Making choices: How to select the best devices for your school in the new era of digital learning

While 2013 has just begun, many schools – namely those in the northern hemisphere – are well into budget season, and are preparing in earnest for next year’s school season. As we all know, schools are being asked to do more with less and adding the challenge of choosing the right technology mix, and deciding on the best devices for your school can be a daunting albeit important task.

Where do you start? First, we know that technology alone does not improve student outcomes. Even in this new era of digital learning, I believe it is best to look at systemic change — curriculum design, assessment, school leadership, teacher capacity and learning environments — before turning to technology. Only after holistic change has been achieved can technology live up to its potential to serve students and educators.

That said, I also understand the urgency of making decisions in budget season, and choosing devices can be a big piece of that decision. Before you decide, you’ll want to ask a few key questions: How do you best meet the needs of your students and drive positive educational outcomes? What devices will prepare them for the creative and collaborative workforce they’ll ultimately join? Could the devices be more distracting than instructive – and if so, what tools are available to ensure students are using them productively? Do they run the software necessary to crunch data, write papers, edit photos, collaborate with others and tie it all together in a presentation? Then the question remains, do they fit in your budget?

Today there are countless devices for schools that range from those that are good at doing just one thing to those that promise to do everything. So it’s easy to see why choosing the best device for your school can be confusing. To help you in your decision making process, here are 10 things to think about as you weigh all the options:

1. Choice: Choice and competition drive innovation, lower prices, improve service and ultimately customer satisfaction. It’s very important for schools to understand they do have a choice when it comes to devices and they should be wary of getting locked into a single type of device or a single hardware provider.

2. Total Cost of Ownership: The cost of the device is only one of many expenses when it comes to deploying hundreds – if not thousands – of devices across a school system. You’ll need to consider training, support, maintenance and more. Look for devices that deliver the best overall performance for the price.

3. Compatibility and Interoperability: Is the device compatible with your school’s existing devices, software or backend systems? Will you need to buy entirely new hardware, software and system software, just for the new devices? Will existing content work on the new device? Do your homework before you buy.

4. Security and Privacy: The security and privacy of your students is perhaps the most important consideration when purchasing new devices. The reality is that software gets hacked every day and then it needs to get fixed. The best bet is to go with a device manufacturer and software maker that you trust.

5. Manageability: Will your students be taking devices home? The ability to manage devices on and off school premises is a very important consideration. While social media and games are an important part in technology today, it’s necessary to be able to manage what your students do during the school day.

6. Productivity and Employability: Can teachers and students multi-task between applications, have windows open side-by-side when doing research, and easily cut, paste and print with the device? Are your students more comfortable typing on a keyboard or using a stylus? Does the device run industry-standard, powerful applications such as the Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop? These are all key considerations.

7. Partners and Partner Ecosystems: Think about the software your students will use, what books your students will read, what assessments your students will take, what learning management systems your school will run on, what printers and smart whiteboards and microscopes… and the list goes on and on. Make sure you know the education partners that work alongside your device hardware and software to maximize your device’s productivity.

8. Durability and Quality: Schools can be tough places for fancy devices. Think about how many computers, mice, and keyboards a school goes through in a year. Remember that devices in schools get thrown in backpacks, dropped on the playground and used and abused on a daily – if not hourly – basis. Whatever device you choose needs to be designed to withstand the real-world environment of your school.

9. Training and Support: What’s the point of educational technology if the teachers, students and administrators don’t know how to use it? While the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network is a fantastic place for shared lesson plans, technology best practices, curriculum and more, also consider the initial training and ongoing support you’ll get from the device manufacturer.

10. Accessibility and Language Support: Any device you chose for your school must work for students that need multiple – and sometimes non-traditional – ways to input and consume information. Make sure your device has features that empower and enable people with disabilities to do things they couldn’t do before.

At Microsoft, we believe technology implemented into classrooms correctly inspires and motivates students and empowers teachers to grow a global workforce ready to compete. We also believe technology solutions – whether you’re breathing new life into older PCs with software upgrades or purchasing new devices – ought to be as unique as the teachers and students in each classroom.

That’s why I’m so excited about Windows 8 devices. They come in a variety of shapes, form factors and price points to meet every learning challenge and budget requirement. But they all work to help teachers teach and students learn, get engaged and be inspired.

In the coming months, you can expect to hear more from me about why Windows 8, as well as teaming with Microsoft as your preferred technology partner, may be the right choice for your school – for these reasons, and many more.

Comments (3)

  1. Jeff Donley says:

    I'm really excited by the new W8 tablet technology, especially the Surface tablets.  I would like these to be a good alternative to the folks clamoring for iPads.  To make this be the case, in addition to a full pallet of student/teacher apps, a big differentiator from the iPad would be the fact that these devices fit easily into our already robust AD infrastructure, including software deployments, authentication, resource mapping, etc.  However it is my understanding that to really be limited to the Surface Pro instead of Surface RT.  From a pricing comparison, the Surface RT more closely competes with the iPad, so we have little leverage to suggest the Surface as an alternative to an iPad.  Anything you can share on this direction (maybe I'm misinformed as to the RT limitations).

    Jeff Donley

    Director of IS

    Mukilteo School District, WA

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  3. Question says:

    Great article. I believe institutions are better at estimating total cost of ownership but can have trouble with the aspects of training and support.

    Mr. Salcito, I know you worked in Puerto Rico for Microsoft Education. I was wondering if you knew who I could contact now in the Puerto Rico office. I can be reached at

    Thank you

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