Varied Devices

I once interviewed for an IT position with a public school district.  I asked the head of IT why anyone was willing to work as a network administrator for a school when it only pays half a business salary.  He said the wide variety of technology that is fun to work with attracts tech enthusiasts.  I agree.  

Each school truly is a micro business when it comes to IT.  They need a relationship with an ISP, a firewall, router, switches, WiFi access points, cabling, and support software for the network.   All that is the unsung hero, as no one sees or appreciates it until doesn't do what they need it to!  Server roles and storage have simplifies or moved to the cloud, so those are not as vital as they use to be.

In the spotlight are the end devices.  For a school, emphasis has moved away from just a computer for a teacher or office staff.  Students needed access, too, so computer labs were built.  High dollar software programs were chosen with care, as the computers towers came with a big price tag, too.  The abilities of the computers and programs were clear and their use was linear.  There was a beauty to that simplicity.

The next era involved document cameras, projectors, and touch boards for a whole class shared experience.  The teacher could share a website or document with the class.  It was easy for everyone to focus on that single point of interest.

The current generation has unfolded quickly.  From a few student devices in a classroom to shared carts.  Now every kid has a portable device.  Many even take them home.  They cost much less than previous computers and many of the resource materials and programs are based on free websites.  In turn, many schools have closed down or modified their computer lab to reflect mobile learning.  There is less interest in what is happening at the front of the classroom.  As a result, a slew of monitoring and control software options are evolving.  None of them are perfect, but the extra expense can show big data and direction of a school and its tech usage.     

Getting back to the hardware side, many schools boil things down to three options when choosing student devices: iPads, Chromebooks, or Windows S laptops.   They are all available for $300, but management licensing, apps, and other programs may add to the cost.  Chromebooks and Windows S laptops can offer bargain versions in the $150 - $250 range.  Buy one and try it out first.  Ease and cost of central management is an important consideration, especially if whoever will manage them is not a technologist.  The larger the fleet, the more important the management.

For staff and teachers, many schools still go the Windows route.  Desktops cost a little more up front because of the monitor purchase but they should last longer, have better opportunity for repair or upgrade, and be more powerful.  A laptop is a little cheaper upfront, allows a teacher to complete work at home, and offers mobility within the school.  Since COVID19, this is a real deal breaker for many schools.  However, bear in mind a laptop has a higher chance of damage, has less power, and may result in less productivity if a teacher is not comfortable with the keyboard and trackpad combo.  It also can create frustration when a teacher wants personal programs or data on the laptop and whether or not that is allowed or they are able.

Teacher displays for the whole class are another area of evolving tech.  The touch TV is cheaper than an projector / touchboard combo since 2019.  Argue the price down or get consortium pricing with your district.  I have seen $3000 75" 4K touch boards with good, teacher friendly software.  For that price, you need to pay for delivery, set it up yourself, and provide your own computer to power it.  Many companies include all that and have lowered their price to $4500 - $5000.  Still a good deal in my opinion, but you save when you set stuff up yourself.

Some schools may consider Chromebooks across the board for everyone.  I have never seen a school take this approach at this point, but it is a growing possibility.  With any of the choices above, there is give and take to the cost and abilities of the device and its management.   There is no best choice or worst choice.  

iPads are best for touch and video.  Also, if you have money for apps, they have some great experiences for kids.   They can be basic and pair well with younger kids.  They have grown in many other abilities that can press the creative and cognitive abilities or older students, too.  Just be prepared for paying for keyboards, apps, a case, a warranty, and maybe even a $200 pencil!

Chromebooks are great in any environment where touch and video are not a priority.  The keyboard and screen that is larger than an ipad.  That makes Chromebooks great for research, report writing, and participation on class discussion boards.  The apps that run best and the basic Google productivity suite, including Docs, Slides, and Drive.  Just with those and the internet, the Chromebook becomes a readily available productivity tool.  There are few many additional expenses, aside from management and monitoring software subscriptions and the Google Management License.    You may still consider a case, warranty, mouse, and will still need to pay for whole school subscriptions to academic sites.

The Windows laptop for students option seems like we are traveling back in time.  The school system administrator of all the teacher Windows desktops can now manage the kids laptops with no additional skills and very little additional expense.  That sounds great, but Microsoft is a profitable company because they moved their management system to the cloud, too!  They now require annual subscriptions for both management and productivity software, and lots of add-on options if you want all the abilities you use to have from a local server.  Sour grapes in my book, but it doesn't end up being that much more expensive than any other option if you go with the cheaper laptops.  However, these are not full blown Windows laptops.  They will operate with a more lightweight base, allowing for faster access to online resources with less horses under the hood.  This is a good thing for student devices.  Limiting what a devices can do limits student desires, helping them focus on school work.