Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pick One Horse and Ride It

A fellow blogger, Bradley Chambers, recently wrote an article about BYOD entitled The Promise And Failure of BYOD in Education. In it he does a great job of outlining why a school should never let kids bring whatever device they want to school and expect to do any meaningful projects or design any meaningful assignments that tie in with the school's curriculum. Why? Because the management of these varied devices will be an IT nightmare. I agree with him completely.

In our school we use a different approach with our BYOD laptop program. We prescribe a minimum set of laptop standards (notice I said laptop, not tablet, iPad, or other device), including the "horsepower" needed to run our short list of open source software that makes our program work. Most kids this year brought in Windows 8 touch screen 11.6" Asus netbooks. A few brought in either a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. All of these options "work" in our setting because they all run the list of open source, cross-platform software we require.

A couple of students brought in the new Surface RT which doesn't work so well with some of our software requirements because Microsoft has locked it into the Windows Store. Most things work, but not all. These kids constantly have to either work around the limitations, or must go to our Windows 7 lab to finish projects or assignments. A few who tried to use iPads found even more limitations, eventually gave up and spent $300-400 on a new netbook. Finally, I have a few students who cannot afford a netbook. Our principal has amassed a whole inventory of donated netbooks, given to the school by students who've graduated and moved on (or up) to a full laptop for their high school years. 

Our school ends after eighth grade, and several students now have used their fifth grade netbook for four years, until they graduated and moved on to another school. Treated properly, a well-maintained netbook can give an upper-elementary and/or middle school student several years of service. Given the relatively low cost of entry ($300-400 or so), the fact that a netbook is a "real computer" that runs most Windows software with no problem — especially the list we give our students to download before school starts — we will continue using this computing option for the foreseeable future.