CA Curious

Picking out the CA laptop

March 15, 2018

Each year, the Information Services (IS) department research and try various products to see how they would fit into the culture and curriculum. One of the perks of being part of the department is that you get to play with all the new gadgets and help decide if it fits into our vision for Cary Academy. This year 3D printers, virtual reality, and a drone where just a few to make it through. Most times this is a fairly easy process: we hear or read about a something, we play with it and show it to students and faculty, then we integrate it into our environment, and sometimes we receive accolades for bringing it to CA.

Bigger projects follow a different process, take more time, and are not as clear cut as we would like them to be. Once of the biggest takes place every 3-4 years when it is time to replace our faculty and student laptops. For some, buying a new device can be fun and exciting like buying a new house or car. You do your research, determine what you are looking for, budget what you are willing to spend, and then you follow your gut. A possible bonus being that for most part you only need to consult with a couple of family members before deciding.

The process for when looking for a new device at Cary Academy is not too different except your “family” is closer to 800 members – all with different opinions and needs. It is not an easy task with no correct answer at the end. The first thing Information Services does is determine what it is that the CA community “wants” versus what it is that they “need”. The “need” is straight-forward based on our curriculum and how we as a school use the devices both in and out of the classroom. As with most purchases, it is what we “want” that tends to get us in trouble because they tend to be contrasting in nature. For example, we want something thin and not bulky looking, but we also want an internal holder for a stylus. We want something that is cool and cutting edge, but we also want something that is known as a work-horse with no issues. Determining the “needs” and “wants” only gets us so far.

It’s the device specifications that get us to the next round. The first specification that is looked at and is a deal breaker is whether it has a touchscreen that you can write-on. Inking is that one specification that not only knocks out a large portion of the devices but also immediately puts us in a certain pricing range. The device must have the capability to join our network easily and allow our firewall and monitoring systems to work. These reasons tend to be why we do not look at Apple or Chromebook devices.

After looking at the needs and specifications, we review financials and support.

The process up to this point is relatively clean and could follow a rubric. Depending on how various machines stack up, a decision could be made. The reality is that, for better or worse, these devices are more than just machines to carry out daily tasks. At the end of the day, picking out a device comes down to a subjective and emotional experience.

This is the biggest struggle when deciding on something for a roughly 800 individuals rather than a couple of family members. This is where IS can go from hero to zero in a matter of seconds. Interpreting the community’s voice, managing expectations, and perceptions is the last step in our process.

To gather the community voice, we try to provide demo units for people to try-out. Manufacturer’s provide the units, and we lay them out in the library for all to see. This year we had five different manufacturers who met our criteria in some way: Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft, and Toshiba. Each machine had its own pros and cons but “under the hood” each would fulfill our needs.

Students had the opportunity to “play” with the machines and put their choice in a fishbowl for IS to review. This year, of the students that voted, the Microsoft Surface was the big winner. Even though it has a detachable keyboard and optional stylus. Unfortunately, we found out afterwards that the keyboard and stylus were added costs resulting in the Surface being out of our price range. Additionally, the Fujitsu models received the lowest votes and are on the higher end of our budget. This leaves us with HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba – all of which received a similar range of student votes.

All three options are great. All three will fit our needs. All three will have their own challenges. And not one of the three will make everyone happy.

Once we’ve parsed all that data, with all other things being equal, we make our selection on the best value for the school (and, as such, for our tuition-paying families).

As such, we have selected the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga X380 as the new student computer.

We will be hard at work this summer preparing these new machines and thrilled to hand them out to students in the fall!

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Innovation & Technology

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