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When it comes to in-school technology, leave brand loyalty at the door

Prepare students for the real-world by implementing a device agnostic technology program

· Ideas,EdTech,Innovation

Most 1:1 device programs at schools marry themselves to the idea of buying all their devices as one brand. For example, in many of my discussions with administrators, they have told me that their school tends to buy either all Lenovo laptops or all MacBooks. Why, you ask? Buying the same brand of devices for the school creates consistency and efficiency for IT departments who manage the devices as well as for ease of teaching integration across the various division levels (elementary, middle or high school).

I believe that limiting our students’ exposure to only one type of device and operating system misses a tremendous opportunity to create fluency in a world of increasingly diverse interfaces.

Every type of device has its own set of advantages. Consequently, innovation through technology can happen in a variety of ways; however, we would not know this if we were limited to just one type of device. An Apple device, for example, is effective for multimedia editing, but a Windows devices could be better for programming.

The long term effects of a 1:1 program with exposure to only one brand are students entering higher education or the workforce limited in their ability to navigate various types of user interfaces and less adaptable to changing technology. Students may also develop brand loyalty stemming from ignorance rather than a healthy knowledge of alternatives.

As educators and administrators, we want the next generation of adults to be tech-savvy and to innovate. We want them to be undaunted by new types of devices, be able to pick up any type of device and navigate it, and exploit its particular intricacies and advantages. This can be accomplished by meaningfully and thoughtfully introducing students to a variety of tools throughout their time in school. In my own practice, I have created a program where students use iPads, Chromebooks, ThinkPads, and Macbook Pros as they progress from Kindergarten through Grade 12. My team and I elected specific devices predominantly based on student age/stage appropriateness and workload as well as on device capability and durability.

What is the challenge of a device agnostic program?

The greatest challenge to a device agnostic program are teachers accustomed to using one type of device or operating system and present themselves as unwilling or unable to adapt alongside the students. I have seen that a school can eliminate the lion’s share of stress and difficulty in workflow by implementing frequent professional development before, during, and after the rollout of new devices.

How would you implement the idea of “device agnosticism” within an environment that has already purchased and/or is currently using a single brand of devices?

If a school has already implemented a device program with one brand of device, educators can put in place a multitude of activities that afford students the ability to try and experiment with various platforms and devices. One way to introduce device agnosticism is for schools to offer a variety of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities such as a film-making, coding, robotics, IT helpdesk or makerspace club that can purchase and circulate a small volume of different devices. In such clubs, students have the opportunity to experiment with using software amid an array of devices and can compare their experience completing tasks across device while building universal fluency. For example, my robotics club uses a desktop iMac and Lenovo ThinkPads to program as well as iPads to take videos of their work, design their ideas, and conduct research. The FIRST® LEGO® League and FIRST® Tech Challenge, both of which my students have participated in for years, also leverages programming language between competitions. Students participating in FIRST LEGO League use LEGO’s block-based language (NXT MINDSTORMS); however, students who graduate to FIRST Tech Challenge now use either MIT’s app inventor or Javascript. The benefits of having students alternate programming languages as they progress through FIRST® are the same benefits of a device agnostic program: students become nibble with their overall technology use, determine (for themselves) the tool they prefer, and expand their cognitive constructs when learning something new.

Instead of saying “we are an Apple school” or “we are a Windows school,” we should be saying “we are a device and platform agnostic school.” As educators, we should work toward student fluency across all types of devices to benefit their current and future endeavors. It is also important to help students develop their own informed opinions about various user interfaces as well as to be able to acknowledge the benefits and limitations of various operating systems and hardware. This will help them make informed decisions about the “right” device for their needs and provide them a certain mastery over the tools of their generation.

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