Ownership– On a New Course?

I’ve touched on this a couple of times in the past, but this last week I’ve had several interesting conversations on the topic of ownership. Ownership of technology, that is.

In the past, a typical school would buy computers for computer labs, laptop carts, workstations in libraries, and even 1:1 programs. In the end, the school could say we have a 1:4 computer to student ratio, or a 1:2 or even a 1:1. We have students, and we buy computers for their use.

Currently, though, the trend I’m working on is a different type of ownership. If we really embrace the concept of high school students actively bringing their own laptops to school, or handhelds, or phones with Internet access, then the traditional idea of school-provided computers begins to skew.

As noted a couple of posts earlier, vertical and high-end computer labs owned and maintained by the school may make a strong come-back in this period, but networks and IT infrastructures will also need to change to enable user-owned computers to be effective. That means providing cross-platform services, such as printing with a non-domain computer. It also means embracing more web-enabled or open-source applications, or ways of delivering school-purchased high end software to home-owned systems with license key servers, expiring packages, and the like.

As noted in an earlier post, I also see this trend occurring with more advanced faculty users of technology. A school-provided faculty laptop will always have some limits, for example. The school may not be able to afford the type or power that a faculty user wants, and in most cases a school-provided computer cannot be used for personal business (taxes, side consulting). Nor is it typically a place for personal media collections. Thus, I have seen successful examples of faculty buying their own laptops, but using them for school work. Yes, the school-required software for accessing the student information system and other admin tasks needs to accommodate this, but overall I believe that these faculty are better computer users because they are taking ownership and responsibility for their own computers. As for the IT infrastructure, it also means one less computer we need to buy, maintain, repair and buy official licenses for.

This all relates back to long-term infrastructure planning. For example, is it worth the hassle to have a student information system with web portals for student and faculty work, instead of specific clients with licenses to maintain and domain member issues. The long-term benefits of simple web faces for the work to be done by these constituents is difficult to judge, if it means that doors are opened for more personal ownership of hardware and software (along with the responsibilities of that ownership).

A very traditional organization with strict controls on the infrastructure (only one platform, only computers provided by us, and bans on student-owned technology tools) may have several short-term benefits or advantages, but my initial experience suggests that student and faculty owned computers can work in a school environment, and have dual benefits of reduced hardware and maintenance costs, as well as improving the quality of use and responsibility of the owners.

At first I thought this type of approach may only be credible in schools, but then I learned this week of commercial organizations moving toward fully virtual online desktops and applications that are served only on the web from data centers, with the management benefit of just about any PC or laptop being able to run the centralized software needed by the organization. Employees are told that they can use their own computer, as long as they followed the privacy rules and had equipment of a certain standard. This is obviously a step forward in the long-evolving telecommuting movement, and a possible cost effective alternative to office space and network infrastructure costs.

Hmmm. Enough for now. It’s a sunny Sunday morning in London, and soon as my family is ready we’re going to take a long walk on Hampstead Heath.

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