As recently as a decade ago, school administrators saw their primary technology spending decisions revolve around hardware purchases. They had to decide which types of hardware to purchase and how to support these machines in a fast-moving environment. Issues such as how much memory to buy, whether to opt for color monitors, and whether to go for dot-matrix or inkjet printers once were paramount. These types of concerns are now in the past, because all new computers offer an array of multimedia features at very affordable prices—and because computer peripherals are superbly engineered and almost universally compatible.

But the world of hardware is not standing still. Improvement in the industry is relentless. Computers continue to get faster, offer more features, and sell for lower prices.

Here are five hardware issues you’ll need to stay on top of in the next few years:

1. Handheld computers are starting to have an impact in many schools. Manufacturers are developing add-ons or complementary machines that are designed specifically to work with handheld computers in classrooms, such as miniature scanners, mini-printers, and advanced handwriting recognition software.

2. Electronic books, or eBooks, are also starting to make their mark in secondary education, and new K-12 titles are emerging every day. Most systems are incompatible, so administrators must make decisions about which type to purchase.

3. Thin-client computing is another name for dedicated computer terminals. Ironically, these types of workstations were popular more than a decade ago, prior to the reduction in prices of personal computers. Thin-client computers are now being touted by some companies as the least costly way to link with fast, internet-wired networks and to upgrade or add software to schools’ and districts’ networks.

4. Satellite and cable hookups are other technologies that seemed to be left for dead by the PC revolution but are now enjoying a renaissance. Satellite and cable television companies now offer a wide variety of educational material and administrative services over “broadband” networks, using the speed of those systems to surpass slower, dial-up internet connections.

5. The digital divide, studies have shown, is not going away. States and districts must continue to reduce inequities between schools, because access to computer technology can be a critical contributor to a student’s educational success.

abstracted from What’s Happened to Hardware?
School Planning & Management, October 2001, page 35