The BYOD debate: which device is best?

November 2017


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ANNIE GRAHAM-RILEY collates school, student, parent and industry perspectives on what devices tick the right boxes for teaching, learning, functionality, affordability and durability.

As schools prepare for the new Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum, many are reviewing their students’ access to technological devices and what tools they need for 21st century learning.

Some schools have sufficient funding to provide students with a device and this is being made more accessible through lending schemes such as Cyclone’s Parent Leasing Programmes. Others have utilised grant or trust money to boost their stock of devices. However, many schools are finding that, without a surplus left over in the kitty, a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) scheme is the best solution.

In contemplating a BYOD scheme, schools and parents are faced with the big questions: Which device is best to prepare our tamariki for a digital future? How will these devices be funded? How can we best use these devices?

A school’s perspective

Students at Tahatai Coast School in the Bay of Plenty are currently able to bring to school only Apple devices. This ties in with Tahatai’s Apple Distinguished Program and the school uses the Apple ecosystem (iOS and OSX).

To supplement the school’s stock of iPads and computers, parents are encouraged to provide their children with iPads and are encouraged to ensure the purchased iPad is, at least, Apple’s newly released ‘base’ model. This comprises a 9.7 inch screen, Wifi and has a memory of 32gb or 128gb. There are, of course, other more expensive models with more gigs of memory, but parents are left to make the decision for themselves whether or not they wish to purchase a more superior model.

Parents are then provided with a list of free and purchasable apps that are required on each iPad. Tahatai Coast teacher Shona Poppe believes it’s paramount that the applications suggested are based on the students creating content, rather than simply consuming, alleviating any parent worries that the iPads are being used as a ‘babysitter’ in class.

The following reasons have been deciding factors as to why iPads are currently the device of choice:

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is used to encourage collaboration and any resources created can be shared by using Airdrop. GAFE can essentially replace all word processing tools available on PC, with data then stored in a student’s Google Drive for remote access.

The iPad has built-in assistive technology features such as speech-to-text, predictive text, spelling checker and guided access.

Coded projects can be easily created by accessing Scratch ( through the Puffin browser while junior students benefit from apps such as Lightbot, Beebots, Scratch Junior, Hopscotch, Cargobot and Daisy the Dinosaur.

Storytelling, publishing and presenting is accessible using apps such as Draw and Tell, Explain Everything and Book Creator.

It is worth noting that the school is considering the possibility of changing its ‘Apple only’ policy and allowing students to bring other devices to school, taking into account the affordability of devices for parents, what is needed at the various year levels, and what students will need as they transition to the next level of schooling.

A student’s perspective

Jess and Toby are year 6 students at Havelock North Primary School, which encourages the use of devices from year 4 onwards. Like Tahatai Coast School, a voluntary buy-in means parents have no obligation to purchase a device for their child and the classrooms are equipped with additional devices, including PCs, Chromebooks and iPads, to ensure no child is marginalised.

Havelock North Primary School currently encourages parents to purchase a Chromebook, which Jess and Toby both speak highly about.

“It’s much easier to have your own Chromebook. So you can have all your own work on it and it doesn’t go missing,” says Jess.

Toby adds to his classmate’s sentiment and describes the Chromebook’s ability to ‘do-away’ with traditional books and the administration issues this can cause: “You can just grab your device rather than going around the class and getting five different books.”

Toby refers to the Google Drive as being an important system used in class, meaning their work is saved remotely and can be accessed anywhere, and from any device.

Both children agree that iPads, which are also available in their classrooms, are used largely for filming and taking photographs and compiling them on simple applications. They say that, if given the choice, they would choose Chromebooks over both iPads and traditional PCs because “they’re easier
to use”.

A parent’s perspective

As a parent at Havelock North Primary School, Kerrin also speaks positively about the Chromebook.

She says that the feedback from parents was “absolutely positive … it’s also not forced [by the school] so children don’t feel left out if they haven’t got one because there are other devices in the classroom”.

Concurrently, her son’s attitude towards learning with the use of a Chromebook reassures her that purchasing the assistive technology has been a worthwhile investment .

“I just can’t believe how quickly they learn to use them. He hates not having it at school. He’s absolutely positive about using it; he would rather have his Chromebook than do his work on his [laptop] computer,” she says.

The following factors have contributed to Havelock North Primary School’s decision to recommend Chromebooks as part of their BYOD scheme:

  • Price: newer model Acer Chromebooks are currently retailing below $400 (a price range which Kerrin described as manageable, and probably her limit).
  • Battery life: Chromebooks are currently made to last 13 hours when fully charged, meaning they don’t need to be charged during a school day.
  • Portability: the size and durability of the Chromebook means it can be transported in a backpack and brought to and from school each day.

An industry perspective

Graham Prentice, a former school principal and BOT chair is now the general manager of Cyclone Computers. Prentice is aware of the dilemma that schools face when recommending parents purchase devices for their children.

“Schools do not have the resources to stay current with the technologies, at the number required, to ensure that student access is available when they are required, as part of their learning,” he says.

Whilst leasing devices through companies such as Cyclone is an option, BYOD is often seen as a solution for schools endeavouring to keep up with the demand for digital devices and a digital pedagogy.

“As educators, we should not wait for whatever handout may come from government, but rather take initiatives to make it happen locally now,” he adds.

Prentice believes the selected device is actually less important than the learning context in which it is placed and that individual schools need to select the ‘best fit’ for their needs and the needs of their students.

Prentice says that Chromebooks, iPads and laptops all have their place in the education system but could not pick a clear winner, instead stating that the decision to recommend a device should be closely tied to learning outcomes. He adds that it is critical to include students in the decision-making process.

He outlined the following considerations:

  • Importance of collaboration (student to student, student to teacher, teacher to parent/caregiver).
  • Use of multimedia creation capability for student learning/communication.
  • Coding and how that may feature with new curriculum introduction.
  • Specific apps for class integration and sharing.
  • Input: keyboard or not/use of interactive screens.

After this, other variables may include device cost and specifications, after sales service/warranty/insurance, peripheral use (interaction with 3D printers, cameras, drones), and local teaching expertise.

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