Why does St. Mark’s require students to have a laptop?
In 2015-2016, the School formalized what had become, in recent years, an implicit expectation, to better communicate to students and families the tools they need to be successful as St. Mark’s students. The School shifted from recommending to requiring laptops to ensure that all students have equitable access to the tools they need to pursue their studies. By ensuring that all students have comparable devices, the School better supports instruction in the classroom, allowing faculty to plan for predictable and reliable access to technological tools throughout the curriculum.
Does every student need to have the same computer?
No. We do not require the same computer for all of our students because not all St. Mark’s students are the same. The laptop is a tool to support a student’s studies and it is appropriate for students and their families to seek a personal fit for a tool that will be used so heavily and frequently.
Are students taught how to use their laptops?
Yes. Under the supervision of Academic Technology, new students work with the “O Team” (orientation team) and the student Technology Prefects to ensure that their laptops are configured and ready for the school year. Returning students have refresher and check-up sessions during co-curricular periods at the start of the school year. Throughout the school year, as students encounter new technology in their classes, their teachers both instruct and support their use of technology relevant to their discipline. The Technology Prefects, under the administration of Academic Technology, are available for support in student houses and The Center.
What computer does St. Mark’s require?
The specific requirements are posted on the school website and are part of the summer Getting Ready packet for new and returning students. To ensure broad compatibility and interoperation, St. Mark’s requires a computer that is capable of running the basic applications that students require to do their academic work: web browsing and research, data analysis, word processing, presentations, and lightweight audio/video editing. Both Mac OS and Windows laptops are supported, and the School annually reviews these software-driven requirements for student computers.
What software does St. Mark’s require?
The specific requirements are posted on the school website and are part of the summer Getting Ready packet for new and returning students.
Can I use my current computer?
For the vast majority of new students, the answer is an emphatic yes! The requirements are defined based on a combination of software capabilities (the ability to run a recent version of your operating system and required software) and network connectivity (the ability to connect to specific kinds of wireless networks). Just about any new computer purchased in the past 1-2 years should be able to meet these requirements. Some older computers may also meet the requirements with software upgrades or minor hardware upgrades (e.g. replacing a wifi card or installing additional memory).
Do I need a “better” laptop for advanced courses?
No. The school offers a range of classes that take advantage of higher-level computing resources than the average laptop can provide. For example, the FIRST Robotics team and physics classes use CAD software, the Digital Music class uses professional audio recording and editing software, the Photography and New Media classes use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, statistics and geometry classes use a variety of modeling software packages. In each of these cases, where very specific computing resources are required, the School maintains computer labs and/or carts to support student work.
Will I be able to purchase software through the school?
Yes, for physically packaged software. Microsoft Office is provided, free of charge, to all students for as long as they are enrolled at St. Mark’s. For courses where specific software is a requirement (like a textbook) it is also available through the bookstore. Many software packages, such as iMovie or MovieMaker are available only as digital downloads, and the student Technology Prefects and the Technology Help Desk are available to assist with those purchases. In some classes, students may also receive access to school-licensed software suites, such as Final Draft or Mathematica for the duration of the course.
Do I need different software for different classes?
Maybe. Several classes do require students to purchase specific software to support the curriculum, as they would a textbook or other study resource. In these cases, the software is available through the bookstore or via an online store. For example, there are companion software packages that accompany many language and science texts, specific programming toolkits used in computer science, or modeling tools used in higher level mathematics courses.
Am I able to purchase my computer through the school?
No, for two reasons. First, the laptop is a tool to support a student’s studies and it is appropriate for students and their families to seek a personal fit for a tool that will be used so heavily and frequently. Second, the decline in educational discounts on technology has created a purchasing environment in which it is no longer to either the School’s or individual families’ economic advantage to participate in school bulk-purchase programs.
Should I get the extended warranty for my computer?
We do recommend purchasing an extended warranty for your computer. For Macs, the only extended warranty program that we endorse is Apple’s AppleCare program, which covers most issues that may arise for 3-years (rather than the limited warranty of one year). For Windows computers, if you purchase the extended warranty from the store at which you purchased the computer, you must take the computer to the store in person for service. St. Mark’s is in the process of negotiating a service relationship with a local repair service that is authorized to perform warranty service for all major brands, including HP, Dell, IBM, Sony and Apple.
Are there computers I can borrow if mine breaks?
Yes, there are Google ChromeBooks available for short term (up to three weeks) loan from the Library. These loans are provided to support students whose computers are “in the shop.”
Will financial aid support computer purchases?
No additional financial aid is provided for computer purchases, but the cost of a new laptop is carefully built into initial financial aid awards. Families with full financial aid and expense coverage are notified that SM will provide a laptop.
