MET:Cost Effective, Cost Conscious Educational Technology
This page was originally authored by Gordon Higginson (2011).
Affordable Educational Technology for K - 7 Schools
Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources." 
The 21st Century Learning Framework challenges schools to make technology accessible to students to apply knowledge to new situations, analyze information, collaborate, solve problems, and make decisions. One challenge for many schools is the acquisition, training, maintenance, and frequent upgrading of the hardware and software required to meet these goals. Another challenge is trying to decide what are essential versus luxury technologies based on the educational level of the students, the wider school goals, and the availability of funds.
Technology Education in relation to sustainable development must take into account factors such as life-span of the technology, appropriate purchase and implementation of technology for the intended goals (with respect to price and specifications for various educational settings), strategic use of hardware and software that maximizes access to students while optimizing costs for institutions, and finally, appropriate disposal and recycling of hardware at the end of its usable life.
The scope of this article is to identify free or inexpensive hardware and software that are readily available to elemetary schools (Kindergarten to Grade 7) in Canada. Information contained in this article can be embellished for other levels of education, though more demanding technology learning environments will undoubtedly require more powerful computer hardware that what will be descibed here.
Cost Conscious K - 7 Computer Hardware
A student computer (desktop or laptop) in the K - 7 educational environment must have adequate processing speed, memory and storage capacity to navigate the internet, run modern on-line and installed applications, and the "guts" to allow students to run and manipulate a range on Web 2.0 tools and applications. The premise of this article is one of acquiring and maintaining functional hardware and software on a tight budget. The discussion will focus on PC based hardware, given its abundance in the computer donation and reuse world, as well as the benefits of being able to assemble computer systems from gathered parts much more readily as compared to more proprietory systems such as Apple. While free, Open Source Software is prevalent for both PC and Mac systems, this article will focus only on those with relevance to PC's.
Hand-held devises, tablet computers, and other new entries to the consumer computer market will not be dealt with here. While their utility in K - 7 education is growing, the cost per unit to widely implement these devises does not yet fit under the "cost effective, cost conscious" scope of this article.
Minimum Computer Specifications for a K - 7 School
The following table lists the system requirements for a number of on-line and downloadable programs that, combined, will allow students to apply their knowledge to new situations, analyze information, collaborate, solve problems, and make decisions. These programs and sites are being used as measures to determine a recommended minimum system configuration for elementary schools.
Common Software Links to Minimum System Requirements Edubuntu (Linux) Operating System Edubuntu System Requirements Debian (Linux) Operating System Debian System Requirements Windows XP Operating System (SP3) Windows XP System Requirements Open Office 3.0 Open Office 3 System Requirements Facebook System Requirements Wikispaces Wikikspaces System Requirements You Tube YouTube System Requirements Google Apps Google Apps System Requirements Google Earth Google Earth System Requirements
Based on the minimum system requirement of the programs and sites in the table above, the recommended minimum system requirements for K - 7 computers is as follows:
- Operating System: Windows XP, Service Pack 3 (or education-friendly Linux OS's such as Edubuntu or Debian)
- CPU: Pentium 4, 2 - 4 Ghz (more always better)
- System Memory (RAM): 256MB (more always better)
- Hard Disk: 40GB free space (more alsways better)
- Network Speed: Broadband connection with 500+ Kbps
- Graphics Card: DirectX9 and 3D capable with 64MB of VRAM
- Screen: 1024x768, "16-bit High Color" - DirectX 9 (to run in Direct X mode)
Inexpensive Computers from Schools & Non-Profits Computer Reuse Programs
In Canada, the Computers for Schools (CFS) program makes used-but-functional computers available to schools and non-profits for a nominal fee. The British Columbia branch of CFS has among its goals:
- To provide increased access for students and learners of all ages to computer technology.
- To practise ethical recycling of computer waste and promote environmental sustainability through development and promotion of a proven, effective computer re-use model.
Computers sourced through Computers for Schools have been refurbished and preloaded with the Windows XP operating system. Desktops with flat-screen monitors, keyboard and mouse meeting the minimum system requirements listed above can be purchased for $45 - $100, while laptops with similar system specifications can be purchased for $100 - $150.
Strategies to Extend Life of Current Hardware
Often schools have older but functional software loaded on aging computers. As transition plans are underway to migrate to newer technology, the following links provide advice and strategies to keep the older machines functional:
- How to Keep the Old PC Running Smooth(Windows Operating System)
- Ten Things You Can Do to Keep and Old Computer Useful(Linux Operating System)
Software: Licensed & Open Source (Free)
Software purchasing and annual license renewals have long cut into the K - 7 school technology budget. The benefits to some licensed software and fee-for-access websites is undeniable, as the functionality, support and ubiquitous nature of certain products (Microsoft Office, for example) have a cost-benefit in efficiency and provision of desired features. Educational pricing does allow schools to purchase and renew licensed software for significantly less than retail prices, but there remains the challenges of limited number of computers that software can be deployed on, and the continual upgrades to licensed software tend to force schools to upgrade hardware, regardless of whether the computers are still functional for educational purposes or not.
