School Is No Place For White Elephants

pic-1By Pia Argiratos.

For educators, choosing mobile technology such as iPads and the accessories around them can be tricky. The benefits of technology are an educator’s specialty – enhanced learning, and new scope for engaging students and multiplying their learning – while the technology overall is often not a school’s strongest skill set.

Helping schools to understand the range of options and the important differences between them will mean that schools can choose products that are compatible, have a wide range of applications and will simply be school-proof enough to survive students. When funds are tight, there can be nothing worse than an expensive white elephant taking up space in the IT room.

To help schools gain the benefit of the clever folk inventing and innovating on their behalf, here are some considerations to maximise technology in a school, while saving money now and in the long term.

Device Loyalty v Device Agnostic

More schools are looking up from their apple-scented iPad world and seeing the benefits of Android and Windows tablets instead of, or in addition to, iPads. These tablets are usually cheaper and, with an increasing number of apps from iTunes now also available on Google Play and in the Windows store, the learning opportunities are often the same.

The accessories that users need to make these feasible for use in schools are generally available too, though it pays to check before buying. For example, Gumdrop and Otterbox are two high-quality brands for iPad cases that also offer cases for a wide range of other devices.

Also, the latest releases of charge-sync-store systems are designed for a mixed-device environment. Brands such as PC Locs, Bretford and Kensington offer universal charge-sync-store systems that can handle 10 to 40 devices, so schools can manage fleets of devices at once. Apple devices can be synced using configurator software and a Mac computer, while Android and Windows devices can be managed using common file management processes.

Protect it

Expensive, shiny, slippery iPads in the hands of kids – shudder. Wrapping tablets in appropriate protective cases substantially reduces damage from drops and subsequently the problem of having incomplete sets of devices in the classroom.

School-proofing devices is not actually hard and can make devices last years longer, but it will take some attention to detail. Look at the details of the iPad or tablet case being considered. What materials is it made from? What features have been built in to protect the screen and corners, which inevitably cop the brunt of a drop?

Properly engineered iPad and tablet cases can provide drop and shock protection, some are even waterproof too. Gumdrop brand cases are a good example, with most models providing screen protection plus built-in air chambers for corner protection, as well as military-graded materials to absorb the force of a drop or hard knock.

A cheap and cheerful piece of plastic will not ever be good enough to protect a $1000 device made of glass and steel.

Compatibility

“Yes, we already have iPad cases – really good child-friendly ones bought last year. This year we need an iPad cart.” Then the problem becomes clear: the iPad cases already bought and wrangled onto the devices will not fit into any charge-sync station.

Consider the whole picture before committing to a purchase, especially one that has labour implications as well as direct costs, as there lies a hidden cost. As product options multiply, it is more important than ever for schools to do their homework to know what products are out there – and provision for what is coming. Look beyond catalogue-style school suppliers with one brand of a product and research to compare styles, brands and know all of the options. Quality companies from around the world are innovating in this space and constantly improving the opportunities for schools and students.

Scalability

Many schools have a humble quantity of iPads, with hopes and plans to grow the fleet in future years, so choosing a charge-sync-store system that has room to grow with the fleet makes good sense. Brands such as Griffin and Kensington have smaller 10-bay charge-sync cabinets that can be linked together to manage up to 30 devices at once, so as the fleet grows, a school can add on additional cabinets to slowly gain the efficiency of a larger unit, though purchased in a staged fashion.

Quality

Limited funds, multiple needs – it is so tempting to make procurement choices based upon dollars; however, as elsewhere in life, buying quality products will provide lifetime savings and less downtime.

Look at the materials used in the manufacture of the accessories being bought. In terms of iPad charge-sync-store systems, if the system is expected to protect the gear from theft, then make sure that it is built with steel, has sturdy locks and security options. Is it painted to protect from rust? Does it have quality wheels that will continue to work under a heavy load? Does it have features that make it easier to load and unload the devices, such as carry baskets and load-bearing lids, or will that be a daily struggle with workplace health and safety implications?

Accessorise to Maximise Investment

Once a school has invested in great devices, it is time to think about what functional, helpful and innovative accessories can help it do more with them.

Look at capacitive brushes and styluses to use with paint programs on tablets to add digital art to the school’s repertoire. As a bonus, it is much easier to clean than real paint. Pencil Bluetooth Stylus has an amazing range of effects to make it so like natural art, as it takes input from the position or pressure applied to the silicone tip.

Use iPads or tablets to record student or teacher content for class blogs, to build up a learning library or to interact with sister schools across the country or the world. Swivl Personal Cameraman enables tablets or phones to record content anywhere. Record a presentation on an iPad without someone being the ‘cameraman’, while Swivl keeps the presenter in the shot.

Determine if the tablet can be used to perform repetitive tasks, or display information in high traffic areas. A floor stand or wall mount can put the device in the right place, securely, and potentially reduce administration time or increase communication where it needs to.

Technology to Extend Students

What can work alongside technology to further students’ learning? Opening up the Pandora box of technology at school can excite students in new directions, where they can discover new interests and grow skills.

For example, Littlebits Electronics are modular kits to teach children about electric circuitry while they build fun projects. They click together modules to create battery-powered circuits that include input sensors such as voice, touch and switches, and perform outputs such as light, movement and sound. Build up the options by starting from a base kit and adding on specialised kits to extend it as far as possible. This is perfect for bright sparks who are not keen on sport or arts, but need somewhere to grow at school, as well as support unit kids who need innovative play to help them learn how their world works.

Reduce Administration Cost and Time

The management of all this clever technology is the responsibility of the IT coordinator or manager. Making sure that devices are recharged, up to date, located where they need to be, protected from theft, and are being safely moved around the school are all major considerations for IT coordinators. There are solutions to make all of this easier.

Charge-sync-store systems are an important investment for a school as they significantly reduce the amount of time spent in preparing fleets of devices for class. However, it is easy to choose a system that meets the budget without fully understanding the benefits of different models, let alone different brands. Thorough consideration of how the school could manage its fleet of devices now and in the future will make the choice easier.

Considerations include whether sets of devices will need to be moved around the school on a regular basis and whether that movement if across relatively flat inclines or not. If so, and the incline is fairly flat, a cart-style system may suit best, to reduce heavy lifting. Carts include lockable doors and can be chained to a secure place to keep them secure. Some brands include carry baskets for easy local movements of quantities of devices.

Or perhaps a cabinet style would be better? Securely storing and recharging 10 to 30 iPads or tablets in a wall- or desk-mounted cabinet close to where they will be used will reduce the time and effort required to keep the devices ready for use.

Think about how often the devices will need to be synced or updated – it is usually once per term or even per semester. Purchasing charge-store systems for everyday use, then a single portable sync system to update each set of devices when required can save money. Charging-only stations are cheaper than stations that include a sync function, so the savings can add up.

Also consider the smarts of brands such as Bretford, which offers in its PowerSync+ range a helping hand for IT coordinators. This range uses a phone app so that coordinators can remotely check the progress of charge and/or syncing devices from their phone in multiple locations around the school. The app also includes after hours alerts to devices being removed from their station when the school is unattended.

 

The benefits of technology in education are growing by the day. Making the right choice in products can help schools extract maximum value for money and maximise the learning opportunities for students, without adding to the workload for staff.

 

Pia Argiratos is Director of Powered Life (www.poweredlife.com.au), which helps schools find the best solutions for managing mobile technology in the classroom. Powered Life has all of the world’s best brands in one place, so educators, families and therapists can easily compare and find the right choice for students, teachers, special needs and more.

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