November - December 2018

Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech

This summer my wife learned she would be giving up her desktop computer for a laptop in her classroom. She teaches 4th grade in our local school system and had used a desktop PC her whole career. This change in technology caused quite a bit of anxiety. I assured her the new device was going to be fantastic, but she would have none of it.

Going through this transition with her reminded me of the powerful benefits of no longer being anchored to a desk to do work. When combined with a cloud-based suite like Microsoft Office 365 or Google G Suite, having a laptop computer means liberation. Being at a desk at work is no longer special; one is just as capable and productive sitting on the couch at home. In this article I want to share the benefits of having such computing mobility and encourage you to make the shift the next time you or your organization consider updating PCs.

One of my wife’s concerns was that she would have to give up her full-sized monitor, mouse, and keyboard and use the relatively small versions of these on a portable device. Thankfully, the organizations I have worked for have always equipped staff with docking stations which ameliorate this issue. A docking station is a small device at your desk to which you connect your monitor(s), keyboard, and mouse. So when you are working at your desk, one quick connection between the laptop and the dock provides access to full-size peripherals. I have used good and bad docking technologies over the years. Thankfully, the school district is switching to Microsoft’s Surface family of equipment whose docking stations are excellent. I told her not to worry, if she hates the laptop she can pretend nothing has changed, and simply keep it tethered to her desk and use the keyboard, mouse and monitor she is familiar with. Spoiler alert: she definitely did not take this approach.

One benefit of using a mobile computer is that they make one more effective in meetings. Prior to having a laptop as my primary work computer I was often in meetings where questions would arise that I could answer fully if I were at my computer where I could reference underlying reports and information. Without that data at hand, however, we would either make an uninformed decision, or determine to meet again to follow up. Either way, the meetings ended unsatisfactorily with incomplete resolution of the problems we were trying to solve. Modern laptops connected to an organizational network are powerful tools for informing discussions during meetings, reducing the risk of making bad decisions and eliminating the need to reconvene to deal with the same problem.

Modern laptops connected to an organizational network are powerful tools for informing discussions during meetings, reducing risk of making bad decisions and eliminating the need to reconvene to deal with the same problem.

Part of my glee with this technological transition for my spouse is the hope that she can spend more time at home! People who don’t have an educator in the family seldom understand what is required of school teachers these days. It’s not unusual for parents or extended family members to repeat the old saw about teachers having it made because they get the whole summer off or that they have easy hours where they can be at home when the kids arrive from school. Au contraire! To be a school teacher today means tackling a staggering degree of chores, such as: turning curriculum into daily lesson plans complete with interactive PowerPoint displays and relevant apps for students; teaching said plans using engaging media; participating in parent groups; entering grades; responding to parent concerns; guiding in room para-professional helpers; recording data for students with personalized learning plans; monitoring students with special needs; and more.

With a desktop computer, Sherry had to do most of this work physically in the building where the computer and files shared by her work team existed. Now that she has a laptop and her shared files and email correspondence exist in Office 365, she can sit beside me at home while she grades and records weekly spelling tests (and I get to catch up on The Crown). With a laptop and email and files accessible from anywhere, you only need an Internet connection to have the same resources you would have when physically at work.

A few other benefits come along for the ride with this type of setup. My wife is experiencing the ability to use two computer screens for the first time. The laptop screen may be active while the standard desktop screen is active. So one screen can be dedicated to checking email or reference materials, while creating materials on the other screen. And, she can easily drag content from one to the other. It is hard to describe but for most people I have worked with, having two monitors is a revelation that must be experienced and once it is, there is no going back. Another capability of Office 365 and G Suite is the ability for several people to have a file open simultaneously. This is fantastic for large data entry projects where many can work on a spreadsheet at the same time and mark their progress. It’s also useful for virtual meetings where notes can be entered, reviewed, and edited by all participants.

A potential downside to the work-anywhere capability of having such computer portability is to keep healthy boundaries so it doesn’t turn into a work-everywhere all the time situation (other mobile devices add to this temptation as well). But for us, the transition has been a good one, resulting in more time with my wife at home and less late nights for her at school. I encourage you to give it a try.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.