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EdTech Update




« How wide does the digital divide need to be? | Main | End of rational thought? »

Specs for student devices

I would argue that 1:1 means immediate, constantly available Internet access for all. I don’t particularly care if that comes from a smartphone, a tablet, an iPod Touch, or a Nook. The major consideration in this is whether your learning platform of choice can be accessed with high fidelity on whatever devices you either choose or allow. Blackboard, for example, offers full-featured apps for Android and iOS, as well as the standard Web interface. Christopher Dawson

In the near future, I believe our district will put a SCD on the school supply list. SCD? Student Connectivity Device. My acroymn - sounds better than IED - Individual Educational Device. As much as I have longed for our district to initiate a 1:1 laptop project, I just don't think it is either feasible budget-wise or maybe even the right thing to do given state educational funding realities. Instead, let's find ways to promote, even require, SCDs.

What schools can do is clearly outline the capacities SCDs need to have in order for students to participate fully in instructional activities and use school-provided instructional materials. Here might be a start on a short list of those capabilities.

The device your child needs to access and use district resources must:


  • an 802.11x wireless networking access
  • a virus protection program
  • a color screen
  • an onscreen or external keyboard or other means of entering text
  • an audio port for earbuds or headphones
  • 4 hour battery life
  • have a full functioning, recent web browser (Firefox, Explorer, Chrome, Safari) that will allow it to access GoogleApps for Education tools and documents, the Infinite Campus student portal, Moodle2.0, the state of Minnesota's ELM content databases, and the Destiny library catalog


  • either internal or external data storage capabilities (USB port for flash drive or an internal storage)
  • ability to run Flash
  • machine-based productivity software (Office, Open Office, iWork) for off-line use

This should give families a lot of flexibility - smartphones with about any OS, netbooks, iPods/iPads, e-books, or a full-sized laptop (new or dad's old one), should do the job.

How would you feel if this showed up on your child's student supply list?

And what, my expert friends, should be added or can be dropped from my specs???

And how do homes and schools divide the responsibility for teaching the use of and technical support for SCDs?


Oh, I, along with I am sure a billion others, just applied to be a beta tester (with 19 other "volunteers" in my district) for the Chrome netbook. I am pretty excited since this ought to be a real contender for the inexpensive but functional dream device I've been pining for for years. See Disappointed Again from 2006

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Reader Comments (16)

What's the cost of having Flash? Running Flash might mean the difference between kids getting through the whole day on one battery charge and crapping out in the middle of 5th period. Flash on mobile devices is likely to degrade the overall performance and lead to more crashes and instability, more problems, and more support costs.

Now, you may need Flash for specific software the school is already using, but then it is a requirement. But if you don't need it, I wouldn't recommend it, and I wouldn't leave it hanging around on the big committee criteria checklist.

Also, who needs anti-virus software? And we really should be shooting for 8 hour battery life, not 4.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

And what about the digital divide?

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJude

Anti-virus software?

That suggestion seems to imply a recommendation for a particular operating system. :)

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Yeah, my question is the same as Jude's--what about students who qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch--will there be some sort of program to apply for help with getting this? I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea to add this to a school list--as students get into upper level classes, they already have to buy their own textbooks (sometimes) or expensive items like graphing calculators--but poor students will have to be taken into account.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLibby

Great post. Districts can add devices to the media center for check out just like a novel. check it out for 2 weeks and return it as needs. I don't care what device they use to surf the net as long and the teacher knows how to use the tool in/outside the classroom for learning.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Moz

My thinking was also about the digital divide. For one, our technology director won't allow students to have access to the wireless network at the school. But beside that, how would parents react to this? We deal with a number of parents who don't pay their child's lunch account and depend on snacks we have. It seems in theory it would work if we had more supportive parents, but I'm afraid these would be disregarded like all the other "must have" lists that go out (like AUP password forms they have to sign). But in a strong district, you still would have people falling through the cracks and unable to provide such.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob

The iPhone/Pad/Touch need to be excluded from your list if you need to run Flash Player, unless Steve Jobs and Adobe decide to make nice. As I can't think of a single interactive online ed app that doesn't use Flash (probably due to my sheltered existence), so as much as I love 'em, mini (crab?) Apple products need to be left at the altar unless they can make their way to Flash.

As so much of the expense in these little machines is in the productivity software, I'd make any program compatible with Open Office and other OS apps such as Gimp, not to mention free security & maintenance software for PC-users. You'll have to be dual-platform, as you'll never get 100% of any student population on one OS or the other. If your program is Google-Apps-useful, all the better.

As for Jude's comment, yes, let's not forget. For some families you might as well list "Escalade" for all the good it will do to simply add a digital device to the supply list. It's not just a matter of money, but of culture. While the cost of a good netbook can be less than that of a decent pair of basketball shoes, to shift family priorities such that it makes sense to supply their students with digital devices there needs to be a compelling argument for making that shift in the face of desperate financial constraints for many if not most American families right now. Broad community and media exposure for that vision, coupled with partnerships with local ISPs, and some sort of subsidy program would be very helpful. Even with that preparation, school districts will need to be prepared to supply some students with devices and school-based wireless connections. Promotions that promise student backpacks will no longer weigh 23 pounds thanks to digital books might be an effective start.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill Storm

Thanks for these ideas Doug -
I think the best way to deal with the digital divide - (which I agree with you is smaller than we think) is to have a set of ipod touches or ipads or other similar mobile devices available for checkout from the library / media center. Kids who don't have their own device borrow one for awhile - I also think some companies would be willing to set up purchase plans for families to obtain devise for their kids very reasonably - 'course there's always grants - get the community or local companies to sponsor the check out devices - or have the school have grants that students have to apply for to obtain one.
Great potential .

