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November 1, 2014
Vol. 72
No. 3

Power Up! / A Buying Guide for Parents

<BQ> Deloitte predicts that global sales of smartphones, tablets, PCs, TV sets and video game consoles will exceed $750 billion in 2014, up $50 billion from 2013 and almost double the 2007 total. </BQ>
Each winter holiday gift-giving season, technology ranks as one of the most purchased items in the United States. As a school technology director, this fact makes me shudder.
During the past few holiday seasons, it seemed that nearly every department store, building supply warehouse, and discount big box retailer sold computer tablets, often for less than $100. These low-cost "marvels" are usually underpowered off-brands with nonstandard operating systems. This trend makes me very concerned that well-meaning families will buy such tablets and similar devices for their kids to use in school—and will fault the school when the subpar electronics won't connect to our network, support the recommended software, access the school's online resources, or run fast and reliably enough to enable kids to accomplish the tasks we ask them to do.
Schools need to educate not just kids, but also parents, about educational technology. For the past few years, the technology department at Mankato Area Public Schools in Minnesota has sent out the following letter, usually in November. Our intent is to advise parents on the features that any device they're thinking of buying should include if it is to be truly useful for school-based learning.
If you send such a letter to families within your school—or write a newsletter item, host an information session, or get advice out some other way—you'll need to tailor it to your school's technology realities and needs. If your school has a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program, you should definitely send such a letter out before school starts.
Two main components should be woven into the recommendations you give parents: the kind of learning tasks students will be asked to do with a personal device and the systems with which students' devices need to be compatible. Your technology department should be able to provide you with a list of capacities and features that any device should have to take maximum advantage of school resources.
You may also wish to include suggestions about where families who can't afford such technologies for their children can get access to free computers. My area, for instance, has a local organization called PCs for People that provides computer equipment to qualifying households.
My bold prediction is that before long, a relatively inexpensive personal technology device will be on most schools' student supply lists. If it replaces the usual paper, binders, backpacks, pencils, scissors, glue, USB drives, and graphing calculators now standard on student supply lists (costing around $314 for an average middle school student), purchasing a tablet or laptop may actually save families—and schools—money. It might be time to consider having such a device on your school's supply list.
End Notes

1 Lee, P., & Stewart, D. (2014). Technology, media and telecommunications predictions, 2014. New York: Deloitte. Retrieved from www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/tmt-predictions-2014.html

2 White, M. C. (2014, August 10). Back-to-school costs soar, burdening the poor. NBC News. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/back-school-costs-soar-burdening-poor-n175546

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