5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a 1:1 Mobile Learning Device

Device pile by adactio, on Flickr

Device pile by adactio, on Flickr

Embarking on a 1:1 program can seem a bit like walking into a dark, tangled forest — choosing the right mobile device from a dense thicket of options is enough to make any educator feel lost. iPads and Androids and Chromebooks, oh my!

The Los Angeles iPad hacking incident is just one example of how a mobile learning program, when not thought through, can quickly turn into a nightmare. That’s why it’s critical to initiate a schoolwide or districtwide conversation when choosing a device for your mobile learning initiative.

“We’re the first generation of teachers who in a widespread way have no clue what our students’ futures will look like, so here we are trying to prepare students for a future that none of us can envision all that accurately,” said Rushton Hurley, founder of Next Vista for Learning, who will present an Oct. 30 webinar on How to Choose: iPads, Androids, Chromebooks or Laptops?

mobile learning icon how to choose“I’ll be talking about the larger discussion that happens at school on the way to a 1:1 or BYOD environment. I want to make sure that when schools go through that process they’re talking about the things that are important.”

He proposed five questions to help guide the discussion about mobile learning in your school or district:

1. What do we want to accomplish in the classroom?

Too often, technology discussions revolve around the strengths and weaknesses of various devices. While that conversation has its place, keep in mind that those strengths and weaknesses can rapidly change. A more important question is, what do you hope to achieve with the technology at the classroom level?

“It’s easy, unfortunately, to talk about these things on the vendors’ terms,” Hurley said. “We need to talk about these things on the learners’ terms. We’re the ones who need to keep the conversation in that space.”

2. What can we do with free technology?

It makes sense to fully explore all of the available free tools and options before making a large technology investment. Hurley encourages school leaders to find out what tools are already working in the classroom and what teachers are doing with them. At minimum, it will give you a starting point for deciding what you need from the devices you purchase.

3. Do we have the infrastructure in place to support the device?

This is one of the biggest areas a school should focus on before embarking on a mobile learning initiative. A wireless network with sufficient bandwidth is critical. Additionally, teachers and IT staff must be adequately prepared to deal with the challenges a 1:1 program can introduce. Consider how much staff time will be required to support the device.

“Anytime infrastructure is holding up deployment of devices that have been purchased, you are wasting money,” Hurley said. “Devices move from relevance to irrelevance at some pace. If you’ve got a bunch of devices sitting in a warehouse somewhere, the learning value per dollar spent is going down.”

4. How long will the device remain relevant?

When comparing devices, investigate each company’s track record for keeping older devices relevant. If the track record is good, a large hardware purchase is fairly safe. If not, the device will need to offer significant benefits to be worth the investment.

5. Does it serve teachers and students to have only one device?

Educators like Mark Allen in the U.K. are advocating for “device agnosticism,” which means rather than committing to a single device, the goal is to “help students reach for the tool that matches their needs for the moment,” Hurley said.

“The question is, if a given device has some pretty important weaknesses and you go to that as the 1:1 device, what possibilities have you cut off at your school? It seems obvious once it’s said, yet most of the conversations don’t seem to be taking that into account.”

What device is best for your 1:1 mobile learning program? Join Rushton Hurley Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. PT | 7 p.m. ET for his webinar on How to Choose: iPads, Androids, Chromebooks or Laptops?

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