Thursday, November 1, 2012

Computers Should Be Like Art Supplies, Not Textbooks (or BYOD)

Many schools are thinking about 1-to-1 programs where each student receives a tablet or laptop. The reasons for these programs are very compelling.  Teachers can assign exciting, high-tech projects, students can access all of the new content online, and parents and people in the community are impressed by the students carrying around fancy hardware. 

In this sense, schools are treating devices like textbooks where each student receives one at the beginning of the year. I believe, however, that schools should think of devices like art supplies. No school would ever buy a full set of paints for every student in the school. Instead, they have many different types of art supplies available for students to use depending on the project.  When students want to make a sculpture, the school provides clay. When the student is painting, there is paint available in class. If the student is asked to make a simple poster or a photography project, the student just uses colored pens or a camera that he or she already has at home. This is how devices should be in schools. 

Schools should not be buying devices for all of their students for a few reasons:
  1. Many students, especially at more affluent schools, already have a computing device at home. Giving the student a second one is redundant. 
  2. Schools will always buy the same device for all of the students, but they don’t all need the same one. Some students use prefer a tablet to a laptop, Windows to Mac, depending on their learning style and experience.
  3. Students may need different devices on different days. iPads are great for consuming media like educational videos and electronic textbooks. Laptops may be heavier, but they are necessary for content creation like writing a long paper or a using photographs. Editing a video is best done on a desktop computer.
  4. Most educational tasks - reading textbooks, writing notes, composing essays, watching videos, using educational apps - are web-based, so the device is just a window with internet access. Though many apps are device specific, written for iOS or Android, more and more will simply be web apps that are independent of the operating system. This is why we at Clickademics chose to make our Essay Engine a web-app instead of a native iOS app.

If the school does not purchase devices for all of the students, it is difficult to expect every single student to be able to complete projects that require a computer or tablet. I would propose that the school help families for whom it would be a burden to purchase a device. Like a scholarship, the school to arrange discounts or provide free devices to the students that require it. The school should also have a number of tablets, laptops, and desktops available to students who have come to school without a device or require something different for the day’s lesson. One or two members of the IT staff should be available to troubleshoot and perform basic repairs. All of this would be significantly less expensive than buying an iPad for every student.

The most important thing is that the learning comes first, not the device. Teachers and administrators need to set learning goals first, then figure out the lessons and projects that will help the students master the learning. Only then should they think about devices necessary to reach those goals and complete those projects. Sometimes, paper and pencils are still the best devices for learning.

Lastly, remember that the life expectancy of computer devices is shrinking. Desktops used to be good for about 6 years, then laptops were good for about 4. Tablets and smart phones are usually used for two years. If a school invested in an iPad program, they would be left with out-dated hardware after a 3 or 4 years. Students would begin bringing their newer devices from home, and the school would soon become a campus where the students bring their own laptop or tablet from home, similar to what I have proposed here. Schools should save the initial expense and start a Bring Your Own Device program from the start.

No comments: