Guide to the Perfect* Personal Device

*nothing will ever be perfect, but it’s good to try.

By Jim Riley (james.riley@ed.act.edu.au)

Introduction

Welcome to High School! So, you’ve heard the magical term “BYOD” and have gone…what’s that all about?

It means “Bring Your Own Device”, a new phenomenon which is sweeping the educational sector. It’s all about making learning personalised; you learn what you need to learn in an environment that suits you. Well, now we’re suiting the technology to suit you.

Schools generally have enough funding to purchase machines for groups of classes; let’s say on average at ratio of 1:10 (One computer to every ten students). Obviously, this isn’t ideal because some of the best learning experiences use technology, and with the funding we get this would only give you access to the technology every other day, for maybe a session.

Additionally, BYOD is designed to help with the costs of education. This probably seems a little odd to say, given you now have to purchase a device worth a few hundred dollars, but what BYOD does is also remove other costs.

With a device in the students hands, gone are the days of purchasing or renting textbooks, which in most schools could get up to over a few hundred dollars every year or semester. Additionally, you’ll only need a small amount of stationary for notebooks which can be used across classes, and since most assignments are created digitally there go some more costs as well.

So now, it’s a largish purchase of a device across four year periods (which I explain below) rather than every single year.

So, that’s BYOD in a several paragraph long nutshell; putting a device into every student’s hands and allowing them to access a huge amount of resources and valuable experiences.

So…the question is: which device?

Before that…

One site that parents should have a look at is this: ACT Education – The Digital Backpack. This website is the Directorate’s official page on our online resources, including privacy information and details of our agreements with Microsoft and Google. Check it out! (the link should open in a new page)

Now that you’ve done that, let’s talk about the ‘best’ device for your child.

You’re going to say there is no easy answer, aren’t you?

…yes.

Because there isn’t an easy answer. With a massive amount of devices out there you have just a large a choice to make about the right one, but there are some details that we can help with.

First: the main thing you should think of when selecting the right device for your child’s education is: your child’s education.

  1. How does your child best learn / interact with technology?
  2. How old is your child / what year are they entering?
  3. What kind of electives will they be interested in?

I only mention electives because their core classes are always the same: English, Humanities and Social Sciences, Mathematics, Science and Health/Physical Education.

The electives is where your child may differ from everyone else, either to the Arts, Technologies, or other electives such as the Sports Sciences or Outdoor Education.

In Year 7/8, students should really be experiencing as many different electives as possible. Year 9/10 is where your child will first begin to specialise in a particular elective.

Most devices also have a 4-5 year life span when software begins to outpace the hardware. This which is why our first device recommendation starts at Year 5.

My First Device – Year’s 5-8

Welcome to the first device your child will use at school!

Before we get to the options, lets go through some of the basics that you’ll need to know.

  1. The Device’s wifi MUST be WPA2 Enterprise compliant. Which means it needs to have been built within the last 3-4 years. There is a handout from the ACT Directorate of Education and Training which can help make sure your device works in this environment.
  2. Your device must be able to connect with our Google Apps for Education environment. Which is pretty much EVERY device out there, so that shouldn’t limit your choices.
  3. Keyboard, keyboard keyboard. Have you ever tried typing for more than 20 minutes on a tablet keyboard? It’s not the most comfortable thing which is why if you select a tablet device you really should get a keyboard.
  4. Students cannot charge their devices at school due to OH&S regulations, so the device SHOULD have at least a 6 hour battery life. On average, your child will be using the device in class, at least 3-4 lessons out of every 5. These lessons are all 55 minutes long, so do the math and that’s a little under 4 hours. Some things will run through the battery faster than others, which is one of the reasons teachers advise student to not use their devices during break times, and another reason not to play games on their devices unless they are at home…or they’ve made them in our game design class. Here are some things which can reduce battery time significantly:
    • software with high graphics loads (games)
    • movies/videos
    • Recording or camera use

Knowing all that, here are the suggested devices for Years 5-8:

The Chromebook

Available from: JB Hifi, Online Retailers such as Learning With Technologies (https://www.lwt.com.au/)

Pros:

  • The Chromebook is an fantastic little device which students in Years 5-8 can get a lot of use out of. It has a 10 hour battery life so if the student is practicing good Device Hygiene* then they shouldn’t ever be out of power at school.
  • The device is specifically designed for Google Apps for Education and is the Chrome browser itself, so it has no issues accessing an web based systems that the school uses (Schoology, Mathspace, etc…)
  • Not many peripherals required. You can get a mouse if you need it, but the Chromebook is basically a little laptop, so it has a keyboard and mousepad, and some models even have touch-screens which aren’t a requirement but can be useful.

Cons:

  • …anything else. You can write documents, slideshows, spreadsheets, create and submit essays and other creative items, but it is dependent on the Chrome Store for anything else (which does have a lot of great tools available). The Chrome Book doesn’t have much in the way of serious video editing or graphic design tools…but in Year 5-8 students don’t quite need that yet.

The iPad/iPad Mini/iPad Pro

Available from: …lots of places

Pros:

  • 10 Hour battery life. Unless students are watching a LOT of videos and playing games on their iPads (which they shouldn’t be…), the device will last all day as long as it is charged during the night.
  • You get access to most of the services provided by Google Apps for Education, but not all, and not to the same level as a Chromebook or full laptop. The access is still enough to get all their work done, but getting access to Google sites has to be done through the browser: there is no app available.
  • “There is an app for that” – you can get video editing software, graphic design software, almost anything through the app store. The only thing which is not really accessible for iPads is any software used in the schools Robotics or Computer Science classes.
  • Mathspace – the app was designed for tablets so it is the best way to experience the software.

