You’re a school with an IT provision that’s the antithesis of state-of-the-art. Your budget is allocated and the money is burning a hole in your pocket. You’re itching to buy all those shiny, new computers, interactive whiteboards and software, and who can blame you? But before you start shopping, have you asked yourself (and your IT specialist) these questions about buying school tech?
- Interactive whiteboard – with the most popular choices having been Smartboard and Promethean Activboard, most teachers now prefer to work with a conventional screen and projector using their own laptop or alternatively, they use the screen mirroring feature with iPads or smart TVs. It definitely seems the trend is moving away from expensive Smartboards, with their clunky software and screens that won’t stay oriented.
- PC, laptop or tablets? – although it could be argued that laptops encourage poor posture with the monitor so low, there’s no doubt that these portable devices facilitate sharing 30+ computers around the school, even moving outside when required. It also frees up the need for having a dedicated IT suite. While laptops are more powerful and have a much larger capacity, many children will be familiar with smartphones and/or tablets, so you may wish to consider a set of iPads as well. The wonderful array of educational and creative apps can make learning more engaging. Tablets can be used for independent learning, guiding reading and whole-class teaching.
- BYOD – One controversial movement that’s gaining popularity is allowing pupils to bring in their own devices. Not only does this free up more of your IT budget but pupils will feel more familiar with their own tablets or laptops. Of course there is the problem of batteries running flat and online security.
- Broadband – often neglected when considering buying school tech. Always go for a larger bandwidth than you anticipate needing. Determine if you’ll need as much upstream as downstream bandwidth and how much data you’ll use each month. The line speed and capacity must take account of educational and managerial uses, as well as communications, networks, operational systems and security (closed circuit TVs). With the move towards an ever-increasing percentage of content being delivered through a VLE, requiring numerous pupils to be online simultaneously, it’s more sensible to overestimate the school’s broadband needs.
- Virtual learning environment – an essential item is your VLE, which needs to be adaptable and easy to use. Apart from buying the platform, many suppliers charge annual, per-user licence fees, which can eat up your budget. An alternative would be to opt for an open source platform..
- Website – every school should have a modern and multifunctional website to act as a portal for the school brand. An innovative solution would be to find a platform that integrates website with VLE. Buying a complete package can save money and make it simpler to use, with a single interface style.
- Content – teacher’s time is at a premium and designing effective content for lessons can be demoralising, unless you’re tech-savvy. There are content design companies specialising in the school curriculum, such as Webanywhere. They also have their Content Club, where for an affordable, annual fee, schools can have specific topic websites created. Once in the club, schools can then share their bespoke sites between members. So a cluster group could collaborate to have multimedia, interactive content to cover the entire curriculum.
Power in Numbers
And remember, before you accept any quotes and go off with your shopping cart, find out if anyone in your cluster group is looking for new software or hardware. If you collaborate with others, your negotiating power will increase when buying school tech.