We’re planning to take a look at Blackberries and cellphones on campus soon … not for students, but for staff! We feel caught in a typical bind, in which the desires for innovation and cost control are in conflict with each other. My favorite innovations are cost effective (or even cost saving). For example, many of the web technologies we have introduced cost far less to adopt and support than their commercial counterparts. What about Blackberries and cellphones? The advantages are obvious. Blackberries allow us to monitor email while away from the desk, receive meeting reminders, make appointments quickly, and be available by phone anytime. However, the costs add up quickly per individual per month, when you consider the phone, minute plans, BES license, and support time needed to care for the finicky devices. It’s difficult to estimate the value of intangibles when budget time comes around.
Other factors also affect these decisions. Tax laws require us to either not use the devices for personal calls or to track personal calls and then reimburse the school. Either approach seems impractical. One requires you to carry a second phone around for personal calls, and the second requires you to do a bunch of extra work to identify all of the personal calls in a bill each month. I would like to share the costs with the school, either by buying the phone and having the school pay for the plan or vice-versa. However, we don’t yet know whether this is a legitimate use of school funds.
We hope to find a solution that meets the tax requirements of a non-profit organization, allows us to take full advantage of new technologies, keeps costs under control for the sake of the school, and allows phone-toting staff members to make natural choices about the use of the phones for business and personal purposes. Stay tuned in the New Year to find out what we do.
Smart Boards are another example of an exciting innovation with a high price tag. We have already committed ourselves to install ceiling-mounted data projectors in as many classrooms as we can. We would love to include Smart Boards as a standard feature in every room, but at $1500 each and considering the patchy pattern of adoption among our teachers, standardization seems undesirable. Instead, we acquire a few Smart Boards for the most active users and leverage our financial resources elsewhere.