With the mainstreaming and enhancement of open-source software, the dependence on licensed sofware is lessening, which will have a positive effect on schools as they divert cost-savings to higher end or more current and exploratory hardware options.
Open Source Software
A search of the internet yields a plethora of low or no cost software solutions with many if not all of the utility and features of mainstream licensed software. This software is collectively called Open Source. The obvious advantages to schools include being able to install the software on unlimited numbers of machines, update and refresh software without consulting the budget, and joining communities of grass-roots technical teams which encourage and support do-it-yourself system maintenance and software development. Some downsides include initial setup and debugging of systems and the need to troubleshoot and find solutions when attempting to marry open-source and licenced products (intergrating Open Office with Microsoft Office, for instance).
Cost Effective Licensed and Open-Source Operating Systems
Operating systems for PC's are myriad, from the commercially popular Microsoft Windows products, to a range of Open Source programs. Licensed Windows products are stable and well supported, and can be quite economical in a school environment if older versions are deemed appropriate to meet the technology goals. Windows XP operating system first came out in 2001, with improvement added on as "service packs" up until 2007. Windows XP can still be updated, and runs well on older machines, without taking too many resources (as compared to newer Windows operating systems like Vista and Windows 7).
Linux Operating Systems are open-source and some versions are finding their way into K - 7 education, but slowly. One system that is gaining traction in schools is Debian, as evidenced by a British Columbian school district migrating all of its computers to the system (SD 73 Chooses Debian). Another Linux system that is making inroads is Edubutu, with its stated aim "to put together a system that contains all the best free software available in education and make it easy to install and maintain." 
Free Software and Web Content Great for K - 7 Education
The growing abundance of educational freeware both for download and access on-line is impressive. In the recent past K - 7 schools needed to spend a significant amount of their money on software licenses for specific and limited software packages. Now, once the appropriate computer hardware and internet connection is established, schools can utilize this arsenal of freeware to meet their technology learning goals.
A Sampling of Free Open-Source Software
- Open Office: Open Office provides most if not all of the functions of the popular Windows product, MS-Office, but it is free! Users of MS-Office 2003 will find the most current Open Office version to be quite similar in design and function. For former MS-Office users certain tasks need to be relearned, as not all menus and functions are exactly the same between the two programs. In a K - 7 environment, Open Office offers a full range of options for wordprocessing, publishing, and spreadsheets.
- Moodle: Moodle is a Course Management System (CMS), also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It is a Free web application that educators can use to create effective online learning sites. Moodle must be hosted on a server, but once deployed can be accessed via an internet browser and used to roll out educational content or full courses for any level of education. Settings in Moodle allow instructors to change the look and feel of the learning environment to suit the age and preferences of the learners.
A Sampling of Free On-line Applications
Google Apps: Google Apps features several Web applications with similar functionality to traditional office suites, including: Gmail, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs and Sites. The ability to create, share and collaborate using these apps makes this an highly versatile set of tools for K - 7 on-line computing.
Google Earth: Google Earth is a virtual globe program that shows the earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS over a 3D globe. Google Earth allows students to travel the virtual globe, providing relevant information in many K - 7 subject areas.
A Sampling of Web 2.0 Tools For K - 7 Education
Web 2.0 refers to the new and improved internet, where content can be generated by the users, shared with others, sampled and resampled to merge bits and pieces into new creations, and users can interact in on-line virtual communities. Web 2.0 refers to such things as social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, hosted services, and web applications. The creativity and innovation afforded by many of the Web 2.0 tools make them excellent adjuncts to K - 7 technology learning.
The following is a list of some links to Web 2.0 tools and websites:
Future Additions to Wiki
IT Support & Do-It-Yourself Computer Maintenance
Self-Help Strategies to Lessen Dependence on IT Support
Software Solutions to Bullet-Proof Student Accessible Systems
Educational Technology Tools and Environmental Sustainability
- Richey, R.C. (2008). Reflections on the 2008 AECT definitions of the field. TechTrends, 52(1) 24-25
- Retrieved from http://www.cfsbc.ca/, February 27, 2011
- Retrieved from http://edubuntu.org/about, February 27, 2011
- Retrieved from http://moodle.org, February 27, 2011
- Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Apps, February 27, 2011
- Retrieved from http://cct370-w07.wikispaces.com/Definitions, February 27, 2011