Today’s post was brought to you by the Microsoft Education Partner Advisory Council
After establishing your IT foundation and long-term plan (see: How to protect school data and uphold access policies), you’ll need to select your organization’s devices and find effective ways to manage them. Carefully controlling network access from non-school-owned personal computers and phones is essential to maintaining a healthy computing environment for your school. Prioritize solutions that enable you to easily create and maintain the systems that are most appropriate to the requirements of your unique user base.
Identify key scenarios and potential hardware options
It’s a constant challenge to match your school’s hardware selection and purchasing budgets to current user needs and patterns of activity. With shared machines, for example, the hours of service can be constant, intermittent, or there can be long periods of disuse.
Most schools look for machine durability, longevity and reliability, as well as specific features like connectivity methods, memory and storage capacity, and processing speed. Take some time to define and directly address the scenarios that matter most to your students, staff and educators to get the maximum benefit from hardware investments.
Modern teaching methods often require more hardware support. There are proven benefits to the newer hardware-specific features, such as touch screens, inking, the ability to zoom in and out of content with a simple hand motion, real-time whiteboarding, 3D printers and video conferencing with remote speakers and students.
Identifying your unique user requirements
Memory and network capacity requirements vary widely, depending on tasks and user roles, yet the needs for device configuration often center around a few primary use cases: educator tasks (like lesson planning and class administration), early learner and grade-school student activities, creative user demands, productivity (middle school through higher education and staff), and developer use. Familiarize yourself with the latest device models and product roadmaps to determine what combination of features will work best for your user requirements.
Many school-appropriate devices today are designed to work best with a particular operating system or application. Look for solutions with built-in assistive learning tools that help students of all abilities to absorb more instruction and perform better on tests. Rate the features on importance to your users, from visual changes and audio that help students take in more at a faster rate, to accessibility checkers and collaboration options.
“Two years ago we asked our teachers and students try other platforms and devices to see which worked best in the classroom. The result was our teachers and students universally wanted to remain with Windows because it provided the best overall learning experience. Windows 10 on Surface and HP devices enable our teachers and students to achieve great learning outcomes.”
– Marianthe Williams, Director of Technology, River Dell Regional School District
Cost and manageability
Initial pricing is one of the most-discussed aspects of any IT change initiative or device purchase. It’s not the only factor that predicts success, though. Annual expected costs, machine replacements, the effort and duration of deployment, training needs and the cost of ongoing hardware and software support are also important factors to consider.
The cost of a machine can be prohibitive for schools or parents, so many institutions define policies around sharing the burden. There are many purchasing models to consider, from school-owned devices such as classroom A/V, to personal computers such as laptops, tablets and smart phones.
Ownership of the laptop, both during use and after its life cycle is complete, must be clearly documented in advance. Look for management tools that enable quick options for reimaging or reprovisioning machines at the end of your school year, such as ‘push-button reset’ functionality. Support channels should also be well-understood before they are needed.
Securing your school computers and network
With the significant benefits of web-based communication come new risks, such as code from outside software publishers running on school hardware. Computing devices, especially mobile phones, are highly vulnerable to theft and loss. So is the personally identifiable information on them about the user, their habits, and their contacts. Some 63 percent of security breaches involve weak or stolen passwords. Look for a system that lets you reset machines remotely with a web-based interface, so you can quickly protect the data in case of machine loss.
Many education technology solutions now offer cloud-based management tools that help your organization protect all the devices connected to your network. Secure mobile device management (MDM) is much easier when you use administrative tools and services that automatically enroll devices and set policies based on user groups and permissions.
Consider the benefits of automating your most common security-related tasks, whether it’s assisting users with access issues, setting policies, reimaging devices, or deciding which trusted software apps to run on your client machines. Administrative tools that support user groups make it much easier to perform management tasks such as assigning application licenses, or granting permissions to many users or devices at once. By using a solution that presents only approved services and apps to each user or user group, you can better control the network health and traffic levels and save time on support.
Impact on learning outcomes
The effectiveness of instruction and administration at every level starts with the quality and appropriateness of selected devices. It’s essential to get the most value possible from device purchases. Today’s devices include special capabilities, including touch screens, digital inking, 3D and virtual reality. Research suggests many of these advances speed up learning and sharing of knowledge significantly.
“Using the pen, students produced 56% more non-linguistic content (diagrams, symbols, numbers) which led to 9-38% improvement in performance.”
– Sharon Oviatt, Educator/Researcher
The interaction between the durability of the device itself, the hardware features, the impact of the apps and services with highest usage, and the health of the network environments in which the devices are used, is often complex. Your IT solution should help you understand and manage these factors, so you can deliver the highest-quality and most consistent user experience possible within your school or district’s budget.
“Microsoft OneNote and Windows tablets have had a huge impact on learning and instruction in my classroom. They have also given me the ability to save students’ work and share it with their parents, so they can see what their child is doing in the classroom and how they are progressing toward their IEP goals.”
– Alexis Parker, Special Education Teacher, K–5 school, Florida
“We are using Windows 10, Office 365, and SharePoint on teacher’s devices which are connected to interactive whiteboards. This has enabled our teachers to share information with school leadership while providing great interactive learning experiences in their classrooms.“
– Stavros Skenter, CIO Avgoulea Linardatou School, Greece
- Find affordable Windows devices
- Discover Microsoft Education products and services
- Windows resources for IT pros in educational environments
- How to deploy Microsoft Education videos
- Microsoft Education setup and management landing page
- Microsoft Education School Stories
For more advice on setting up your digital classroom, see Part 3 of this series: How to deploy school technology that works for everyone.