By Brian Bouterse, Jenifer O. Corn, and Elizabeth O. Halstead
Choosing the Perfect Tools for One-to
F rom one-to-one learning initiatives to laptop carts,
schools all over the country are using portable computing models to achieve flexible technology access.
To maximize learning and engagement at a sustainable cost
selecting the appropriate computing device is of utmost
importance to best meet the needs of your teachers and
students. After all, a device that is not compatible with the
current or future technological infrastructure could mean
disaster for an ed tech initiative. This article focuses on
selecting the appropriate portable computing devices for
a school- or district-level one-to-one learning initiative.
As you plan a one-to-one initiative, carefully consider
both the implementation strategies (hardware/software,
technical infrastructure, professional development) and
project outcomes (changes in teaching and learning) that
best meet the needs of your students, staff, and community. The questions considered here focus primarily on the
hardware and software options—important decisions when
implementing any tech initiative.
Thick, Ultraportable, and Thin
Today, devices fall into these three categories. Thick devices are traditional computers or laptops running traditional
operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,
or Linux. Ultraportable devices use a local operating system and productivity software, but they lack the resources
to handle installation of applications or educational content locally. Ultraportables can be divided into two groups:
those that support Windows and those that don’t. Thin devices are computers that cannot be used unless connected
to a network, and they are not portable. Their lack of por-tability is fine for a traditional computer lab but a poor fit
for portable one-to-one learning initiatives. In the future,
as thin devices become portable and wireless network access is increasingly ubiquitous, the debate surrounding
these devices may change.
Selecting Appropriate Devices
To successfully plan and implement a portable, technolo-gy-enhanced learning environment, schools and districts
should consider six critical questions related to purpose,
operating system, applications, content, peripheral equipment, and robustness. (See questions below.)
Careful consideration and thorough discussions with
your technology planning team around each of these
six critical questions will provide important information
needed to select the most appropriate portable computing
device for your particular learning context. Use the following list of questions and the matrix titled 6 Critical Questions for Comparing Ultraportable and Thick Devices on
page 16 to guide your decision-making process.
Purpose. Will the computing device be used for a single
purpose (word processing or graphing) or as a multipurpose machine ready to accept new software, content, or
Internet capability? Single-purpose devices, such as the
AlphaSmart or Texas Instruments (TI) graphing calculators,
are inexpensive and easy to maintain but can only support
specific word processing or graphing programs. Especially
in the lower grades, consider if devices such as Neo2 by AlphaSmart or the TI graphing calculator and Navigator system can satisfy your curriculum needs. If not, then look for
multipurpose devices such as ultraportable or thick devices.
If your school is planning to emphasize the use of computing devices in your math or science courses, consider a
tablet because of the ease of writing equations and scientific
notation compared to using a traditional keyboard.
Operating systems. What operating system (OS) do you
have the resources to support (Windows, Linux, Mac OS X)?
OS support includes managing computer configurations,
content, and applications, as well as readying a computer
for the next student at the end of the semester. Consider
which system your technology facilitators and technicians
1Will the computing device be used for a
single purpose or as a multipurpose machine What operating system do you
that is software-ready and Internet-capable? 2have the resources to support?
3Do you want to install local applications,
use Web applications, or both?