In my contemplation of the Tech Plan I considered from my experience what works and what does not. Here is a quick look from one school’s experience with popular school tech toys. Remember, these are the opinions shaped by a TIGHT (squeak, squeak) budget.
- iPads. The elementary teachers that have them like them. Those that do not have them want them. The high school teacher that used them thought they were a bit of a pain and they could only be forced to do what she wanted. From the management side (my side) they are a headache. The single account thing is a deal killer at the higher grades. Kids are able to enter their own iTunes accounts and download to a school iPad. Apple Configurator has a tendency to crash, a lot. The Mobile Device Managers out there are useful but the kids can delete or beat the proxy method easily. Apple likes to make iPad for schools sound like the greatest thing since the invention of chalk. It isn’t. With a lot of training and a lot of prep our lower grade teachers are getting good results. The apps are the key. If there are particular apps that are the only thing that will do what the teacher wants, the iPad is the way to go. The little kids are not at the stage where they want to jail-break the thing. The boundary seems to be about the sixth grade. Below – good, above – not so good. For the middle school and the high school a laptop is a much better bang for the buck.
- Laptops. By far the best bang for the buck when placed in a students’ hands, be it PC or Mac. A laptop beats an iPad in every case where an Apple app is not the focus. Maybe I should say this is where output from students is required. For little kids where all they are doing is using the device and not producing anything (papers or what not) the iPad is nice due to simplicity and size. For producing the iPad is not in the same ball park as a laptop. But then it was never intended to be. Even the kids are learning this. At the middle and high school the kids with iPads are borrowing laptops for school work and leaving the iPad for games.
- Smartboards or Smart projectors. Training, it seems to be all in the training. Those teachers with good training (or lots of after school hours to commit to self training) really like the boards. Those with a shortage of training use the boards to a less extent if at all. We have both Smartboards and Smart projectors. The projectors are the way to go. No special surface, does not reduce wall space, can project as large as you want or as large as you can find a surface, much cheaper than a large Smartboard and the ultra-short throw projector keeps the teacher from going blind. There are other interactive board devices out there that work pretty well but for the combination of projector and software I think Smart has them beat.
- Ebeam Edge interactive device. If the projector is already hanging for the ceiling and you just need a device the Ebeam is pretty hard to beat. Simple to use, just stick on a white board with sticky putty, orient it and you are ready.
- Boxlight OutWrite2 1.4 interactive device. If the projector is already hanging for the ceiling and you just need a device the OutWrite is pretty slick. I have only done a 2 week demo so I do not know what it is like long term. The pens that come with it are aluminum, not plastic. Great for clumsy teachers. The drawback is the teacher’s body can get in the way of the camera which sees the pen. Not a big problem but still something to think about.
- Clicker response devices. We have a set that does not get used a lot. I think this is a device that would appeal to some teachers’ style and they would wear a set out. Other teachers would not even see the need. There are free web based apps that will do basically the same task if needed.
- Boxes to hold iPads (or laptops). $1000 for a plastic box with a $20 USB hub and a $5 lock. If the school has a wood shop… We have two of these boxes. It was grant money with a very restricted purpose so we had no choice. What a waste of money. If something with wheels is needed get a shopping basket. If they need to be locked up, use a closet. Schools seem to think they need these wheeled mega-buck systems for some reason. Yes, they are convenient but that is one expensive convenience. For the price of these conveniences two or three more devices can be placed in student’s hands. Hope I was not to subtle in my opinion on these.
- Standard projectors. Every room should have some kind of projection device. Preferably short throw.
- Android tablets. Better than an iPad if the apps needed are in the store. Cheaper, multiple logins (at least on the Google Nexus). We should have gone this way for the little kids. Live and learn.
- A $400 convertible with Windows 8 Pro that can survive a student’s backpack. My dream device. We do not have any because they do not exist but I can hope can’t I? I can get fairly nice laptops for that price but the convertible feature always takes the price out of my range. One of my teachers pointed out an excellent reason for convertibles which I had never considered. She wanted the device to sit flat on the desk so she could see that the class was on task and see faces. Laptops with the screen up sort of separates people and hides what the kids are actually doing. Oh, a minor addition would be software to run a virtual iPad so I have access to all the cool apps. Wouldn’t Apple love that one!
In all the cases above the opinions are formed by my experience at this one school. I have talked to other school techs that are having better experience with the iPads but many have the same issues I do. The schools that are having good luck with the iPads seem to be schools that have a person whose job is supervising iPads. I did not mention Chromebooks because I do not have any. The requirement for internet seems to reduce their versatility and I can buy a laptop PC for about the same price. Schools that I know that are using them are in love with them. The manageability is apparently a big plus for the techs.
Tomorrow some company is going to come out with the next must have gadget for schools. It is always interesting that these much have gadgets never seem to be accompanied with educational research that says anything conclusive. Maybe it is because by the time the research could be done there is a new gadget to sell to schools? Whatever, I still love them.