What Is a Student Device?

In 1998, the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA), who was spending over $1 billion per year in textbooks, commissioned a study on what would it take to provide an electronic device for every student in the state. The conclusion of the study is that when a student device costs no more than $300, the state could shift to electronic digital content rather than textbooks. Over the last year, I have worked with two school districts to look at what it would take to use existing funds and provide a computing device for every student. We looked at the reallocation of annual textbook funds, a portion of the technology refresh funds, applying Title 1 funds to pre-K-3 devices and Perkins funds to business devices in HSs. We also accounted for a subscription to a complete digital curriculum and content from another school district who went digital 12 years ago and charges only $6 per student per year as license to their complete digital content. With student devices ranging in $250 to $300 in price, those districts could make a complete shift to a digital curriculum and provide a computing device for every student.

The district would have to come up with a one-time lump sum, though smaller than we expected, to help trigger the transition and phase the changeover across a number of years. Once they arrive at the one-to-one ratio, the annual allocations were sufficient to refresh those devices once every four to five years. The TEA study was right on the money with their conclusions!

We also visited the concept of what is a “student device.” We went to the new curriculum adopted in their states, the Common Core Standards (adopted by 45 of the 50 states), and took a look at the expected student learning experience. We also looked at the technology activities embedded in those student learning experiences. We also looked at the district applications, which students would need to interface with. As a last item, we looked at what the testing consortium their state would be working with, in both cases the PARCC, to determine what technology skills students would need to participate in their online tests.

We concluded that students would need a device that connects via Wi-Fi to read e-book (or something similar) and PDF files, communicate via email, search the web and use some type of personal productivity application suite (word processing, spreadsheet, graphics/drawings and presentation). We expected the personal productivity suite to be one of the cloud based products: Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365. We also found that starting with fifth grade students, they would need to write a couple of paragraphs as part of their assessment. That created the question of when do we start teaching students
keyboarding skills?

We also concluded that virtually everything the typical student would need to do could be done using a web browser. The number of student learning activities requiring a full blown computer with local applications is few and far between, concentrating more in the high school grade levels. What that meant is the student device we would use for distributing and providing a digital curriculum could be the device students used for the majority of their learning activities. The one condition is that starting with third grade students, the device would need to have a keyboard. We also looked at a number of tablets and felt that the screen needed to be no smaller than a 10-inch diagonal.

As you review today’s marketplace, there are quite few devices that meet those criteria. Unfortunately, most of the 10-inch or larger tablets with some type of cover and keyboard do not fall below the $300 price point. I suspect that they will eventually get there. Among the tablets, the Google Nexus, Sony Reader, Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD met all of the criteria and would work well for the pre-K-2 grade levels. As far as providing a student computing device with a keyboard for grades 3-12, the Chromebook devices from Samsung, ASUS and Lenovo (there are many more coming) are available at $250 or less.

The districts agreed that a web browser-based student device costing $300, tablets for lower grades and Chromebook for the other grade levels, was the direction they would head. When they started really looking at budgets and how a $250 device affected them, they were pleasantly surprised at what happened with their student to computing device ratios. 

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at [email protected].

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