Am I able to use a tablet or iPad instead of a laptop?
No. The school specifically requires that students bring a laptop to support their studies to ensure that all students have both comparable tools to support instruction in the classroom and so that students have sufficient hardware and software resources that the computer will be an aid, rather than a stumbling block. The present state of tablet technology is impressive, and the School has embraced iPads in a number of forums, including the Library loaner pool, individual faculty use and several classroom carts, but they are sufficiently different from a laptop as to not be interchangeable. The School will continue to reevaluate the specific device requirements each year, and we anticipate that the requirements will be updated as technology advances.
Do I need a tablet, iPad, smartphone or other device in addition to the laptop?
No. Many students already have smartphones (and some also have tablets or iPads), but the School does not anticipate making these required tools at this time. The School will continue to reevaluate and update the specific device requirements each year, and the requirements will keep pace with advancing technology.
Should I purchase any specific add-on devices to go with the laptop?
There is no requirement that you do so. However, depending on the personal preferences of each student, some or all of the following may be useful. In general, we recommend giving the school year a week or two to unfold before committing to any additional purchases, as students will generally have a clearer sense of their actual needs.
- Separate computer case. In general, most bookbags include a padded laptop pocket, and students tend to find it easier to manage one bag than two. However, depending on the student, a separate case may be desirable.
- External keyboard and mouse. Some users find it more comfortable, when working for extended periods of time to have more a more expansive keyboard or a more precise mouse. Others find it distancing to not be on the physical computer, or find it annoying to unplug and plug-in (battery-powered wireless keyboards and mice are certainly an option).
- External monitor. Some users find it useful to have a large, additional monitor on their desk where they do the majority of their work, to provide more “screen real estate” as they work. Others find it annoying to have to unplug and plug-in.
- External hard drive. While we encourage all students to use Google Drive to back up their school files to the cloud, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a “belt-and-suspenders” approach, using an external drive for additional storage or as an additional backup device. Not every user finds that they are able to be consistent in connecting regularly to physical backup devices.
- USB or Thunderbolt ethernet adapter. Some students find that they prefer to connect their computer directly to the wired ethernet network in their rooms. Some modern computers, most notably the MacBook Air, do not include built-in ethernet adapters. In this case, families may wish to consider an adapter to allow the student to connect their computer directly to the ethernet. Many users find that the convenience of wifi outweighs the need to plug in.
Will there be technical support for student laptops?
Yes. The Technology Help Desk provides in-depth support for students experiencing technological problems, including facilitating temporary loaner computers from the library and the setup of those computers if a student’s laptop will be out of service for an extended period of time. The student Technology Prefects, based out of The Center and student houses, provide immediate support to students, with a particular focus on supporting common software applications and web tools. In cases where repairs need to be done off-site for a fee, the Technology Help Desk will coordinate fee-approval and temporary loaner computer coverage with students.
Do students have access to wifi everywhere on campus?
Everywhere reasonable. In 2012-2013, the school expanded its wifi network to improve coverage in all student houses and academic spaces, and to improve its coverage in other public spaces (in the athletic center, for example). We anticipate and intend that some parts of campus, such as the athletic fields, the warming hut and the cross country loop, will remain quaintly “off the grid”, providing ample space for quiet reflection and focus.
Is there web filtering in place at St. Mark’s?
Yes. We use industry-standard web filters to filter out generally “not safe for work” websites, including pornography, malware, and gambling. In general, we seek to take an educational approach to technology use, with an intentional program to teach students about the responsible use of technology. This means that, while we do not filter out everything, we do monitor use and flag problematic patterns of use for intervention.
Should parents apply “parental restrictions” to student laptops?
This is an individual conversation between parents and students. In general, this is not a recommended approach, as it often makes it difficult to troubleshoot problems on a laptop or to install additional, necessary software. If, however, parents feel the need to apply such restrictions on a student computer, we do ask that parents communicate the administrative password to the student’s advisor, to facilitate any necessary troubleshooting.
Do students need access to an App Store account to purchase software?
Not necessarily. Almost all of the software that students use in class, beyond the basic requirements, does not come from App Stores, but from independent publishers, so no App Store account is necessary. However, if a student needs to update or install, for example, iMovie on their Mac laptop, an App Store account will be necessary. Parents do not, however, need to provide students with credit card-enabled App Store account. Their accounts may be charged up with gift cards, available at the Bookstore or online.
Who can I talk to if I have more questions?
Brian Lester, the Director of Academic Technology is happy to chat. Drop him a line at BrianLester@stmarksschool.org.