A Learning Device For Every Student – Part II, Scenarios

From vision to reality

In my last post, I already focused heavily on why we think every student should have a personal learning device. Read more about it here.
The very first step was figuring out how we would conduct the decision making of the project. Was this up to the school board of directors? What other voices should we here and get involved in this process? We decided to create a task force with school leaders, teachers and IT staff. In the first round of brainstorming sessions, we consulted every teacher. The task force at that time was a group of 9. Later it expanded to 22. The goal of this group was very clear: develop scenarios for a 1:1-scheme in our school. What are the possibilities? How do we bring this to a success?

It’s not about the device, it’s about the learning!

Didn’t I say that yet? Of course! And I can not emphasise it enough: we took this path to create a richer learning environment and facilitate better learning experiences.
In order to achieve this, technology should never be a limiting factor to the learning.

Scenarios

We set off by examining which different scenarios are possible.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device/Disaster)

If we want to encourage self paced learning, it seems appropriate we let every student decide for himself what device suits his learning process the best. Some students might prefer a more mobile device (e.g. tablet or “phablet”) while others would like to work on a notebook with a full-scale keyboard and powerful processor.
For this scenario to work, the school should set minimum specifications on the device or provide a list with device to choose from.
Although this scenario seems great, it has some serious downsides: even with a list of minimum specs, we would end up with a bunch of different device brands, device types and operating systems. In order to get this scenario to work, we need to expect that the student has a thorough understanding of the device but also our staff need to be able to perform first line of support when something goes wrong with the device. When in class, a tech bump should be fixed ASAP.
It is practically impossible to train your staff in all these configurations. When we only line up operating systems, we could easily reach five different mainstream systems (Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, iOS, Android). And probably some geek will bring a sixth (Linux?)
And what if the device crashes? School can never provide with backup devices.

“Technology should never be a limiting factor to the learning.”

There are even bigger issues on the pedagogical side: teachers need to check if their preferred tool can be used on all the devices. In my opinion, this would quickly result in selecting only web based tools and never make any use of a camera since you would not know if every student has a device that carries a camera.
Maybe in other circumstances BYOD is a good way to go, but in education, I am convinced the abbreviation stands for Bring Your Own Disaster.

A notebook for every student

BEWARE: I will discuss Chromebooks, but in the next chapter. This one is about macOS or Windows notebooks.

If we want our students to be productive and creative learners, they should have a powerful computer with a full-scale keyboard. That was the opinion of a lot of teachers in our school and we know it is also the opinion for a big part of our students parents. Notebooks are very well equipped to author texts, create web pages, make presentations, etc.
But these devices carry some problems:
1. The durable and light ones are expensive (i.e. MacBook, Surface Laptop, …)
2. When teaching in front of a classroom, students sit behind a wall of screens. In order to have any sight on what students are doing on their devices, you need to stand in the back of the classroom. These screen walls also don’t invite to collaborate.
3. All day battery life comes at a price.
4. Notebooks are not very mobile. Preferably you put them on a table or on your lap. These are device to be used only sitting.

Chromebook, the modern typewriter

See, I told you I would discuss these.
Chromebooks seem a good solution: they are cheap, easy to manage and they work seamlessly with G Suite.
So why not? There are some issues, both technically and pedagogically.
When WiFi is down (yes, this happens), a Chromebook is almost useless. These devices rely on a network connection for almost anything. Of course you can sync Drive files for offline use, but you should enable this before you get in a no-WiFi zone. In our school, no-WiFi zones don’t exist except for when the whole campus becomes a no-WiFi zone.
They also have the screen problem a notebook has. We don’t want walls inside our classrooms.
You might know that I am a big fan of the SAMR-model. It helps teachers to evaluate if their tasks that involve the use of technology are worth the effort of using the tech. I cannot help but find that with Chromebooks (and any other notebook), it is more difficult to develop learning activities that locate themselves in the M and R regions. Read more about the SAMR-model here
Very recently I read this article by the amazing Brian Foutty where he focuses on pedagogical issues and even on the deceiving price tag of Chromebooks.
This brings me to our conclusion

Best of both worlds

So we chose iPad. Why?
There were a lot of reasons why we took this path. Here are some of them:

It’s about the learning, not the device

Apple’s iPad and the ecosystem around it with the App Store, iTunes U, iBooks and Apple’s apps to enable both creativity and productivity has no match on the market. Hardware and software pose almost no limit on the learning opportunities of our students. The stuff just works so you don’t need to bother about drivers, updates and system crashes. Just focus on the learning.
Third party apps (including our school’s electronic learning environment and G Suite) provide all other necessary tools. Students can also easily install their preferred educational apps and content.

Mobility

Not only is iPad a lightweight device, it is also a true mobile device you can take anywhere. Excursions, the sporting grounds, on public transport. Quickly changing classes or a classroom setup is no issue. With iPad, you can take away the constant sitting from the learning process.

Total cost of ownership

Agreed, iPad is not the cheapest device to purchase, but you buy quality that lasts. An iPad can be used several years (I still use a device that is almost 6 years old). All of Apple’s productivity and creativity apps are included in the price too.

Support and management

Mobile Device Management provides with all the tools IT administration needs to facilitate a smooth user experience. It enables easy deployment and daily management like installing apps and profiles.
Teachers also benefit from this: they can grant students access to apps they don’t have, and when needed, they can disable or reenable features and apps on the device.
When all students have the same device, IT support becomes manageable too: when a device fails, it can be replaced instantly and the learning process is only interrupted briefly.

Battery life

We don’t want power cords in our classrooms. With iPad, you don’t need them: a device will last a full day on a charge.

These were only five of the reasons why we chose iPad as a learning tool for our students.
In the next post, I will discuss how we plan to get this 1:1-scheme on the road.

 

image credit: pixels.com – license: CC0

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