This is a thorny question. It's like asking someone which team they support, or should we vote Red or Blue. Instead of telling you what exactly is the make you should be buying, we'll instead give you some advice from the trenches on what you should be looking for.
Let's list them
The most common devices in the classrooms in the US today are:
- Windows PC
- Android tablets
- MS Surface tablets
If you are using something fundamentally different (and it's working well for your classroom) we'd love to hear about it. However, this short list is probably similar to the list your IT department brought you when you started your shopping.
Before we go any further, we need to divide the problem a bit to properly tackle it.
If like most of us, your money does not grow on the proverbial tree, you need to justify what you are spending -- especially given devices don't last long when exposed to the kind of usage expected of our classrooms.
Most computing hardware is actually very similar in terms of computing power. What you are getting, is the ecosystem that goes with it (applications, device management etc.). And you should ask yourself, if you really need to pay extra for an ecosystem.
In your cost you should factor things like:
- Extra chargers (we guarantee that students will 'forget' chargers at home) and / or charging stations
- Replacement devices (students WILL break them)
- Warranty and support
- Useful life -- If you expect your device to last more than 2 years, you have some really good students and we'd fly at our expense to take a picture with them
Also remember, that by law, you may be forced to provide devices even to students who keep using them as backup footballs during their practice (of course, you could always provide such studious members of your student body with older models that have lost a pixel or two -- they probably wouldn't even notice).
#2: Good network
Goes without saying. You need solid access to the Internet and to any third party services. We have a simple formula to help you decide how much bandwidth you need (and validate that your supplier is on top of things):
We do recommend you get enterprise grade routers (not the home ones from Wal-Mart). They will fail after a year at the most. They do cost more, but you will spend much more in IT support and teacher / student frustration when they do down once a month (and they typically know when you need them the most and aim for that time window).
You also need redundancy, in other words, don't stretch your network. Make sure you can tolerate failures and discuss failure points with your technology team. You should ask them Which router, if it fails, will bring down my whole network? If they point at one, you are (sorry to say) toast.
Finally, a firewall is not an option. You need to be able to block access to problematic websites. A common approach is have a whitelist.
A whitelist is a list of approved websites that your students can access from their devices. It's much easier to list resources that are permitted, then to keep updating a list of blocked websites.
Your students need keyboards. If you expect them to use their fingers to swipe and pinch zoom in their assessments, good luck. If you are to deploy tablets, then separate keyboards will be needed (and hard cases to hold both the device and they keyboard).
If you decide to use wireless keyboards, just know that it will add another level of complexity for you: they sometimes don't connect well, they need batteries, they get lost easily, students will mix them up .. in fact and smarter students will learn quickly they can use them to type on their friend's device.
As you probably guessed, we are against tablets, but, maybe you have a more disciplined student body then what we are used to (if you do go for tablets, make sure they are at least 10").
Now comes the thorny part. How will you secure those devices so students don't go facebook-ing during classroom time (as you guessed, we are being polite as this blog is rated 'G', they can do a lot more than just facebook).
What if they install Apps you have not approved? If you get tablets or laptops, you may need to acquire software to manage them (typically called MDM - Mobile Device Management). That's another cost, for both the software and the technical person(s) who will have to use the software.
#5: Our opinion
First, we should mention that this is solely an opinion, non-binding, not influenced by any commercial affiliations and in no way remunerated.
We feel, that the web browser is really the only tool students need, since most of your apps are on the cloud anyway -- We have another article in this blog about the cloud. (An exception is when you need management tools, like our ZeSchool App or an MDM, more on that in a separate blog posting).
The easiest and simplest computing device is one that only has a browser. Such as a ChromeBook or a stripped down PC / Mac.
This has tremendous advantages: security, ease of management, upgrade, deployment (you don't need to do any of the complex setups corporations have to undergo when they provide computers to employees), cost (~$200 for most ChromeBook models), and usability -- you already know how to use a browser.
In another article we talk about browsers in much more detail.
This was a short article about devices in the classroom. We covered the first thought items as you prepare your deployment. Of course, you should have a coherent deployment plan that is right for you. If you need any advice, we'd be glad to brainstorm with you and share our experience.