Seymour Papert asked: “Why are we still having conferences on computers in education? We don't have conferences on pencils in education.”

Jun 05 2014

7 Tips on Navigating Device Choices in Schools

No one device has all the answers. The right one depends on your educational goals.

I recently began to read the work of Seymour Papert, who some call the “father of educational technology.” In my research, the following quote stuck with me:

“Why are we still having conferences on computers in education? We don't have conferences on pencils in education.”

I find Papert’s quote to be particularly compelling when you consider that it was said nearly a quarter-century ago. Now more than ever, some believe a device is the answer to improve educational outcomes.

But there is no “one size fits all” device for classrooms. Consider your own home or workplace: Would you consider it standardized on one device? I recently took an inventory of my home and counted over 10 different devices with three different operating systems that my children (ages 7 and 10) use regularly for their schoolwork.

Yet, I still meet with superintendents, chief information officers, curriculum directors and others who just want me to tell them the best device to buy. I typically tell them that the answer depends on what educational outcomes they are trying to achieve.

Here are some tips for making this critical decision, regardless of what role you play in the process.

The Learning Perspective

Educators must identify desired learning outcomes before selecting a device to meet that need. Working backward from the student’s screen, you can then begin to evaluate tools based on items like:

  • Existing internal systems that will deliver digital content to the students

  • Current professional learning models and the school or district’s ability to fill those gaps or provide outside assistance to the staff

  • Age appropriateness of the device based on your community of learners

  • Alignment of the device with curriculum, in terms of workforce readiness and available software

The Tech Perspective

Once the educators have narrowed down the potential tools for the job, IT can evaluate how the devices will fit into the existing infrastructure. This hasn’t always been the tradition at schools. I can remember a time not so long ago when IT said, “Here are your device choices,” and we had to make them work in the classroom.

If you encounter this, keep these key points in mind:

  • If the chosen device isn’t a fit, don’t just say no. Explain why. Often, with some investment, the device can fit the environment. In the end, that might be what is best for students.

  • Practice “strategic abandonment” when necessary. If the learning team decides to change directions in the best interests of the students, some might have to abandon their use of current technology in order to free up resources.

  • Remember that you exist in order to support students. Don’t cut corners, risking safety and security. Be creative and collaborative to find the right solution.

Common Ground

I believe that when looking at purchasing any technology, leaders on both sides of the organization must find common ground for the initiative to work.

As I mentioned in my previous post, when we focus on our mission as an institution of learning, the students win.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

This article is part of the Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.


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