BYOD advice for incoming parents

BYODMy son’s high school is about to provide orientation to the latest crop of students and I was asked to provide some advice on the ‘D’ in our Bring Your Own Device policy…

The purpose behind BYOD is a better learning experience for all students. The main aim is to have a device available to every child in the school. The bring your own approach has many advantages including flexibility, but with flexibility comes choice – which can make things difficult.

Here are the criteria I’d suggest in choosing a device:

The device must be able to connect to the school’s wireless network. This means it must be able to make a 5Ghz wireless connection. Most newer devices will do this – however older or cheaper devices might not be able to, and this will simply lead to greater expense later. Frustratingly many sales assistants will not be able to clearly answer if a device has 5Ghz built-in so it might require you to either do your own research or to stick with a device that’s already been shown to work on the School network.

Your child is going to be carrying their device throughout the day. Very simply, lighter is better. That said don’t sacrifice utility for weight – there’s little point in something that saves their back while carrying it but then leaves them hunched over a tiny screen while trying to take notes.

Imagine spending several hours a day doing real work with whatever device you are looking at. If the device has a tiny screen, or under-sized keyboard, or you can’t adjust the screen angle – it’s probably going to be bad for the kids.

Your child should be using their device throughout the day and they can’t re-charge it at school. That means you need to look for something with a battery life of around 10 hours or more. (You also need to tell them that if they run the battery flat playing computer games on their way to school, they’ll have to deal with the consequences.)

The device does not need to be amazingly powerful, unless your child is in the later years of school and doing specific work – for example using photo-editing software a lot. Most of what they will be doing is research, reading and taking notes.

More RAM is always better and a quick time from turning on to being able to do things helps.

You do not need an enormous hard drive. The student should be using the cloud to store all their notes, etc not only because that reduces the size of the hard-drive needed, but more importantly because it means they can’t lose or forget anything.

Experience has shown that students tend to look after their own device much better than a school-provided device. But they are school kids and these devices are sitting in backpacks and being taken in and out of bags many times a day. Stuff happens.

So it’s important to get something that is solidly built and will last a few years. That doesn’t mean go for something heavy; it does mean that it can be better to spend a bit more up-front in the interests of it lasting longer.

You know your child and their needs. But in deciding between a tablet and a notebook computer you should consider:

  1. There are a number of needed applications that won’t run on the iPad.
  2. The student should be able to quickly and effectively write and edit notes. If they can’t input and correct the information quickly the device is letting them down.
  3. The student has to sit with the device on their desk for several hours a day – if you wouldn’t work in that position, I’d suggest you shouldn’t ask them to.

Personally, my conclusion is that an iPad won’t work in this context and while some of the other tablets available are closer to what’s needed they aren’t really suitable.

If you aren’t concerned about the cost go for a Macbook Air – they’re pretty much the perfect device for these purposes. They tick all of the boxes – light, powerful, well-built – and many students are using them today. They are however, relatively expensive.

Dell, Samsung and others have Windows computers available which sit close to the Macbook Air in terms of suitability although in some cases the trade-off in price may come at the expense of durability and so might not be so great in the longer term. There are too many choices to be able to recommend one in particular, but the simple approach is to use the Macbook Air as your benchmark and go as close as your budget will allow.

Some students are using Chromebooks. This can be a good choice with some of the more recent releases, but you should only go down that road if you are confident in supporting your kids and the choices they’ll need to make to find alternatives to some of the standard programs they might otherwise use.

Whichever choice you make there are some things you can do to protect and get value from the device:

  1. For everyone’s sake reinforce with your child that they never touch anyone else’s device and that they’ll be responsible for any damage they do.
  2. Consider having your name and telephone number engraved on the device (and, if you can, turn on any tracking facilities).
  3. Actively encourage your child to learn to touch-type. The School does a bit of this, but it really needs outside School work to properly learn. Bribery can work wonders on this one.
  4. Set your child and their device up with cloud-based software – Evernote, Google Drive, Microsoft’s cloud. The best solution is that you are comfortable with, but a cloud solution is crucial.

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