Forget the device. Focus on web-based applications that best meet the needs of your students and teachers. If your solution requires a specific piece of hardware, it's not a practical long-term solution. Things are changing quickly in the educational technology world, and if you're working with vendors that aren't flexible in terms of platform, device, and screen size, well.. your working with the wrong vendors.
In recent months, I've worked with several school districts that are implementing 1:1 Chromebook programs. The weird thing is, none of them included Chromebooks for teachers. The teachers are using more expensive laptops like the MacBook, while students are using Chromebooks. In fact, one district spent nearly the same amount of money on 200 staff devices as they did on 800 student devices. Like concerned school board members, you may be asking yourself why.
The short answer is software needs. The teachers in these schools need access to software programs that are not yet available as web-based applications. Unfortunately, school districts are spending huge amounts of money and developing instructional technology programs around one or two pieces of essential software. The biggest culprit is often the SIS (Student Information System).
It's a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. The schools have their data held hostage in an application that they have used for years, and so they continue to do so even when it no longer makes sense. The largest SIS is called PowerSchool and it's owned by Pearson. PowerSchool does not offer a web-based gradebook, and it does a poor job of handling standards-based grading. Yet, schools cling to it based on the hope that things will someday get better.
In many cases, teachers have become attached to certain programs even when decent alternatives are readily available which further complicates things. For example, it's not uncommon to hear a teacher say "I teach MS Office," as opposed to "I teach word processing and spreadsheet skills." This requires both a curriculum conversation and a tech conversation to find the best solution.
"Evaluation of these services should be done to measure whether it's more important to teach specific program titles or transferable skill sets." - Jamie Jensen, Technology Director, Maine RSU 21
As school budgets continue to shrink and technology needs continue to grow, more schools will officially embrace what has already been happening under the radar for years: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Students will bring in all kinds of technology ranging from smartphones to laptops. With devices of all shapes and sizes, you'll have to plan for the least common denominator: connectivity.
The future belongs to the designers who can create elegant solutions made to run on any connected device regardless of brand. Applications that come bundled with a specific device or run only under a specific OS are no longer valid solutions in a world of ubiquitous technology and connectivity. Technology directors will need to make tough decisions and find alternatives to the programs and services that are currently holding them hostage.
Teachers and students shouldn't bear the burden of device management. Their priorities should be centered on learning. -Harman Singh
Vote with your budget dollars and choose the services and vendors that offer you the best long-term solutions. By 2019, schools will be spending nearly 19 billion dollars per year on educational technology. That's a lot of leverage. Educate your administrators and board members and let them know what you need. The forecast is cloudy, and that's a good thing.