We are living in a post-desktop era where bluetooth is ‘old school’ and cloud services are becoming a basic human right . Taking that into consideration, choosing the right device for students in and out of the classroom has become a more complicated question. What should schools, teachers, students and parents consider in their computing hardware choices?
Is the OS even a consideration any more? Maturity in the educational technology sector now gives us sufficient time and space to reflect on the past with at least some distance. The traditional rivalry between Apple and Windows continues but seems to have less of the white hot intensity of just a decade ago. Historically Apple have been stereotyped as the 1980’s technology of choice for education with the green screened Apple IIe machines and software titles featuring “Logo” and “Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego”. In contrast Windows was the platform of choice for those who want to get work done. The business sector would arguably be Microsofts greatest gain. During the 1990’s the competition was so unbalanced one could be forgiven for thinking Apple had closed up shop yet their resurgence through the Ipod brought the company from the David and Goliath image toward a more level playing field. Despite Apple’s continued marketing as the more nimble underdog there can be little doubt that its similarities to Microsoft now outweigh its differences. Oddly enough while two traditional and fierce rivals are more evenly matched the passion for the fight seems to have come out of the public consciousness, instead replaced by a desire for harmony and a laissez faire attitude to operating systems.Perhaps as a sector we have reached a point of maturity where the question is no longer about operating systems and brand names but rather pedagogy and educational outcomes for students.
Leaving the choice of operating system aside, tablets, netbooks and notebooks all come with their own merits and downfalls.
The greatest gain to be had in a fully fledged notebook is resources. Those resources reside in processing capacity, storage and variety of quality software options.
The detractors to notebooks for schools cite battery life, weight and cost as inhibitors to the technology.
In contrast to notebooks netbooks reduce the price and weight factors while still providing the option for full keyboard use and reasonable screen real estate.
Unfortunately this comes at the cost of software options, storage and processing capacity as well as battery life.
Regardless of the choice between Android and Apple the benefits of portability and battery life shine through in addition to the suite of applications available for a minimal cost compared with the larger forms.
Unfortunately tablets are not great devices for content creation. It is impractical to write essays on a touch screen, similarly most productivity and creativity tasks are impacted by the lack of grunt and ergonomic data entry mechanisms.
While computing skills and web research are an important part of the early years of education security and safety for the students lead me to argue the one to one computing is inappropriate. Purely from a safety angle it is risky to have young children in possession of expensive, desirable devices for transport to and from school. Rather than setting children up for these types of dangers dedicated computing spaces kitted out with ergonomically appropriate furniture and desktop computers can provide the experiences required all with a lower risk, cost and maintenance profile. Supplementary to these dedicated spaces netbooks for classroom usage may be of benefit.
In the middle years of schooling access to technology for creation of content is central. The feature and power range to develop video style content and perform basic image manipulation is key and for that reason notebooks lead the charge in the usefulness stakes. It is also of great benefit for students at this stage to have regular typing experiences so that the skill set becomes developed prior to the intensity of senior years.
As students move toward external, high stakes examinations the need for information consumption takes precedence. While the creation of content such as videos and animations are good learning experiences those activities often don’t work on a cost benefit analysis (time / learning analysis).
It is in this context I would argue for tablet devices as a primary tool with desktop support in the home for the development of extended writing pieces.
In short there is no perfect one size fits all solution. Each form factor and operating system has their own strengths and downfalls. What is most important in the ongoing debate is that decisions are made with the major focus on student outcomes not on periphery factors such as brand or administrators personal preferences.
Author: David Matheson http://teacherwithoutanswers.wordpress.com/