Not All Devices Are Created Equal


There are so many things to consider when implementing a BYOD plan. For example, where would devices rank in importance in the following list?

  • Curriculum design.
  • Training for staff and students (most schools forget that students also need training).
  • Communicating with staff, students and parents.
  • Should you filter web content or trust the students?
  • Which platform / apps will we allow?
  • How do we manage the equality debate – will students be disadvantaged if they do not have access to higher performing machines?
  • Which device best supports learning?

Did you rank device choice in the top four or bottom four?

If you ranked your device selection in the bottom four, chances are your BYOD plan will not achieve what you hope it to achieve.

If you ranked device selection in the top four, what metrics do you use to determine which device is best?

Incidentally, all of the above elements are necessary for a well-delivered plan (we have templates and training covering all these areas in our Digital Leadership For Learning Program).

When it comes to choosing the device that best supports learning, we need to understand that all devices are not created equal.

Whilst this is the case for processing speed, screen size, etc. we need to dig deeper than that when it comes to effectively using technology to enhance learning.

I was speaking with a school this week about their BYOD plans. They were unsure whether they should recommend a device to parents, or just let the families decide. To me, this should be an easy one to solve. When was the last time you asked your parents for advice on the best way to translate a syllabus into a program?

Most schools would not ask their parents for advice on how to teach, yet schools put the decision in the hands of the parents as to which device best supports learning. This makes no sense! Parents do not understand pedagogy, nor should they. It is not their role to understand how to teach, therefore they are not in a position to offer an expert opinion.

Sometimes school leaders feel that because they will be asking for parents to purchase the device, that they should involve them in the process. This is not the case. Your role as educators is to educate the parents on which device best supports their child’s learning. When you take the time to educate the parents, you will find that you will have less resistance, more clarity, and greater levels of buy in.

So, how do you decide which device best supports learning? To begin with, schools need to have a solid understanding on how devices will intersect with their teaching practice.

Does the majority of the work your students complete occur online or offline? If you have great connectivity at your school, and a high percentage of your students have access to internet at home, you may want to settle for a solution that includes Google Drive and chrome apps and extensions. Google will enable you to work offline, but the majority of chrome apps and extensions still need internet to function.

The advantage of a web-based experience is that device becomes less important. Processor speed, RAM and harddrive space become less of a determining factor. The price of device is usually lower which can negate the equity gap between students. One student might have a new Mac and another a chromebook, but their web experience will be much the same.

If you need offline capability, a PC might be a better choice. Microsoft have great online and offline capabilities. There are a number of cheaper devices on the market now, which has added to the confusion of schools that were making purchasing decisions mainly based on cost.

If you are looking at individual machines where sharing and collaboration are less important, an iPad may be a good choice. Although many schools are moving away from iPads now as they are finding them too limiting and they do not work well across platforms.

But you have heard and read all this before. Let’s get beyond minimum specifications for screen size and processing speed, and consider what the minimum specifications for learning should be.
Which device promotes thinking, problem solving and learning, not just note taking? The following question has been asked at every BYOD launch I have attended: “Will my child still learn to write with a pen?”

I am yet to hear a teacher say that writing is a 20th Century skill and no longer relevant in the modern classroom. We all understand that the ability to write is a necessary skill that aides in learning. So are our students’ abilities to think and learn reduced when using a keyboard?

Recently, a number of researchers have been exploring the power of the pen in learning. One of the most talked about researchers in this space is Sharon Oviatt. In her book The Design of Future Educational Interfaces, Sharon found that when a stylus pen was used in conjunction with a device, there was a 9–38 per cent improvement in the students’ ability to produce ideas, solve problems correctly, and make accurate inferences about information. That should get our attention.

Another research project by Mueller and Oppenheimer found that when you type notes, you tend to transcribe what is being said rather than processing and annotating the lesson. They found that this leads to a decrease in retention of information.

Interestingly, Mueller and Oppenheimer found that even when warning people that taking notes on a keyboard had this effect, and giving them explicit instructions not to transcribe the lesson and instead write their thoughts in their own words, it had no effect in increasing information retention.

Does this mean that we should only consider devices that have pen functionality? I do not think the research shows that. There are lots of instances where a keyboard would be the best fit in a classroom.

For younger students, a stylus pen may not be necessary as they are still using books and not yet writing their own summaries. Your school might just be starting off on its technology journey and would be happy if your teachers could effectively achieve at a substitution level in the SAMR model. If this is the case, a pen experience might be a consideration for your next suggested purchasing option.

The point is, when it comes to the question of which device best supports and enhances learning, the discussion must include factors beyond cost and form.
Once you have grappled with this question, the other issues at the top of this article become easier to navigate. Your curriculum design becomes easier, your communication becomes clearer, and your training becomes more focussed.

So what device best supports learning? I would like to hear your thoughts. You can email me at

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Mike Reading

Mike Reading

Founder and Leader Trainer at Using Technology Better
Mike Reading is a former teacher who now consults with schools on designing and delivering sustainable ICT strategies. Mike is well known for delivering professional development for teachers in a way that is enjoyed, not endured. As Australia and New Zealand’s only Google Certified Teacher and Trainer, and Microsoft Master Educator, Mike brings a unique perspective to his work with educators. He can be contacted at

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