One Device To Rule Them All?

iPad v Chromebook

Jon Corippo and Chris Scott debating iPad vs. Chromebook at Fall CUE in Napa, CA.

I’ll cut to the chase. There is no such thing as the perfect device. Not in our personal lives and certainly not in school. While I tend to gravitate to my tiny iPhone 5 for twitter, calendar, email, photos, video and the occasional phone call, I do my serious work on a MacBook or more recently a chromebook while almost all of my content consumption now happens on an iPad. If forced to limit myself to just one device, I’d keep the iPhone hands down. I’m guessing most people would make the same choice.

Now that we have moved beyond the debate over wether we should be providing a device to every student and onto the debate about what device we should be using, for many it’s proving to be a more difficult conversation. Too often, the device decision is made as either a technical or an instructional one. I would argue that it can’t be one or the other, but rather it must be both. Instruction cannot drive the discussion without input on the technical challenges and conversely, technology considerations should not solely define the instructional environment. As an example, iPad proponents are quick to point out that iPads offer a multitude of content creation opportunities over a chromebook, while chromebook supporters like to point to the expensive nature of iPad deployment and management at scale as being a compelling reason not to use iPads. I could be accused of doing both at one time or the other because both arguments are right.

Every device choice will involve compromise. The compromises on the instruction side generally involve one of the 4 C’s. In addition, the specter of the 5th C, CAASPP, the state online assessment, is hanging over everything. On the technical side, the C that can’t be left out is Cost. Cost of the device, cost of support and cost of ongoing sustainability are driving factors wether we like it or not. If cost wasn’t a factor, every student would have three devices and a private tutor. As much as some of us would like to think otherwise, CAASPP and Cost are very real factors that must weigh into any device decision along with supportability, sustainability and the instructional goals.

The bottom line is this; there is no one perfect device for the classroom but we are closer now than ever before to being able to provide every student with a device, and that has the potential to transform how we teach and how students learn.

Back to my thinking on devices.

Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education go together like Chocolate and Peanut Butter. It’s like they were made for one another. On top of that, Google has solved the management challenges of supporting thousands of mobile devices better than the promise of Microsoft AD and Group Policy ever did. Chromebooks with the chrome management console just work. They are ready to use when and where they are needed and they can be setup and pushed out with minimal effort. Multi-user support is inherent. Tech support is still needed but in much more sustainable ratios than with other options.

Apple iPads took the classroom by storm. They were novel, cheaper than a laptop and full of promise for a brighter future. Their ability to redefine what computing looks like is unparalleled and the multi-media creation tools are accessible and easy. And there are all those apps. The reality on the technical side is much less bright. Management in large environments increases Cost and Complexity which affects usability. Their weakness in supporting CAASPP and the high cost to fully support make them challenging to scale and sustain. Plan on a significant ramp up in tech support to ensure a working learning environment.

Windows is still around and still suffers from support challenges on mobile devices at scale. Many districts have dialed in desktop and lab support but at a Cost higher than a similar chromebook option with questionable instructional benefit. The ability to run Microsoft Office is no loner justification enough to maintain such an environment. With more and more applications moving online, the need to maintain a full desktop OS is becoming obsolete.

Too early to tell.

We’re really too early in to this transformation to 1:1 computing in school to make a definitive declaration that one device is better than the other for impacting the classroom and student learning. Truly at the end of the day, it’s not about the device, it’s about the instructional practice and the teacher mind set in the classroom that will transform student learning. The basics of ubiquitous information access and collaborative content creation tools can be met by just about any device. I believe it is the ready access to information and what teachers and students can do with the information that is the game changer. Convincing a teacher to adopt new pedagogy and new instructional strategies in this changing information paradigm is the real challenge.

Meanwhile, in the workplace and college, people are happily using multiple devices to meet their working and learning needs. Makes me think that 1:1 for kids could start looking a lot like the old 4 computers in the back of the classroom model. Too little, too late.