Device Agnostic

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Most schools that are 1:1 are stuck on the idea of buying all their devices as one brand. For example, schools tend to buy all Lenovo laptops or all MacBooks etc. Let’s look at the reasons why this happens: buying the same brand devices for the school creates consistency and efficiency for IT departments who manage the devices as well as ease of teaching for teachers who may span various division levels (elementary, middle or high school).

I believe that limiting our students’ exposure to only one type of device and one operating system, we consequently limit their potential to explore and innovate using various interfaces. Every type of device has it’s own set of advantages thus innovation through technology can happen in a variety of ways (but we would not know this if we were limited to just one type of device). For example, an Apple device is effective for multi-media editing but a Windows devices would be better for programming.

The long term effects of a 1:1 program with exposure to only one brand are that students entering higher education or the workforce are limited in their ability to navigate various types of user interfaces and are less adaptable to changing technology. They may also develop brand loyalty without real cause or reason but simply because they are accustomed to one type of device.

As educators and technologists, we want our future generation of adults to be tech savvy and to innovate without being hindered by their lack of experience with interfaces and operating systems. We want these future adults to not be daunted by new types of devices, pick up any type of devices and be able to apply their skills to navigate it with ease and learn it’s particular intricacies. This can be accomplished by meaningfully and thoughtfully introducing students to a variety of tools throughout their time in school. I have created a program where students use iPads, Chromebooks, ThinkPads and Macbook Pros as they progress from Kindergarten to Grade 12. The manner in which the devices were chosen was based on (but not limited by) age/stage appropriateness, device capability, workload, type of work and durability.

Instead of saying “we are an Apple school” or “we are a Windows school”, we say “we are a device and platform agnostic school”. I work towards student fluency with all types of devices to benefit their current and future technology use. It is important for us to help students develop their own informed opinions about various user interfaces as well as be able to acknowledge the benefits and limitations of various operating systems and hardware. This will help them make wise choices about the “right” device for their needs as well as know how to utilize each type of device based on its unique advantages.

The challenge of a device agnostic program are that teachers who are accustomed to using one type of device or operating system find changes to their device challenging to navigate. A great deal of stress and difficulty in work flow can be eliminated by frequent professional development before, during and after the roll out of a new devices.

Urvi Shah

2 thoughts on “Device Agnostic

  1. The arguments are convincing in many respects Urvi but I have 3 issues to raise:
    1) The demands on the technical staff and indeed the infrastructure are greater with such diversity of platforms catered for. For example, trying to organise accounts and access to a school network from Chromebooks requires knowledge and admin of a completely separate system than say Windows environment. Does this increase staffing cost, therefore, or at least require skilling up of existing staff?
    2) If one element of schooling is to prepare young people for employment (a contentious point I know) then how many organisations would be device agnostic? I know BYOD is becoming more popular in businesses but with limitations. It is often not full BYOT. Hence, does this approach really prepare students for the realities?
    3) Surely, the issue is what is taught and how it is taught rather than focusing on the tool for delivery. If not agnostic, should a school really care? After all, the technology in use for the average primary age kid, will it really be the same or similar by the time they leave school?

  2. Hi guys,
    I can speak to both sides of this debate. As IT director, we spend most of our time fixing BYOD machines as opposed to the mandated notebook for Year 7-10. From a business perspective, this drains resources and takes staff away from in class support and education. It also impacts licensing as not all software platforms are device agnostic. We have to run virtual machines on our Macs for staff and students so that they can access some PC only content. This adds another level of cost. Then there is the cost of running two/three device management platforms.

    With all that being said, from an education point of view, I believe in device agnostic solutions. Browser based or multi platform apps are making life much easier and will continue to grow. Learning the architecture of a few devices has merit but it does come at a cost. Is it adaptable learners that we want to develop or developed learners?

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