Easing the Pain of Software Acquisition

We have a 1:1 student laptop program in our upper school. For the past few years, the school has offered a photography class that is completely digital. The cost of this program is tens of thousands less than would be the case with a darkroom-based facility, never mind the risk of teaching an obsolete skill in a rapidly changing field. One sore point of the program is the cost of Adobe Photoshop software. Efforts to use iPhoto or The Gimp have not been successful, due to the high quality and name recognition that Photoshop carries. But the cost! Even at the great educational discounts that we get through OETC, each family has to put up at least $250 for Photoshop, more than the average book fee for a text-based class.

This year, with the introduction of media arts, the number of families requiring Adobe products at least doubled. On a tip from another school, we investigated the purchase of a high-volume license. It worked out perfectly. A quick calculation demonstrates the savings. If the 70 families enrolled in these classes purchased Photoshop at $250 a piece, they would pay nearly $18,000 total. To buy a 500-user license for the school costs about $5,000. Sure, these funds come from the school instead of the families, but paying additional, high fees beyond tuition can be quite a burden. Of course we should do it, but how may we afford such an expense ourselves? By charging each family $50, they pay less than the book charges for an average class, we pull in enough revenue to offset most of the licensing fee, and other students and teachers in the school get to use the software as well. It’s a win-win-win.

We decided to buy the current version without a software maintenance agreement. This required a committment from both tech staff and teachers that we would skip the next one or two upgrades from Adobe. Otherwise, the licensing costs would be excessive. I love this approach, because it underscores the primacy of student work and teaching craft over having the latest tool. The teachers came up with other good reasons, too. Stabilizing software versions makes books they purchase last longer and allows them to more fully mature curricula for each version. In other words, the knowledge the teachers and students develop in each version can become deeper the longer you keep that version around. Having the latest, greatest features is less important when you have fully mastered the version you have.

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