This guide will provide you with information that will help you as you decide which devices to buy for your school. It is important to consider not just the devices but how your students use them and which device is best for which sorts of activities for effective teaching and learning. It will also be useful for schools providing advice to parents about which type of device to purchase for a BYOD environment.
This guide is intended for School Leaders, e-learning leaders and technical support staff. It is not necessary to have a background in technology but it is important to have a good pedagogical understanding of why you want to use digital devices and what your learning outcomes are.
Once you have read this guide you are welcome to contact the Connected Learning Advisory to get more personal assistance. We aim to provide consistent, unbiased advice and are free of charge to all state and state-integrated New Zealand schools and kura. Our advisors can help with all aspects outlined in this guide as well as provide peer review of the decisions you reach before you take your next steps.
For more information visit www.connectedlearning.org.nz
Check out our resources at resources.connectedlearning.org.nz
Call us for personalised service on 0800 700 400
Make a personal inquiry via our online form at query.connectedlearning.org.nz
“Adding a digital device to the classroom without a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning will not lead to significant improvement.”
Alan November, 2013
Weighing up which device best meets students learning needs can be challenging given the range of different devices available. Decisions about devices will, first and foremost, be driven both the New Zealand Curriculum/Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and your school's vision for learning.
The device should support and enhance learning. It should be embedded in learning programmes to improve engagement, and foster creativity, independence and connectedness. Consider how the devices available to learners provide a clear pathway to develop digital fluency throughout their time at school.
Create a long term sustainable plan for integration of digital technologies for learning that is adaptable and flexible enough to respond to setbacks and solve issues when they arise. Ensure that policies and procedures regarding appropriate use, classroom management, digital citizenship and technical support are in place.
Below are some key considerations when choosing devices for learning. Try to identify what the priorities are for you and find a good fit between your needs and the chosen devices.
- What educational and functional purposes are the devices expected to support?
- How will use of the devices support achievement of the school’s goals and vision?
- How will the choice of device support implementation of innovative learning (e.g. “The 7 Principles of Learning”)?
- What do your teachers and students think they need and why?
- What professional learning requirements will there be with the introduction of the new devices?
- How will the choice of devices meet the needs of all learners?
- Will the devices you provide facilitate flexibility and personalisation?
The Enabling e-Learning Learning with 1:1 Digital Devices page provides stories from schools and further information and will help keep the “Why” at the forefront of your mind as you make your decisions. Consultation with the wider school community when considering devices is extremely important.
“…successful integration of technology in education is not so much a matter of choosing the right device, the right amount of time to spend with it, the best software or the right digital textbook. The key elements for success are the teachers, school leaders and other decision makers who have the vision, and the ability, to make the connection between students, computers and learning.”
OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection
Exploring how technology can be used to enhance effective pedagogy as part of a professional learning programme with all teachers is essential. Engagement in the effective use of digital technologies will only happen if teachers believe that it will improve student learning and there is a shared understanding of the vision.
Using digital technologies per se will not necessarily lead to the collaborative, innovative practice which is part of the NZ Curriculum vision of learners. Focussing on the 7 Principles of Learning as outlined in the OECD Report The Nature of Learning will assist in maintaining the vision of the learner at the heart of learning as you explore the use of digital technologies.
BYOD or School Owned Devices
A key consideration will be whether you choose to purchase or lease the devices for your school or whether you ask students to bring their own device (BYOD). You may find our BYOD or School Owned Decision-making Framework useful in the consultation process to guide your thinking around the school providing devices or asking students to bring their own.
The following CLA Guides provide advice as you make decisions about things like total cost of ownership, leasing or buying and BYOD readiness:
When you come to the point of purchase, the Ministry of Education recommends exploring All of Government as a way to bulk purchase at competitive prices.
Accessibility and add-on’s
Common accessibility options such as magnification, colour schemes and text to speech are now available on all the main operating systems. It is, however, still true that different devices have different capabilities and each has strengths and weaknesses.
Schools and/or individual students should consider the accessibility options available in each device and select the device that is most appropriate for them. Accessibility options are outlined on the following websites:
Consider also any software which may need to be loaded or enabled on devices to support learning such as text-to-speech, captioning and voice command. A larger keyboard which connects to tablets makes it easier for students to type so having a couple of separate, wireless keyboards are a useful addition to the classroom. A wireless keyboard allows you to move around and teach from anywhere so you can sit beside students who need help focusing on the lesson whilst still being able to move slides on in a presentation or play and pause a video. You can pass the wireless keyboard and mouse to students so they can contribute which frees you up to move around and engage the students
While having a range of devices in the classroom means managing more than one type of device it can also provide students with more options. Students can then select devices according to their personal learning needs or the specific task that they are doing.
The rapid and increasingly important move towards cloud connectivity means that this is likely to be a key factor in your choice of devices. The biggest players in the device market are also the biggest players in the cloud platforms - Google, Apple and Microsoft. Each vendor’s cloud tools work best on their own platforms.
If you are considering using multiple devices you may need to consider, for example, how well Google Apps works on an iPad or whether Office 365 works well enough on a Chromebook. While there is likely to be some level of compatibility between systems there are also likely to be some compromises.
