Choosing the right “device”

I need to start this post off with a dis­claimer.  I am not, and never have  been, a tech­nol­ogy direc­tor, nor do I have any sort of tech­nol­ogy degree.  My for­mal edu­ca­tion  has been in edu­ca­tional method­ol­ogy, cur­ricu­lum, and lead­er­ship.  My career in K-12 edu­ca­tion was spent as a teacher and then prin­ci­pal.  Many of you who read this blog know lots more about the “nuts and bolts” of tech­nol­ogy than I do.

My learn­ing around tech­nol­ogy has occurred through hands on tin­ker­ing, work­shops, and learn­ing through peers.  In my cur­rent posi­tion, I often speak and write about tech­nol­ogy inte­gra­tion, and how lead­ers need to use tech­nol­ogy to move schools for­ward.  Because much of my work now deals with tech­nol­ogy, I do get the “nuts and bolts” types of ques­tions.  Fre­quently, I can’t answer those ques­tions, but I can refer the ques­tion to one of the amaz­ing tech­nol­ogy con­tacts I have.

One ques­tion that I do get asked very reg­u­larly by schools con­sid­er­ing one-to-one is, “What type of device should we pur­chase?”.  The answer to this ques­tion can turn into a heated debate between many in the one-to-one world.  Many edu­ca­tors swear by Macs while oth­ers believe lap­top PCs are the answer.  Net­books and tablets have also entered into the debate about the best one-to-one device.

My answer to this ques­tion isn’t what many deci­sion mak­ers want to hear.  I really believe that “it depends”.  I have worked with enough one-to-one schools and talked with enough one-to-one edu­ca­tors to say that dif­fer­ent schools have had suc­cess using var­i­ous devices.  It is extremely unlikely for the device to make or break a pro­gram (unless of course the device was a total lemon!).

When I’m talk­ing or writ­ing about tech­nol­ogy tools, I often say that ask­ing what tools we should teach edu­ca­tors is the wrong ques­tion.  We need to start by ask­ing what skills we want them to be able to teach, and then align tools with those skills.  I feel the same way about one-to-one devices.  The con­ver­sa­tion should not start with decid­ing what device to pur­chase.  The con­ver­sa­tion instead needs to start by ask­ing what YOUR school intends to accom­plish with one-to-one.  After you can clearly artic­u­late that, you can find a device that best meets those needs.  Obvi­ously, there may be sys­tems and infra­struc­ture com­po­nents that come into your deci­sion.  With that in mind, I would still much rather choose a device based on learn­ing needs and goals than infra­struc­ture and com­pat­i­bil­ity.   That may cer­tainly lead to addi­tional costs upfront, but it will also ensure that tech­nol­ogy serves your stu­dents needs rather than just the eas­i­est or cheap­est route to take.

Please feel free to leave your com­ments.  I know that many of you are very pas­sion­ate about a cer­tain device, and I’m fine with that.  You are pas­sion­ate because the device has worked very well for you!  Other schools in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances may cer­tainly want to hear your views.

Nick Sauers


  1. I haven’t had 1 to 1 for very long but I’ve found that hav­ing a bunch of dif­fer­ent devices serves some great pur­poses. Kids get exposed to dif­fer­ent devices since I have a PC, net­books, iMacs, and iPads. Kids can do just about any­thing they want because each device has its own strengths, which helps make up for their weak­nesses. While I do pre­fer Macs and I love my iPad I don’t mind PC’s and the net books are pretty handy because they are so com­pact, slow, but the size is just right. And all those devices work on our net­work with no prob­lems! Why choose just one device?

  2. Jane Flaey Smith says:

    Loved this! Check out “Lev­el­ing the Play­ing Field”
    We are using this SETT for­mat in Iowa for stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties as we con­sider assis­tive tech­nol­ogy to help them met their IEP goals. It is great, really focuses on the stu­dent and their learn­ing needs first.…last are the tools. I plan to share your arti­cle on Twitter.

  3. Jane Faley Smith says:

    Typo-Jane Faley Smith

  4. Mary Ann Guidos says:

    The con­ver­sa­tion instead needs to start by ask­ing what YOUR school intends to accom­plish with one-to-one.“
    Agreed! This deci­sion is about the tech­nol­ogy but there are other impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions:
    1. Teacher ped­a­gogy. What do their class­rooms look like? What is their style of teach­ing?
    2. Con­tent. Will kids be writ­ing? Doing lots of research? Need oppor­tu­ni­ties for dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of mate­r­ial.
    TPCK is a good resource when con­sid­er­ing what device(s) to choose.

  5. Lori Nelson says:

    Great post, Nick.You make a great point about being clear about your goals and pur­pose before choos­ing a device. If you are inter­ested I wrote a post about my expe­ri­ence with the iPad thus far. We are con­sid­er­ing it for a 1:1 ini­tia­tive at our 5–8 mid­dle school.

    Alfonso, I really like your idea of not lim­it­ing your­self to one tool. Then stu­dents learn the impor­tant les­son of select­ing the right tool or tools for a given task.

  6. […] type of device should a school/district imple­ment if going one-to-one?  Nick Sauers writes on his blog about the choice needed to be less about the phys­i­cal machines, but rather the intended use. What […]

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