What’s the best computer device for education? What should we buy?
Questions we often get asked at London CLC and considering the money schools invest in technology there isn’t a simple answer to this question, and your expectations for how the technology will impact in School should be high. Before you start making a decision about the equipment you’re going to have in school you need to begin with some fundamental questions, for example:
- What do we want learning to look like in school and which technology can best support this?
- Are there any particular teaching methodologies that can be supported by a specific device?
- How do we see technology integrating in to lessons?
- How often do we want technology to be used?
- What is our approach to the computing curriculum?
You will also want to explore research into how technology can best support learning; the important thing about great use of technology is that you don’t focus on the technology, you focus on the teaching and learning that it can enable. Speak to someone independent who has experience in this area, this can save you a lot of time in costly mistakes. London CLC doesn’t sell devices or equipment, and so we can give impartial advice to schools – drop us an email on [email protected] for help or visit us at BETT on stand G102.
When you have a clear vision for how technology will support learning there are infrastructure related questions to consider such as:
– Have we moved to the cloud yet and taken advantage of the offerings like G Suite for education? G suite from Google enables online learning and collaboration and makes documents available everywhere, but it requires careful planning and training for staff to implement. You also need to evaluate and align it with your school’s data protection and online safety policies. Cloud services can also be your unifying thread that enables work to be used across multiple types of device and enables anytime / anywhere access, rapid assessment and feedback as well as creating digital portfolios of pupils. This can save staff valuable time, engage pupils and accelerate learning.
– Before putting more mobile devices on your wireless network, you need to ask ‘is it up to scratch?’ Does the WiFi support the right number of devices? Is your internet connection fast enough? This is essential if you want your device implementation to be successful and reduce frustration.
You may find yourself spending money on improving your infrastructure and putting off the purchase of your devices, but getting these steps in the right order is so important if you don’t want staff to get frustrated with slow connection speeds and WiFi dropouts. This is an easy way to lose the support of staff for the initiative and cause frustration. You need a carefully planned and installed WiFi network that is capable of easily supporting all of the devices you plan to get and any you may want to add in the next 5-7 years. We can help you to plan this carefully and (unlike many others) as we don’t supply or make any money from the sale of equipment we can give you impartial advice with the genuinely best solution in mind!
Fixed or mobile devices?
If you’ve experienced the reality of wasted learning time due to laptops that take half the lesson to log on or iPads that drop off the WiFi you may be inclined to think that going back to fixed desktop computers (or giving up on technology altogether) might be the best way forward. The advantages of mobile technology in school are great however and it’s what we should be aiming for. The world is going mobile, mobile tablets and devices are having measurable impact in large industries from health to transportation, this trajectory shows no sign of slowing and whatever technology is prevalent when our pupils go into the workplace it will mobile and better integrated into our lives. In a school environment sets of devices can provide flexibility and tablet devices can integrate into everyday learning, sitting alongside the dry whiteboard and workbooks as a support for the lesson rather than the main focus, to be used at key points where it can best support learning. The Education Endowment Foundation states from it’s review of Digital Technologies research that “Effective use of technology is driven by learning and teaching goals rather than a specific technology: technology is not an end in itself.” The exception to this is of course in the teaching of the computer science element of the computing curriculum, where the focus IS on the technology, you may want to have a dedicated space for this, although this isn’t necessary – you are likely to want to have some dedicated equipment to assist you in teaching the computing curriculum, more on this later.
Single or multiple devices?
If we want to prepare learners to be adaptable, giving them experience on a range of devices is desirable and even specified in the computing curriculum. How this looks is up to you. Multiple devices for use in the classroom puts extra demands on staff time in becoming familiar with them and in reality staff will often favour one over the other. The best way for a member of staff to become comfortable with the technology that’s being used in the classroom is to have their own device, and to be using it on a regular basis. This is essential if a member of staff is to be confident and able to prepare effective lessons that utilise technology. If you’re using two types of devices this becomes more difficult and with the demands on teacher’s time only some teachers would make the time to fully explore both devices. This still leaves us with the question of how we will help pupils to be adaptable through the use of different technologies, and this can be emphasised in the computer science part of the computing curriculum. Using different devices to really understand how the ‘nice shiny box’ that provides us with so much content and opportunity for learning. This is where devices such as the Raspberry Pi, Microbit and accessories such as the Picoboard, crumble, EV3 robots and so on come into their own and help to give pupils an understanding of what drives the devices that are so interwoven into their lives.
Does it matter when most services are available in the cloud?