Compatibility between devices/platforms is improving all the time. The only sure-fire way to determine the compatibility between platforms and devices, though, is to get hands-on and trial them. This is highly recommended.
- Mobility - devices being able to be used in different places
- Portability - weight and size, especially if devices are being carried to and from school
- Communication, Connecting, Collaboration - working together physically or digitally
- Simplicity - simple devices can allow more focus on the learning rather than the technology
- Creativity - ability for students to be making new things, working in different ways or creating new knowledge
- Inclusiveness - will the devices support students with particular learning needs and support concept such as Universal Design for Learning?
- Curriculum - aspects such as Numeracy, Literacy or specific activities (eg writing using a keyboard) or tools (eg specific software) that are necessary to access the curriculum.
Outlined below is some information about the different types of device.
Chromebooks combine the physical features of a laptop with a simplified operating system (developed by Google) that is designed to be used mostly while connected to the internet.
Chromebooks are a very well-priced option. They require the school to have Google Apps for Education (GAFE) in place. Chromebook features include ease-of-installation, simplified management, rapid boot-up time, long battery life, lightweight and adequate durability. The latest Chromebooks include models which have touch screens and can now also run Android apps.
Chromebooks are designed to be used online but offline editing of Google Docs and access to files is possible so if there is a network outage learners can continue to work. Offline edits will be synchronised once reconnected to a network.
Chromebooks have minimal storage space for files or software programmes but researching on the internet is fast and efficient. There are an increasing number of apps now available for Chromebooks which are especially applicable for the touch screen versions. The keyboard for text input gives older students, who may be required to write more extended pieces of work, a more practical option than tablets.
When purchasing Chromebooks for the school, we recommend that you also purchase Chrome Management Console licences so that you can manage them through your Google Admin interface.
To summarise, Chromebooks are a good choice if:
- You are using the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) platform
- You do not need to run particular software from the device (eg Minecraft, Curriculum applications, complex video-editing software - though some versions can be run from the cloud)
- Your budget is limited
- Mobility and good battery life are important
- You want to reduce the amount of technical administration required to deploy and manage devices
- Collaboration, writing and research using a keyboard are important for you
- You have other devices for taking photographs and video clips
Tablets are a popular choice in many schools as they are light, mobile, tactile and relatively simple to use for all age groups and have excellent multimedia options. The simple interface and available apps tend to make tablets particularly suitable for junior students but they can be versatile enough, particularly if used with a separate keyboard, for senior students. A simple stylus can be used to write or draw on tablets but they are quite ‘blunt’ tools so bluetooth styluses are increasing in popularity to give more precise writing and drawing capabilities.
Tablets have a lot of built-in functions such as the camera, sound and video recording as well as internet functions such as web-browsing and emailing. Creating and sharing can be enabled by downloading and installing apps.
iPads, have proven to be a popular device choice, particularly among primary schools however, there is a range of tablets on the market, each offering something slightly different so it may be worth trialling some to see what works best for you and your school.
Tablets are a good choice because:
- Learners benefit from the easy to use touch interface
- It is easy to create photos, audio files and movies
- They are very mobile, robust and have a long battery life
- There are a range of apps to integrate into teaching for personalising learning
- A stylus can be used for drawing, writing and annotating on some devices
- It is possible to add keyboards if required.
Some things to consider when deciding which tablet to choose are:
- Price versus Quality - a very low-priced tablet is likely to be underspecified in terms of performance, battery life, touch screen performance, camera, Wi-Fi capability, reliability, robustness etc.
- Accessories - check available accessories especially covers to protect the device from damage
- Educational apps (via the app store) - investigate the range available to use with the device
- Knowledge and Support - what is available for the specific device in the education community
- Peripherals - what additional things can be connected to the device and what sort of connections they have
- Expanding storage - What options exist for some Android and Windows tablets have memory card slots
- Operating System (OS) - some cheaper ones may have an older OS which are incompatible with newer apps
- Time - it may take to keep the devices up to date and consistent
- Charging - how you might manage charging of tablets
- Compatibility - what other products and software the school already uses that integrate with the tablets e.g. Apple TV, Microsoft Windows, Google Apps
- Management - whether the tablets can be managed to deploy apps to all devices
iPads have the pedigree of being the first and most well-known tablets and come with a great national and international support community of educators. There is a wide range of education apps and a robust quality and reliability system to make sure apps work well. They also have excellent accessibility options.
The G Suite and Office 365 apps now work much more smoothly with iPads than they used to although there are still some limitations.
The most compelling thing that tends to attract schools to Android tablets is their low price point compared with iPads. Depending on its specification, the possible performance, functionality and ease of use, the higher-quality models of Android tablet are now typically on a par with the iPad. Some of these tablets come with a stylus which support handwriting to text conversion.
Whilst the range of apps for Android is growing, there are still some educational apps that are not available for Android that are available for iPad. Schools using G Suite will find that the Google Apps work more effectively with Android tablets than with either Windows or iPads.
Windows tablets run the same operating system as laptops and desktops. Instead of relying on a mouse and keyboard, though, the same operating system is designed to be used with your finger or a specialist stylus. Windows Tablets will run the same software as other Windows devices but that software isn’t necessarily suitable for the touch interface so it pays to find out what the experience is actually like. However, with the launch of Windows 10, more Windows apps have been designed for the touch interface.
Multiple users can use a Windows tablet if it has been set up to authenticate the usernames and passwords to the school’s Windows Active Directory server or if the school has set up accounts on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. Windows tablets tend to take longer to start up and log in to than iPads or Android tablets.
There are several ways of deploying Apps to your devices:
iPads - there are a number of configuration options available for iPads. You may:
- Configure and deploy apps to each one individually, which is fine if you have a small number but would be very frustrating if you had a lot.
- Use Apple’s Configurator software to “image” the iPads which means you only need to set one of them up completely and the rest can become clones of the first. Requires iPads to be connected to a Mac by USB cable.
- Use a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution which pushes changes via your local wireless network or the internet to devices. Changes get made centrally and are pushed out to iPads over the air.
Android Tablets - there is not yet the ability in New Zealand to bulk-purchase Android apps. Some Mobile Device Management suites are available for Android devices.
Chromebooks - Apps can be deployed using the Google Admin Console
Windows Devices - Apps can be deployed using a Windows server or Mobile Device Management platform, including Microsoft’s Intune solution.
If you have further questions about deployment of MDM suites then you should seek further specialist advice.
Hybrids attempt to combine the best of both worlds, giving users the mobility and touch interface of a tablet as well as the productivity of a laptop through a separate keyboard or a fixed keyboard that swivels and folds out of the way.
This form-factor will add weight and more moving or connecting parts to go wrong. Some also provide things like an additional battery and additional connections.
Laptops and Desktops
Desktops and Laptops that run a full operating system like Microsoft Windows, Apple OSX or Linux are useful if there are some specific tasks and software that are required that can’t be done with the other mobile devices. It is a good idea to consider what specific software is in use or tasks are currently being done on devices and whether they will still be needed in future. Although not essential, configuring laptops and desktops to authenticate against the school server will provide a more personalised experience but may add to the time needed to log in.
Laptops have the benefit of the keyboard and a variety of screen sizes and access to software not available on tablets and Chromebooks. Their portability means that students can use them in different environments within the school but if students are carrying them to and from school weight should be a purchase consideration as they can become heavy very quickly.
The downsides to laptops are that they are more expensive, can be slower to start up and use, tend to have a shorter battery life and may require greater technical expertise to deploy in a way that suits the school’s infrastructure.
To summarise, laptops are a good choice if:
- You need to run software that uses Microsoft Windows or Mac OS
- You have some technical support available to configure and manage the devices
- You do not need to take photographs or videos using the device
- A keyboard and mouse interface (rather than touch), is suitable for your learners
- You are prepared for some breakages, replacements or wear and tear - particularly on keyboards, hinges, power supplies and screens.
The full keyboard and larger screen size of desktops is more conducive to extended writing, browsing the internet and students being able to work in groups around them. They are usually plugged directly into the power so battery life is not an issue and they can work with a cabled connection rather than being reliant on Wi-Fi so browsing can be faster. Desktops tend to last longer than other devices because they don’t experience the wear and tear of being moved around, have fewer moving parts and it is easier to keep their internal components cooler.
To summarise, desktops are a good choice if:
- You a looking for a device to last a long time
- You need to do intensive tasks like video editing, computer assisted drawing and photo editing
- You have plenty of space available
- You have network outlets available
Shared Use of Devices
An issue particular to schools is that a device could be used by many different people during the day. It tends to be easier if the environment is particular to the person logged-in e.g. their email, files, apps, settings, passwords, shortcuts etc. Generic user set-ups are a little more difficult to use because the environment is not configured optimally for the particular needs of each individual. Some devices are better than others at facilitating this.
Chromeboxes (Chrome desktop)
Each person who logs-in to the device gets their own personalised environment as long as the school has Google Apps accounts set up
School must have a Windows Domain or Azure configured if each user is to get their own personalised environment when they log-in.
Some low-end Windows devices can’t be joined to a Windows Domain so only a generic user account will be possible
Possible but more difficult to configure with multiple users’ accounts so a generic student account is typically used.
iPads were originally designed to be single user devices with a single associated AppleID but they can now be used without an associated AppleID in a shared situation by using Supervised mode. Students can then log in to services or apps such as G Suite or Office 365.
Some Android devices support multi-users but this is very specific to particular devices and the version of Android they run
Will require specialist management software
Education Gazette Article - Weighing up Device by Type
Windows Tablet: http://soft9000.com/blog9000/images/AsusTransformerTablet.jpg
This guide has been produced in response to a number of specific queries about choosing devices from schools. It should not be read as a recommendation or endorsement of any specific product. The Connected Learning Advisory is a Ministry of Education supported service that provides schools with technology information relevant to their queries and does not recommend one product over another.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Produced for the Ministry of Education’s Connected Learning Advisory by CORE Education
Last Updated: 22/3/17