Bring Your Own Device – but which one?

Computer_Workstation_VariablesAs my son’s high school implemented a Bring Your Own Device policy last year there has been much discussion about what sort of device is suitable and useful. So here are some practical considerations…

There’s never a perfect answer because the whole nature of such a policy should allow for what works best for each family and student. Some schools have mandated a particular device – but ultimately that really means it’s a ‘pay for this device’ policy. One of the advantages of BYOD is that it allows for the flexibility to provide what works for the individual child and for what an individual family is comfortable supporting. But with flexibility comes choice.

One of the most hotly debated topics is the suitability of an iPad or other tablet device. My blunt advice is that the iPad wont work and other tablets while more practical are plagued with issues – students need a notebook computer.

If the student is seriously going to use the device to take notes and work on throughout the day then an iPad is not going to work. I love my iPad and use it constantly, but I’m not sitting at a desk working on it all day every day. Unless the student can quickly type in information on the device, you are wasting your time. Even if you add in a keyboard, the iPad’s lack of a mouse makes it clunky for serious work.

If you think about your own computer use if you work in an office, you’ll quickly realise that sitting peering at a tablet screen propped up on a desk is almost the antithesis of good ergonomics. All of the tablets suffer from this same problem when looked at in the context of constant serious use. They are not designed for an office or educational environment. It makes me wince just watching some of the students I see hunched awkwardly over a small tablet screen.

So, go for a notebook. It doesn’t matter if the computer is Mac or Windows-based, or even something more exotic. However there is one bottom line – the computer must be able to connect to a 5ghz wireless network because that is what the Department of Education runs. Older computers, and some newer but cheaper computers, may not be able to do this – in which case you’ll need to purchase an add-on USB dongle that will allow for the connection.

Battery-life is very important. Unless your school is happy to allow for multiple students charging their devices (an unlikely scenario) the device must be able to run for the whole day on its batteries.

Weight is another issue. The student will be carrying the device to and from school and from room to room throughout the day. In the short-to-medium term they are likely to still need to carry some notebooks and textbooks as well. That can make for a weighty backpack if you are not careful.

BYOD is going to spread: The only alternative in the public school system is the Government providing more resources – and that doesn’t look even slightly likely. After a few years the best device will likely be a more obvious choice, not least because it will easier to see what the schools are actually having the students do with the devices. Right now the choices are more difficult and that’s why I recommend focusing on the basics – can the student use the device effectively to take notes and do research, will the battery last, and can they carry it.

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