At Sparkjar we advocate a standardised one-to-one device provision as the optimum device strategy for schools. In this post I will lay out why.
In ‘How new generation edtech is transforming schools’, our founder James Carroll previously outlined the full ‘tech stack’ schools need to consider in an effective digital strategy. To summarise, the tech stack we are talking about is:
Sparkjar covers the teaching and learning Platform level of the tech stack. The Platform’s number one job is to support the Content level of actual teaching and learning activities.
Each level in the tech stack relies on those below. As the Content relies on the Platform, the Platform in turn relies on the Device level. It’s that Device level I’m going to focus on now, by examining the options for schools regarding device strategy.
Option 1: No device policy or provision
Without any clear device strategy or policy students are very much left to their own devices (no pun intended). Teachers cannot rely on whether students have an appropriate device, whether that device is a phone, tablet, laptop etc etc, or whether it is safe and secure. As a result, teachers cannot sensibly use any digital platform with any measure of consistency, inclusivity or online safety.
Option 2: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies
BYOD policies put the responsibility for device provision with students and families. There are a few different versions of BYOD policies as follows:
An optional BYOD policy carries very similar issue to having no strategy or policy.
Mandatory BYOD: unspecified device-type
Mandatory BYOD policies with an unspecified device-type achieve a major initial milestone which is that every student has a device. It’s also on face-value cheaper than other ways of achieving this. However, it has some very serious downsides indeed which mean that in practice it should be avoided.
The security of devices cannot be assured unless the school takes control of and manages the device settings, which is unlikely to be practical with a wide range of devices which students are also using personally.
Imagine yourself (if you are not already) as a teacher whose students all use different devices. Each action you direct students to do works differently on each device. Many apps will work on one device but not another. Each device throws up various unique technical problems. Many IT support professionals would struggle to support such a range of devices, let alone teachers who are not professionally trained to do so.
Mandatory BYOD: standardised device-type
This variant of a BYOD policy requires every student to have a particular type of device.
There are then two options for how this type of policy operates. The devices may be managed entirely by students, in which case they will not be adequately secured and protected. Alternatively, the school may enrol the devices and manage their settings and security. If this second option is used, this effectively means the policy has become the same as one-to-one provision with standardised device-type, just with students and families footing the bill and responsible for purchasing and maintaining the devices.
Shared device sets provision
The majority of devices in schools at present are sets of shared devices, mostly as class sets which are used with one class for one lesson and then with another class for another. Shared sets, assuming they are configured and managed appropriately, overcome security and safety concerns because the school is in control.
The chief downside with shared device sets is that they are only realising a fraction of the potential benefits of the devices themselves.
Shared sets are very often only wheeled out occasionally and spend a lot of time sitting in cupboards. Because they are used infrequently, students and particularly teachers do not get full acclimatised and comfortably with using them. As a result, teachers then use them less, creating a vicious circle of diminishing returns. Most of the time teachers and students will be operating within the same conditions as having no policy or provision described previously above.
Option 3: One-to-one device provision
In one-to-one device provision, every student and every teacher has a school-provided, school-managed device.
One-to-one device provision: mixed device provision
Providing mixed device-types is always going to incur a significantly greater level of complexity, resource and cost for a school to manage than standardised devices. It also creates unnecessary complexity for staff and students alike.
There are two types of situations where mixed device-type provision can tend to occur. The first is that a school has a number of devices which were procured at an earlier time – perhaps for example as part of one of the government schemes, or class sets that they procured themselves – but the school then subsequently wants to go down a one-to-one provision route using a different device-type. In these circumstances we would suggest starting with what a school wants to achieve and working backwards from there. So if the school wants to put a one-to-one device programme in place, and wants those device to be standardised, the question to solve then becomes what to do with the other existing devices. Solutions might include selling devices, part-trading them with the hardware supplier providing the new programme, collaborating with another school to swap devices, or negotiating with the government scheme.
