Monday, 7 November 2011

Which Devices?

I have been asked which devices a school should buy and am trying to formulate a list of questions that the school staff can work through to decide which would be best for them. There is no way I can simply guess what they need so I want to make something useful that anyone can use in any educational establishment.

Questions to consider

1.     Does the infrastructure have the capacity to add a new class set of devices?  (In the UK many networks were installed in the early 1990s and have been added to and bits replaced on an ad hoc basis ever since. It may be time to upgrade the whole wireless system before much more can be added to it.)
  • Who is going to add the devices to the network and provide passwords?
  • How to you plan stop outsiders using the network if a common password escapes into the community?
  • How often is the techie on site to sort out wireless access issues?
  •  What about filtering?

2.     Are pupils allowed to bring their own devices or technology (BYOD / BYOT) or not? If pupils bring all sorts they will not be compatible but each one will be able to add something, some maybe good for photographs, audio work, music, video or text, is the teacher happy to combine all offerings? Is school going to restrict the type of device so that only iPod Touches or iPads can be brought to and used in school?
  • Phones are an extra considerations – are pupils allowed to bring in their own phones? What are the rules for using phones in school?
  • How is their use going to be monitored?
  • Is there a policy in place? Does that cover insurance, e-safety, expected behaviour and sanctions?

3.     Is the staff confident about pupils using different devices and how to manage their classes using them?
Does the staff know how to combine all these different offerings?
  • Is staff training needed?
  • Has training been budgeted for in the cost?
  • Have you talked to prospective trainers to find someone happy to try to train teachers in using all of the different devices they may get in their class?

4.     What about equality and families who can’t afford their own devices?
  • Is school going to provide devices for those pupils who can’t afford them?
  • Is school going to allow school devices to go home with individual pupils?
  • Does school insurance cover home use / transportation? The school filtering will not work at home, and some homes may not have broadband. How does school intend to address that issue? Will filtered dongles be provided? Who is going to set them up and pay for the usage?

5.     If you are planning to use sets of iPod Touch or iPad devices
  • Do you intend to use apps?
  • How will you purchase the apps?
  • How will you synchronise the devices?
  • Will school purchase the apps for home devices?
  • Will schools ask parents to buy the apps and provide money for those who won’t?
  • How will you charge the devices? If you have a Parasync suitcase or similar for the class ones, how will you charge the home devices?
  • What about pupils who forget to charge their device or bring their charger?
  • Do you need more electrical points / sockets? Are trailing wires going to be a health and safety issue?
  • Do you have a budget for apps? A set of 30 devices even at a few pounds each is a considerable expense over a year or two.

6.     Are the devices going to be used by one class, so one per table, pair or child, or several classes?
  • Where are pupils going to store their work if being used by several students? Is there are master computer with storage that they all link to?

7.     How do teachers want to use the devices?
  • For photographs, video or animation work?
  • For digital art work to be printed and put on display or displayed on an electronic photo album, Smart Screen, plasma screen, signage screen?
  • For music lessons?
  • As shared research / collaborative projects in groups or pairs?
  • Just for Office applications - Internet, Word, PowerPoint, Excel and e-mail?
  • For research using CDs or DVDs?
  • For watching video clips or listening to podcasts?
  • For using IWB materials such as SMART or Promethean Active?
  • For audio / SMS / photographs / Skype / internet research / note taking?
  • For on the spot, use as needed dictionary checks, fact checkers and searchers?
  • To access lessons after the event for revision, shared resources etc?
This is just a few questions, I guess there are lots more!

My recommendation would be for teachers to try to use what is already available really well, go through the cupboards and dig out the older sets of unused bit and pieces and see how they work. Incorporate them into lessons and encourage pupils to bring in their devices too, see how useful they are, see where there are gaps and look to buy to plug the gaps – but – I am a "play with techie stuff" sort of person, I don’t mind investigating, pulling bits together and making things happen. I like doing that! For teachers who can’t be bothered with that, have not been using the school digital cameras, video recorders, sensing equipment, IWBs, visualisers for years, bringing together a host of “odd” technology with little common software may be a nightmare.  I would be really worried about buying a class set of anything – unless the teachers really wanted them and planned to use them.  

On my actual working document I have added loads of links to hardware, synching devices etc., but have left them off here as they may considered advertising. If you have any essential questions to add to my little list though please do add them as comments, I do not mind bringing them altogether later and sharing the final doc with anyone who may find it useful :-)