DAILY INSIGHT: Would you buy a new car with a blindfold on?

By Steve Young, CIO Advisor

Would you buy a new car with a blindfold on?

Then why do so many schools ignore important factors when choosing devices for students?

You obviously wouldn’t buy a car with a blindfold because there are so many factors in buying the car that are important, including design, features, layout, condition, and the cabin interior. Many very-well-intentioned educators are eager to put devices in the hands of students and jump on the bandwagon, saying, “We need to buy (insert device name here) for all students.” This is often done without ever taking off the blindfold and looking at a schools’ and students’ needs, with a heavy dose of total cost of ownership (TCO) evaluation to see what makes the most sense in a particular learning environment.

There are a host of great reasons why many different devices might assist students in their learning; different curricula (not just the book, but all that is done in a class to help students learn), grade levels, special needs, state requirements, testing mandates, student use cases and more should all be considered in an evaluation of devices for student.

I suggest starting off with a needs inventory. Get started by listing out all the things that are non-negotiable that you need the device and students to be able to do. A short example list such as this would be a start:

1. Needs to be able to print to classroom printers.
2. Needs 1024x1200 resolution to support testing mandates.
3. Needs ability to save documents to Google docs.
4. Needs to save to local storage when not connected to the Internet.
5. Minimum 8 hours battery life.
6. Science class requires USB-based probe support.
7. Social studies curriculum requires student to be able to display screen to entire class.

You also may want to list some things that would be nice but are not true requirements, such as three-year warranty, comes with a case, and has a CD drive.

At this point, put this all into a big matrix or spreadsheet to start the evaluation. It would map out like this but would have many more elements:

The first column in one that is often ignored and beyond the scope of this blog post, but it is very important. Looking at all the costs related to student devices is imperative in an evaluation. The upfront purchase cost is just one part, but support costs, repair costs, and maintenance costs, etc., must all be factored in to get an accurate picture. A great in-depth resource on TCO is available from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) at http://goo.gl/BtC7L

In the end, when the matrix is filled out, you should have a very good idea of what device will end up best meeting the needs of students and the district. While sometimes it seems easier to keep the blindfold on, doing so may cause you to end up with something that is unworkable and not sustainable for the long term. Why end up with an unreliable Pinto when you can have a much better device at a lower TCO?

Steve Young is CTO of Judson ISD in Texas and founder of the San Antonio Area Technology Directors group. He blogs at CTO Technotes, where this is cross posted. Follow him on Twitter as @atemyshorts.