The consumerization of IT and dawn of the Mobility Age have untethered users from their desktops and made anytime, anywhere computing not only possible, but also productive. The market is replete with options for on-the-go computing — notebook computers, tablets, Chromebooks and smartphones, for example.
Teachers, administrators and staff are well aware of these options and have increasingly brought their own devices to campus to use during the school day. Recent CDW research confirms that 86 percent of BYOD participants in all types of organizations, including K–12, access or save work-related information on their mobile devices. What's more, 52 percent of them perform these activities on more than one device.
Resources abound to help users evaluate form factors and specific products before they buy. But there's more to a device purchase than screen, storage and speed specs — particularly when the device will be rolled out to students, who may be using them for everything from classroom learning activities to online testing and peer-to-peer collaboration.
What to Look For
Districts that have purchased and deployed mobile devices for student and staff use consider many factors before committing to a device. Cost, security, management and usability all must be evaluated within the context of a particular school's IT environment to ensure that the chosen device will meet the needs of end users without compromising the network infrastructure. Having the ability to access and download class files and other digital content; to complete an assessment without network disruptions; and even to have immediate, online conversations with teachers or fellow students all enhance a student's learning experience, after all.
Cost, security, management and usability were certainly front of mind when IT leaders in California's Merced Union High School District began researching which computing device to issue to freshmen and sophomore students at the newly opened El Capitan High School. They chose Samsung Chromebooks.
According to Anthony Thomas, MUHSD's assistant information services manager, the free, easy-to-use Google Apps for Education ecosystem made Chromebooks appealing. With a price point of $200 to $300 apiece, Chromebooks are cheaper than buying textbooks, he says. Plus, Google Apps offer "school resources that students can use outside of school. It becomes the great equalizer when you can use these tools for productivity."
Chromebooks are easy to manage and secure as well. Burak Yilmaz, Race to the Top project director for Harmony Public Schools, says the Houston-based charter school nonprofit opted for Lenovo ThinkPad x131e Chromebooks "because they require a lot less maintenance in terms of time and effort to set up and support."
Other things to think about include where and how students will use the device. If diverse, high-performance applications are needed, choose a form factor that offers faster processing speeds and more memory. Battery life, screen size, a variety of connectivity options (including HDMI and USB) and the absence of a physical keyboard also can impact productivity.
The mandatory online assessments that begin in the 2014–2015 school year for districts in Common Core–adopting states also should be considered. If mobile devices will be used for online testing, a newer operating system, a larger screen and higher resolution, a microphone, a physical keyboard and even a mouse will (or could) be important.