The second type of situation where schools can end up with mixed devices is where they have decided that one type of device is appropriate for one age group and one for another. This is a particularly common argument to hear in all-through schools. On one level this argument does have some merits; there are certainly some types of devices which would be appropriate for older secondary school and college students which would be highly inappropriate to give younger primary-age learners. However, there is another much better solution to this issue which we will look at in a separate blog post; select a device which is powerful enough for college students but simple enough for the youngest primary and even early years children so that the whole school is using one consistent type of device.
No rational school starting from scratch with devices should provide the same age group with mixed types of devices. Doing so would be to incur a level of complexity of managing and supporting the different device-types which would inordinately increase resources and costs needed to manage the programme.
One-to-one provision: standardised device provision
Standardised one-to-one device provision, where schools provide each student with the same type of school-managed device, is the gold standard of device strategy. We believe it is also the inevitable future of education, and that in coming years all schools will eventually move to this model.
One-to-one devices replace exercise books and textbooks. This has an environmental paper and space saving affect, but the biggest advantage is the accessibility of learning materials. All the work a student has ever produced, as well as the materials and resources from all the lessons they have ever done can be contained on one small portable device for instant access. We are not anti-paper or anti-books and believe they will still always have a place too, just that that place is set to change and reduce dramatically.
Alongside replacing paper-based methods, digital devices of course do so while simultaneously integrating the virtually infinite source of information and learning that is the internet. Browsers, search engines and Wikipedia unlock a world of information which the encyclopaedias of the past could only dream of.
Even standard basic free software should allow students with devices to as a very minimum type, handwrite, read, draw, annotate, design, calculate, research, photograph, record (audio or video), present and more. And this is before even considering the benefits of more specific programmes and applications; the breadth of such programmes is inexhaustible.
Not only do we believe one-to-one devices are the future of the classroom, they are also the future of work. By acclimatising students to using devices consistently through their education, we give students the best chance to excel in the workplace in the future.
The digital natives who are the current generation of students understand these arguments already, and their and their parents’ expectations of technology at school are shifting rapidly. Their demands for education technology fit for 21st century learning are only going to get louder. Standardised one-to-one device provision is the only way schools can truly get above the curve of these expectations.
Standardised device-type provision makes managing those devices very significantly easier for schools on multiple levels including in terms of: IT support and device management; consistency for teachers, students and parents; and oversight for leaders. This greater ease positively impacts cost, time and resource spend, but also actual teaching and learning.
One of the biggest arguments for one-to-one provision is about fairness and equality of access. In the state sector in particular, there can be enormous divergence between the technology that different students have access to. This is what has in recent years been dubbed ‘the digital divide’. Government schemes, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, have sought to address these to an extent (though far from perfectly). True equality in either the state or independent sectors will never be fully achieved until schools put one-to-one programmes in place.
Finally, although at the time of writing (March 2021), school leaders’ attention has swung very much back to face-to-face education, one-to-one device provision gives enormously enhanced resilience to any future disruptions to education – whether related to Covid-19 (e.g. new local or national lockdowns related to new variants), or something else such as a school buildings issue, snow day, or something else entirely unpredicted. With the right software, schools can switch almost instantly to remote or hybrid teaching whenever needed. In lockdown 1.0 a year ago in March 2020 (i.e. with no advanced warning), our Sparkjar schools with one-to-one devices switched instantly to full teaching timetables including exams.
Schools may believe that one-to-one programmes are out of reach financially, but this is mostly a perception from a distance without the full facts of how cost-effective devices have now become. Personal devices are a much better fit for the IT needs of and expectations of today than clunky old clusters of desktop PCs. We would encourage schools to keep an open mind and at the very least to inform themselves of the actual costs. We can put schools in touch with trusted hardware partners to do just this, so if you would like to investigate this for your school, just drop us a line at email@example.com.
For a visual overview of some of the key arguments for one-to-one devices, enter your email address here:
Stayed tuned for my next post which will look at different types of devices – the good, the bad and ugly – and explain why we believe iPad to be the best choice of device for education.
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