Thanks for helping us think outside the box.


December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Staal

Hi Tom,

I struggled with putting Flash on the list as well and wound up copping out by making it recommended rather than required. The problem as I see it at the current time is that a lot of online educational sites (especially games), require Flash. I am hoping in a couple years HTML5 will replace Flash on most websites. (I hadn't thought about the battery life issue - thanks.)

I just think anti-virus on machines running Windows or OSX is a given. I am curious to know why you think it should be optional!

On 4 vs 8 hour batteries, again, I am trying to keep this affordable. And I hope not every waking moment in school will be spent online!


Hi Jude,

An important question that I tried to address (as you know) here:


Hi Peter,

I think it implies that a multiplicity of OSs would work, including Windows.


Hi Libby,

See my response to Jude above.


Hi Jeff,

This is certainly one way to address the digital divide. But ask yourself if checking out textbooks would be as satisfactory a solution as making sure every child has one.

Oh, when we have tried this, kids without home Internet access weren't very impressed, and kids with home Internet access didn't need the service!


Hi Bob,

So we let the "non-supportive" parents set the bar for all parents? We don't provide anyone resources unless we can absolutely guarantee 100%?


Hi Bill,

I've heard, but not tried, 3rd party apps for the iOS that will allow it to run Flash. Your point was one of the reasons I made Flash support recommended but not required. See also my response to Tom Hoffman above.

Open Office would be highly recommended as well as other open source items. Again, this capacity was recommended rather than required. I am hoping GoogleGears will start working again!

I sincerely appreciate your observation on the digital divide - you are far more compassionate and in touch than I am. I quoted this comment in a latter post. Thanks for humbling me a little - I need it now and again.

All the very best and thank you,


Hi Tim,

I like the purchase plan idea. I will stubbornly insist that 1:1 is better than a check out program. As I explained above in my comments, we've not had a lot of luck with the checkout programs we've tried. I do see the library keeping some on hand for kids whose personal machines are broken or forgotten at home!


December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

This is a discussion that is happening right now in my district! Knowing that Osseo Schools is piloting a program - I truly feel we need to make a visit to learn from them. My question to you is - where did you sign up to be a beta tester for the chrome netbook? I want to get my name on that list - if it isnt too late!

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen Hegna

Hi Jen,

Try here to apply. Just don't ace ME out ;-)


December 10, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Tom asks: "who needs anti-virus software"?

Windows and Mac users. Doesn't that cover everyone? :)

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter


As scaled down PC's and scaled up smartphones converge, it is becoming essential to understand which beast you're dealing with while looking at a tablet, netbook, etc. In particular, one needs to make the distinction between x86-based PC architectures and ARM-based phone/tablet oriented architecture.

So, for example, in the case of battery life, the "more battery life = more money" equation will probably continue to hold in PC architecture devices. But if a good netbook is a laptop with extra long battery life, it is also a phone with short battery life. Expect to see ARM-based netbooks which are very cheap and have 8 - 12 hour battery life Real Soon Now.

But, the efficiency advantages that ARM devices have on current phones and tablets will be somewhat lost if you run PC operating systems on them which aren't optimized for power efficiency, particularly if they're also running Flash, anti-virus programs in the background, a lot of unnecessary multi-tasking, and other cpu cycle sinks.

Regarding anti-virus software, I'm not aware of any significant Mac OS viruses. I certainly wouldn't waste my personal money on it for my iMac. A school administrator might want it "just in case" for CYA purposes. Mobile OS's (iOS, Android) shouldn't need it, and if they do, they're toast, because they can't spare the resources.

Windows 7 is increasingly the odd man out here, saddled with both the PC architecture (no ARM version) and a long legacy of poor security and other baggage. Not that I waste any breath trying to convince people to leave Windows at this point -- it's a dead man walking.

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

Hi Doug,

While Flash may seem institutionally optional, if teachers are going to utilize services such as Education City or any of the Tom Snyder math apps, the kids will have to have access to a comfy Flash-fit device – I just have a hard time seeing it as optional for practical use. Even things like Read180 don’t thrive on anything but a stand-alone fully fledged machine with the full complement of plugins; that app wouldn’t even run on a lab of powerful thick/thin clients, which consequently now (happily for me) populate our district office training center lab.

But yeah, wouldn’t it be so terribly cool if Santa were to decide that every kid in the world, good and bad, needed a beefy web book?


Hi Bill,

One thing I should probably have made clearer is that each school's spec sheet will probably look different depending on the applications they find mission critical. Flash is problematic = popular, but selectively supported and a resource hog. And at the same time, selections of resources should take into consideration the technical needs of the resource.

And yes, I'd love it if Santa brought these to both good and bad little boys and girls!


December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Our district is also wrestling with this issue. We've recently done 1:1 iPad at our middle school through a federal grant, but as a school board member that frightens me...when the grant runs out and the program cost hits our general fund, it's unsustainable. The device cost is just one portion of the expense--actually less costly than the investment of staff time, training and curriculum development to make a Student Connectivity Device an authentic part of the education delivery, not a fun add-on.

If we let the students use the SCDs they are currently hiding in their backpacks because we don't allow them, the district could probably cover the 10-20% who don't have one due to cost or parent choice. It's the prospect of buying and maintaining 100% distribution of devices that we are never going to achieve, even with our current technology levy generously passed by our community.

May 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Rainford

Hi Robin,

I am still waiting for that "killer-app" that the curriculum will demand - an online course, activity, e-text, whatever - that makes such a device imperative. Until then, these devices may be helpful, but not important enough to ask parents to buy them.

I thought this by Jen Hegna in Byron was interesting:

Good luck,


May 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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