Cons:

  • Peripherals – the iPad needs a few. If you want a keyboard (you want a keyboard): you have to buy it. Also, cases are a requirement as dropping the iPad normally marks the end of the screen, and since the screen is the main input, if it doesn’t work than the iPad won’t.
  • Google Apps – as stated before, you can access all the important parts of Google Apps, but not all of it.

Which one do I get?

  • The Mini, Air, Pro? Which one? My advice is which ever one your child is comfortable using, typing on for extended periods (those 1000 word essays are a good test) and editing their work on.
  • …if your child seriously wants an iPad Pro, then they’d better have a career as a graphic designer in mind since that is the main purpose for the Pro which really needs the Apple Pencil and keyboard (an extra $200+) to take full advantage of its capabilities.

Samsung Galaxy Tablets / Android Tablets

Available from: …also, lots of places.

The Android tablets have very similar capabilities to the iPad series. Each should be able to fill the same functions listed under the iPad section, with easier integration of the Google Apps platform, considering the Android system is built and maintained by Google.

Microsoft Surface / Surface Pro

Available from: …quite a few places, online through the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft devices have come along way in recent years, thanks to the release of Windows 10. The Surface has been a valuable device for many students at our school. It connects to our network just fine, the touchscreen makes Mathspace accessible, and the Pro versions allow students to install their own software. The only limitation is the lack of access to an diverse App store such as the Apple/Google stores, so the same types of apps might not be as easy to come across. For any web based applications the surface is more than capable, which includes access to the entire Google Apps for Education service.

Entry Level Laptops ($300-$500 range)

Available from: …quite a few places, mostly JB Hifi.

These little laptops have grown in popularity recently, and quite rightly so. Coming with a Windows 10 installation, the laptops can install many different programs which some electives might require and access all of the services the school uses (Microsoft products / Google Apps through Chrome).

The benefit of the Windows 10 operating system is that students can use their school accounts to login, and this gives them access to a Microsoft Office 365 service which includes all the Microsoft apps (Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc…) and cloud storage.

Google Apps is also easy to access through Chrome which is just a small installation away.

All the major companies offer laptops such as this (Dell, Lenovo, HP) and so far we’ve had very few complaints (if any at all) from students using them.

At this year level we recommend nothing larger than a 13″ screen, and the 64gig Hard Drive and around 4gig of RAM should more than suffice for the applications the students will use in Years 5-8. (even Years 9-12…but we’ll talk about that next)

My next device – Years 9-12

Now is the time to start thinking about your next four year device, and what kind of area your child is going to specialise in.

Each of the pro’s and cons in the devices listed in the Year 5-8 section still apply here, with only a single addition:

Laptops

There are a variety of laptops on offer, and they begin to offer the freedom for students to install their own software and more powerful versions of tablet or web based systems they have been using.

The same guidelines apply for laptops as they do for any other device: 5 to 6 hour battery life, WPA2 Enterprise compliant, but the good thing is that they will be compatible with Google Apps for Education since you can easily download the Chrome browser, or run it in any other browser.

One of the most common laptops we’ve seen used at school is the Macbook Air or Pro line, however Windows laptops have come a long way in recent years and are also on the rise in our population.

The Macbook Air

Available in the 11 or 13 inch screen, the Macbook Air has been an excellent device for students to use. Sporting a 10 hour battery life, fast hard drive which boots up quickly, and a range of in built software for media creation/editing and document creation, the only con is the price.

In addition to the cost, you’d also be wanting to get the upgraded warranty, a laptop bag and possibly a case for the device as well, and a portable USB3 hard drive for any large media files the student maybe working with…but the Air should easily last the full four years of it’s use through High School and College.

The Macbook Pro has all the advantages of an Air, however it’s processor is much more powerful. The Pro is the recommended device for Digital Media/Photography/Film students. The Air can perform the same function as the pro, it will just render files slower.

What about the Windows Laptops?

Various PC Laptops available such as Acer, HP or Lenovo devices will also work. A newer Windows 10 device should have the same functionality as the Macbook laptops, and some will have touchscreen functionality as well if that is a preference.

With the multitude of devices out there, the minimum specifications you should be looking at are between 4 and 8 gig of Ram and an Intel Core i5 processor (or the equivalent)

The only exception to this is students who are intending on doing the Game Design courses in both High School and College, and Digital Media classes in Photoshop and the Adobe suite. These students should consider devices with a minimum 8 – 16 gig of RAM and also look at the costs for the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. The Adobe suite is available on school computers but students will need copies if they intend on continuing their work outside of school hours.

What else do I need?

Not much else.

Remember, this technology is expensive, even if you only purchase it once every four years. Ideally you want the device to last the distance, so investing in carry bags, protective cases/shells, extra warranty and reinforcing good behaviours with your child will help with that.

Software is the next big question we get, and also one where the answer differs between classes.

The good news is that each student in a Directorate school gets access to both Google Apps for Education which has email, single use or collaborative documents, spreadsheets and slideshows (which can be downloaded into their Microsoft formats), and 30gig of cloud storage.

Students ALSO get 5 free copies of the Microsoft Office suite, which includes Word, Excel and Powerpoint. These copies can be installed on five separate devices and only require the students School ID and Password to login.

So, the majority of the software the students will need already comes pre-installed on these devices, including movie/music making software and image manipulation software on the Apple devices. Anything else the students need will depend on the electives they study, if it’s not web based and accessible to everyone.