Building a sustainable and student-centered device program: focus on outcomes rather than the device
Student device programs have become ubiquitous among independent schools with many of them in a second or even third iteration of the device being used. As device features and availability change rapidly, schools must be extremely thoughtful about choosing a policy for a device that students may be using for two, three, or even four years.
I would like to share some of my thoughts and conversation points at McLean School that are shaping a proposal for a device policy for the upper school and a framework to continue our 1:1 program in the lower and middle schools.
We believe that a device policy should be informed by both curricular and technology frameworks in mind. By understanding the skills and outcomes the McLean School community strives to develop in and achieve from our students, we can begin to identify devices that are best suited for this. Various features of a device can enable certain workflows and the creation of impactful learning artifacts.
Such features include a forward-facing camera, physical vs. virtual keyboard, quality of available styli, quality of built-in text-to-speech and speech-to-text features, and access to an “app store” with software that further enables workflows available on the device. These features then need to be leveraged mindfully and intentionally in a classroom. Otherwise, a $1300 MacBook would not yield any more value in a classroom than a $250 Chromebook.
Many resources are now web-based (open in a web browser) rather than requiring installation of programs onto the device. The benefit of this is that the user interface and experience is common despite what compatible device they might be using (e.g. Windows devices, Macs, Chromebooks). Again, by understanding the outcomes our community desires from the classroom, we can begin to identify a suitable device policy that meets our needs.
We then need to couple the curricular framework with our ability to effectively manage the devices to limit administrative burdens and overall financial and personnel costs. Not all devices can be managed the same way; iPads, Chromebooks, MacBooks, Windows devices, and the other types of devices currently available on the market all offer different management software and capabilities for an institution.
In addition, as more and more electronic resources online move to a subscription base, we also need to be able to manage account credentials and software licenses for our community. We know that no matter how useful a particular software solution might be, if people cannot easily access the desired features or easily log in from one of multiple devices they might be using, overall implementation and use will be minimal. Features such as single sign-on (SSO) that allows users to use a single account ID and password to access multiple services (e.g. many of our services uses Google’s SSO capabilities) and ability to transfer license seats between students and classes based on needs are criteria that we use to evaluate tools and software we choose to approve and deploy at McLean School.
We know that you already utilize various strategies and tools to differentiate instruction and to meet the needs of each of our students. We want technology to be another tool you can leverage to help our students meet their potentials.
The Academic Program Department (APD) at McLean School is uniquely leveraged (compared to more traditional IT departments at other institutions) to collaborate directly with teachers to support classroom practices and using this experience to influence technology implementation and deployment decisions at the school. Each of us has a desire to support teachers and students and understand the daily challenges in and out of the classroom. We want technology to be an effective pedagogical tool and not an interference. On that end, we welcome all opportunities to meet and discuss needs and concerns.
At the same time, we ask you to be open-minded about how devices and software can be effective tools in your classroom both to increase learning outcomes and to support the skills our students need to develop in order to be productive and competitive. We understand that changes in your classroom can be challenging; members of the APD are able and willing to work with you directly in the classroom to support you and your students.