As more schools continue to move to 1:1 programs, there is the ongoing question about which device. Should we choose iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, Android devices, or maybe the Microsoft Surface? If you ask school leaders how they made the choice, you find a fascinating and sometimes eye-opening variety of answers.
- There was a sale on _______.
- I like this brand best.
- We had someone willing to buy this product for us.
- This one had the best support plan.
- A vendor made a compelling case.
- A special grant or corporate partnership.
There are many others reasons as well. However, I’ve yet to find a school that described the following process.
- We decided what we wanted learners to be able to do.
- We tested the usefulness of each device in doing these things.
- We took into account the unavoidable realities of things like cost.
- We made our choices based upon steps 1-3, recognizing that we don’t always need to make a single decision. We might choose one device for each student, but we also make sure to resource learning spaces with enough other options to address the different usage scenarios we defined in step 1.
I’m sure there must be plenty who chose to do this. I just don’t hear about it. Yet, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes to me. I own all the devices listed above and I have a pretty good sense of which device is most helpful in accomplishing different tasks. If I am working on a complex project with multiple browser windows open, a spreadsheet (or two), and a document where I am recording my findings; I use a laptop connected to a docking station and two nice-sized monitors. When I’m traveling and working on the same project, I settle for my MacBook Air, sometimes using an iPad next to it as a second monitor. However, the second option takes me longer, sometimes longer. In fact, it slows the process so much that I often opt to work on projects with a less complex workflow when I am traveling and using my laptop. In other words, the device available to me influences the type of work that I choose to do.
I decided to test this out. I was working on a project where I had to analyzing content from multiple sources and organizing it in a Google spreadsheet. It required the use of three short web sites, a 5-page PDF document, and a 2000-word Google Doc. This was a task that is very similar to what I would expect to see of students in a project-based learning environment. To make things easier, I opted for a simple but common task of collecting quotes from the different sources and organizing them by source in a Google spreadsheet. Then I repeated the same steps using three other devices. Below are the results. Note that I should have gotten better at the task each time that I repeated it. In other words, the last devices should have had an advantage over the earlier ones.
dual screen setup with full-sized keyboard and bluetooth mouse – 5 minutes
I copied 22 quotes from three web sites, a PDF, and another Google Doc, placing them in the right categories in a Google spreadsheet, including references (just a simple name for the source).
single laptop (Macbook Air) – 5 minutes
I attempted to repeat the same steps. I finished 17.
iPad – 5 minutes
I attempted to repeat the same steps. I finished 12.
iPhone – 5 minutes
I attempted to repeat the same steps. I finished 7.
Of course, I didn’t take into account all the possible variables. Perhaps I could have set up a couple more similar tests and then averaged the results. In addition, there are skills to consider. Part of the challenge might be that I don’t type as quickly as others on an iPad or iPhone.
My point is not that we should give all students a dual monitor setup. Money, space and any number of other factors might rule that out. I’m simply suggesting that we test things out a bit more. Come up with the types of tasks that we want learners to be able to do and then involve learners in testing out which device is most helpful for different tasks. How might such a process change our device and learning space design decisions?
By the way, if you’ve done something like this at your school, I would love to hear from you.