It is true that there are many great cloud and browser based services such as G suite for education and assessment tools such as Kahoot that work in browsers equally well to how they work in app form and the majority of cloud based activities support learning brilliantly. There are some exceptions, and a lot of the touch based apps and multimedia and creative be work still requires software or apps to be completely successful and seamless.
Although speech recognition is good and AI is on the horizon to transform the way we interact with technology, keyboard skills are still essential for writing digitally.
The education community is divided about the use of on-screen keyboards. They are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life and there is no substantial research that suggests we should or should not use physical keyboards with children. Research is conflicting on the accuracy of on-screen keyboards with trained touch-typists – some says that trained typists given time can type quicker on-screen whereas other research suggests that typing with on-screen keyboards are less accurate.
You will need to decide on where you stand on this as a school but this is a consideration when purchasing a device that doesn’t have a physical keyboard, if you want your pupils to have access to one on a tablet device you need to include the cost of a keyboard case in your budgeting.
What’s the difference between the devices?
To give an overview of every make and model of device would be impossible but considering three main contenders below is often the choice schools are making, this list isn’t exhaustive though and the one thing about technology is that it’s always changing and there’s always something new coming out. Here’s a quick look at the three most popular device categories. We would always recommend speaking to someone who really knows the devices to help you make a decision. Contact us if you’d like to have a conversation about this – [email protected].
These are well known and are widely used and in addition they are compatible with a lot of the software used with display devices. The learning curve for staff is usually low and staff are often most likely to be familiar with the windows interface so there is often less training needed or barriers to using the devices. The downside can involve log-on times depending on how your network or accounts are set up and you don’t have access to the apps in the iOS app store. The Windows app store has never caught up with the iOS store or even the chrome store in terms of apps that are useful for supporting learners however you can of course install the Chrome web browser and access the collection of apps available in the chrome web store. There is still the argument that to prepare our learners for the workplace, Windows still dominates and so learners need to be confident in using Windows, however you only have to look at the upwards trajectory of cloud and mobile computing to see the likely direction that technology is heading in. Nevertheless it is something to consider, how could this be incorporated into learning if it isn’t your main choice of device? Or indeed if it is necessary when even Microsoft office is now based in the cloud with Office 365.
People often ask whether they need the power of a desktop computer when so many of the services used are now online. Some of the most popular computing curriculum apps are web apps such as Scratch, Purple Mash and J2code. The lightweight, “fast to power up” Chromebooks come in many shapes and sizes with a keyboard and give you access to the chrome web browser and chrome web store that has a wide range of high quality apps for use in education. Many also come with touch screens and cameras built-in. To use them your school should sign up for G Suite for Education as these accounts will be used by pupils to log in to the devices. Early reports show that some of the lower price tags have resulted in poor build quality with more breakages than other devices and the refresh cycle for them is yet to be well established and although creative tools are getting better, it doesn’t have the creative potential of the iPad if that’s what you’re looking for in your classroom.
The iPad is quite a different experience to the first two devices here and tends to be the ‘Marmite’ in education technology circles. The iPad has evolved beyond a ‘light’ computing device and is now a serious computer used professionally in many industries. Schools have implemented these devices in many different ways and some with greater success than others. The latest iOS means the iPad is now a serious device with high powered spec that not only gives you access to the app store that contains some key, and very well thought through, apps for education but also allows you to use Word, G Suite or Apple’s own iWork suite made up of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Latest additions to these devices for education include Apple Classroom, a classroom management app for teachers and ‘Shared iPad’ allowing you to log in to the iPad to pick up where you left off. iOS and iPads are also serious about creativity and Apple apps like iMovie and GarageBand coupled with the high quality camera let you do some excellent creative work. The touch screen is also second to none and is an intuitive way to interact with content. Detractors with the iPad include the face that it has no physical keyboard with it by default, if this is important to you, you’ll need to add the cost of a keyboard case and although there have been some improvements it still isn’t as easy as it should be for technicians to set up and administer iPads. ‘Mobile Device Management’ is essential if you want to be fully using the features of these devices.
Our technical team are experts in setting up all devices and the infrastructure required behind them, for an initial conversation and advice email [email protected].
All implementation needs to be carefully considered. Consideration needs to be given to WiFi and deciding whether it’s the right time for you to move to a cloud solution for technology. Choice of technology needs to be aligned carefully with your approach to learning, you need to give consideration as to how you can teach the computer science elements of the computing curriculum effectively. At London CLC we have years of experience of working with schools on a wide range of projects and we’d love to help you plan and implement your development of technology. We offer strategic planning support, training, workshops and have a range of expertise across the many services available. For an initial conversation please email [email protected] or call us on 0207 720 7514.
We are at BETT on stand G102, so come and see us in person.