How students will use ed-tech devices for learning should determine what kinds of devices school leaders should buy

students-devicesWhat kind of mobile device should schools invest in for their students? The answer depends on how students will use the technology for learning, experts say.

“Tablets are great for lots of things, and so are laptops; the trick is to identify the right tool for the job at hand,” said Julie Evans, CEO of the nonprofit group Project Tomorrow.

“If your primary curricular objective is to have kids do a lot of writing, you are better served by purchasing a low-cost netbook or laptop than a tablet,” Evans said. “To purchase tablets and then realize you need to add on keyboards indicates, to me, that maybe you did not do the up-front thinking that you should.”

For the past 11 years, Evans’ organization has polled K-12 students about their experiences using technology, both at home and in school. This national survey, called “Speak Up,” also asks parents, teachers, and administrators about their ed-tech attitudes and experiences, and it’s the largest survey of its kind.

Students are “way out in front of all of us on this,” Evans added. “We asked the students last year to identify for us their preferred device for a variety of academic tasks. The results pointed to a differentiation of devices that they wanted to use, based upon the inherent capabilities and roles of the devices.”

(Next page: Which devices are best suited to which kinds of tasks)

“Create a presentation—kids want to use a laptop,” Evans continued. “Communicate or collaborate with peers—smart phone. Take notes in class—tablet. Read a book or article—digital reader.”

The idea of the ultimate one-to-one device for learning “is, in fact, a fallacy,” Evans concluded. “Kids are multi-mobilists and want to use a variety of appropriate devices for particular tasks.”

Marrying a digital learning initiative to a single device is a mistake that could hinder its success, said Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent for learning at the Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts.

“Whatever decision you make, it’s a short-term decision,” said Larkin, whose district has given iPads to all high school students. “Technology is changing so fast, and devices are changing so quickly.”

Alexandra Sneed, enterprise solutions marketing manager for Verizon Communications, agreed that flexibility is key.

“Educators and IT departments must be agile, collaborating with and among each other to ensure effective implementations for all involved,” she said. “Successful schools … have recognized that there is not a one-size-fits-all model—and that each entity will need to work within its environment to build the best model that works for its [students and staff].”