There has never been a bigger choice for teachers and students when it comes to digital devices to support learning. When I started in education just over a decade ago you were a Mac school or a PC school. Being a Mac school was quite radical, and it was almost impossible to find a tech that knew anything about them (some may say nothing has changed!).
Now having Macs is no big deal. In fact, OSX, the Mac operating system, sits alongside Windows as the two ‘old school’ systems that have now been around much longer than any of your students have been alive. They have been joined by a myriad of other devices and operating systems that are clamouring for the education market.
5 years ago it was all about netbooks. 3 years ago iPads made netbooks look positively prehistoric almost overnight. Now Google has got into the game with Android tablets and Chromebooks and everybody is more confused than ever.
The main thing I want to say here is: the more the merrier. The more different devices there are the more choices people have. More choices means you are more likely to find a combination of devices that suits your teaching, and also that suits your students’ learning.
Don’t waste your time being loyal to Apple or Google or any particular brand or product. The only mistake you can make is believing that one device can be chosen that will be the everything you need. It’s absurd to decide you are ‘an iPad school’ or a ‘Chromebook school’. Why? Because you immediately deny your students access to amazing learning opportunities afforded by the devices you’ve locked out.
Not all devices are equal, and no one device does everything. Currently Microsoft’s strategy seems to be to sell educators the exact opposite message. They are making schools everywhere believe that their laptop/tablet hybrids running Windows 8 or 8.1 give you the best of everything. “Can’t decide between a tablet and a laptop? Look, our products are both in 1!” This marketing is misleading schools into running 1:1 programs with second rate machines based on a mistaken premise. I believe tablets and laptops have shown themselves to be 2 different things, and they work best when the designers of both their software and hardware have built them specifically for one role or the other. Trying to get one device that ‘does everything’ inevitably leads to purchasing a device that doesn’t do anything very well.
This isn’t to say you can’t run a specific 1:1 program. We have a 1:1 iPad program at my school for example. However, we also provide our students access to laptops and Chromebooks.
What follows is my brief summation of the most popular types of devices in education and why you should have them somewhere in your school.
Tablets (iPad, Galaxy, Nexus etc – iOS or Android)
Why are tablets so good? Because they’re a multi-media production studio in the hands of every child. Because they facilitate the production of wonderful, simple, highly creative apps that are incredibly simple to use. Because they are highly portable, have long battery lives, and can be brought to where the learning is happening rather than the other way around. Doing a science experiment on the oval? Why wouldn’t you have students take photos and video of it, annotate them with audio narration and text, put them into a document, presentation or short film, and present them when they get back to class. All on one device. You can’t do that with a laptop or Chromebook. We used to spend half a year making short films with students when I first started teaching. Now they can be created in one session.
There has never been such a flexible device available to educators than the tablet. It has enabled technology to ‘get out of the way’ and learning to once again be the focus. Show your learning in the way you choose: comic, movie, photos, mindmap. Whatever suits your mood or your learning style.
Best of all, tablets don’t have screens that come up in front of students’ faces. They are a great social/collaborative device, and in a well run classroom they can seem to be almost ‘invisible’.
Nothing gets my goat more than the ‘tablets aren’t creative devices’ argument. What absolute crap. Tablets, in my opinion, are THE MOST creative devices we’ve ever had access to.
Chromebooks represent everything we should be moving towards in our schools. All you need is an internet connection and a decent browser and almost everything you could wish to achieve is there for you. Get rid of Microsoft Office. Get rid of that painful school ‘intranet’. Get rid of standard ‘images’ for your machines that only your tech can install and manage. In fact, get rid of pretty much everything else that pre-dates cloud computing; and get moving towards kids being able to achieve everything they need to achieve just by being hooked up to your WiFi.
Why have Chromebooks? Because the vast majority of what students need to do at school on a laptop is in an internet browser, especially when you’ve embraced the wonderful world of Google Apps for Education. So why are you still paying for everything else on a laptop?? The Chromebook gives you this internet browser, with a super fast flash drive and none of the other rubbish you never use that slows a computer down, for around $300. A Windows laptop is at least twice that much. A Macbook Air boasts a flash drive and is super sexy, but is more than three times that price. Can you still justify this expense large scale?
I would never work without a Macbook day to day, but don’t kid yourself: more than 9 times out of 10 your students don’t need any of the features that would separate a Mac from a Chromebook.
Laptops (Mac OS or Windows)
If you’re doing ‘proper’ graphic design or film making, teaching kids to code, or using specialised software of any sort, there’s no substitute for a laptop. No matter how you try and frame it, Chromebooks and tablets can’t and aren’t meant to completely replace the laptop computer. You need some, but possibly not a lot, particularly in a Primary school. I see laptops a bit like trucks and tablets and Chromebooks like cars or motorbikes. Once you have a tablet or a Chromebook, you’re going to prefer it as an everyday machine. As soon as you need to do some ‘heavy lifting’ however, you’re going to need a truck!
Desktop computers (Mac OS or Windows) and Netbooks (Windows)
Get rid of them!
– What do you think? Have I been too blunt or unfair? Have you in fact found a device that ‘does everything’? Let me know in the comments.