluating if my projects would work the same, if there were now better (or just different) ways to do things. I also tried to evaluate if software changes required new textbooks (not a good thing) or if we could manage with existing textbooks (often a tough call).
Schools and educators are often very change adverse. Call it risk adverse perhaps. But I ran into a lot of teachers who just didn’t want anything to change. Schools seem to trail behind in updating computer software. I know of schools that are still running Windows 98 on all their systems. Others are running Windows 2000 with no plans to upgrade to XP let alone Vista. Some of it I understand. Learning something new makes some people uncomfortable especially when what they are already using is “good enough.” I’m the sort of geek who always likes to be using the latest and greatest so that is not my way. I’m hardly happy if there is no beta software on my computer.
As a technology coordinator I had to balance my wants with practical realities. I would never install beta software on general use computers of course. On the same token if there were features in a new version that I felt would make things better either from the standpoint of supporting the institution or improving the productivity of faculty and staff I would upgrade software within the limits of my budget.
One of the complaints I hear often from parents and students is that the kids know more about technology than the teachers. I find that scary. In education we try to instill the notion of “life long learners.” That is a concept I am a strong believer in. Yet we have too many teachers and administrators who actively avoid learning and using new technology. What message does that send to our students?