2017-18 Classroom Technology Guide: Educator-Facing Tools
Bill McDonnell, Lead School IT Specialist
High performance technology for educators could translate to higher unit costs and more of a risk of investing in technology that doesn't fit a school's needs. To guide education technologists and school leaders on their device purchasing journey, we spoke with them about the biggest pain points in their selection and implementation process. We then tested all of the below products and watched how successfully they worked in AltSchool’s lab schools to ensure they met educator needs.
Based on an educator’s functionality requirements and our experiences using these tools, we compiled this guide with pros and cons, best uses, and budgeting recommendations for each. The below shortlist met our performance and cost-efficiency benchmarks, and we provided additional information about how they can fill educators’ specific needs.
Macbook Air 8 GB (Laptop)
Summary: Though the Macbook Air has not received a recent model update like the Macbook and Macbook Pro lines, it remains a solid choice for today's highly mobile educator. Lightweight but fast and battery efficient, this device is easily managed through DEP and MDM solutions and should last another few years before its life cycle ends.
Manufacturer & Release Date: Apple, 2015
Operating System: macOS
- Performant, high quality, Apple hardware
- Simple MDM and DEP management
- Integrates easily with Apple Classroom products
- Lightweight, highly portable
- Likely support life: 2015-20
- Older device, no model update since 2015
- Possible model update in fall 2017
- Somewhat expensive for a laptop
- Apple hardware attracts thieves
Don’t Forget: As with iPads, always enroll Macbooks in your school’s DEP program. Macbooks are like catnip for thieves, but DEP and MDM Apple deployments will help you protect data and devices. As the device is a bit older now, it's hard to recommend as a four- to five-year device, but if you can afford it on a three-year cycle, it's a great choice.
HP Chromebook 13 G1 (Laptop)
Summary: HP’s high end Chromebook offering comes in several configurations and can cost upwards of $1,000, but for a teacher device the $599 Intel M3 model strikes a strong balance between price and performance. For teachers in Chromebook classrooms, this can be a great device to give them parity with students, but higher performance for teacher needs.
Manufacturer & Release Date: HP, April 2016
Operating System: ChromeOS
Octane per Dollar: 22,800 Octane (38 per dollar)
- High quality aluminum build
- High performance hardware
- Historically strong HP support
- Strong battery life
- Very simple management for G Suite customers
- Chromebooks are web limited
- Poor USB device support
- Printing can be an issue
- Limited SmartBoard compatibility
Don’t Forget: Chromebooks are inherently web based, which for teachers more used to the Microsoft Office environment may be highly limiting. Be prepared to provide professional development to educators moving to Chromebooks if you intend to deploy them.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (Hybrid Laptop)
Summary: When the Surface Pro arrived on the market it was marketed heavily to mobile friendly young adults, but the hybrid and high quality design has valid applications for educators as well. Equipped with a remarkably good stylus and keyboard-as-cover, the Surface 4 may be the ideal device for teachers who move from classroom to classroom, or work in less traditional classrooms. Like most Microsoft devices it comes in a wide range of configurations, ranging from $699 to $2,600, but most teachers should find the $699 to $1,100 range sufficient.
Manufacturer & Release Date: Microsoft, October 2015
Operating System: Windows 10
- Highly portable
- Keyboard and Pen add significant functionality, but are optional
- Runs full Windows OS
- Can be configured to be high power
- Windows can be difficult to support
- Battery life can be erratic based on use
- Not a true laptop
- Pen sold separately
Don’t Forget: Windows devices are much easier to add to a managed domain after their purchase than Apple devices are, but this should still be an upfront process. Placing the device on a managed domain will make it much easier to manage Windows policies as this process can be difficult for the end user.
GoGuardian Teacher (Chromebook Class Management)
Summary: GoGuardian is one of the most robust, most user friendly Chromebook monitoring tools available. The full bundle includes a teacher-facing classroom monitoring and management tool, an admin-facing content filtering and monitoring tool, and a device inventory system.
Recommended Grade Levels: 3-12
Operating System: ChromeOS
MSRP: $13.99 per student for full bundle
- Active monitoring for teachers, with classroom management actions
- Passive monitoring and filtering for administrators
- Dynamic filtering for teachers
- Highly intuitive user friendly design
- Regularly adds new features
- ChromeOS limited; will not work well or at all in non-Chrome classrooms
Don’t Forget: GoGuardian requiresa G Suite domain to install; it will not work on unmanaged Chromebooks. Device monitoring can be a hot button issue for students, teachers, and parents. When introducing any monitoring tool make sure to work with your community to establish norms and be transparent about when and how monitoring is occurring.
Apple Classroom (iOS Classroom Management)
Summary: As Apple recenters its education offering to compete more with ChromeOS it has introduced a classroom management tool for teachers. Apple Classroom is a brand new piece of software that allows teachers to manage the iPads in their classroom from their own device. Teachers can open and close apps, group students, lock devices, and reset passwords all from one interface.
Recommended Grade Levels: TK-2
Operating System: iOS 10+
MSRP: Free, but requires MDM and DEP for use
- Responsive and intuitive design for controlling iOS devices
- With DEP and MDM, seamlessly configured and deployed
- Reduces pain in using iPads with young students
- Functionally impossible to use without DEP and MDM iPads
- Very new software, still feature light
- Device controls focus on Apple first party apps, limited use with Chrome and other third parties
Don’t Forget: As mentioned, this application will be very difficult, potentially impossible, to configure and use with iPads that are not DEP enrolled and in an MDM system. Make sure to consult with your IT department before pushing ahead with this platform.
Chromecast 2nd Gen (Audio Visual Streaming Device)
Summary: Designed primarily as a home theater device, the Chromecast allows users to wirelessly mirror or send media from their phone, tablet, or computer directly to their TV or projector. Affordable and easy to set up, the Chromecast is an excellent addition to classroom audio visual solutions for untethering educators from their projectors.
Recommended Grade Levels: TK-12
Manufacturer & Release Date: Google, September 2015
Operating System: ChromeOS (Compatible with Chrome browser)
- Extremely affordable
- Very simple setup
- No bluetooth or cables
- Direct integration with YouTube and other streaming services
- WiFi can sometimes be intermittent, breaking streams
- Ethernet adapter sold separately
- Only works with HDMI input
- Must be network segmented to use securely
Don’t Forget: Chromecast (Google Cast) is a native feature of ChromeOS, which means students can easily access these if they are on the same network segment as the device. When implementing Chromecast, make sure that your Chromecasts are on a 5GHz-ready wireless network segment that only teachers have access to in order to prevent interruptions.
The information contained in this technology guide (this “Guide”) is provided for informational purposes only. AltSchool does not receive any financial benefit from any of the companies whose products are featured in this Guide. It is very important to do your own analysis of any products or services described in this Guide. No warranties, promises, or representations of any kind, expressed or implied, are given as to the nature, standard, accuracy or otherwise of the information provided in this Guide nor to the suitability or otherwise of the information to your particular circumstances. AltSchool does not accept any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, completeness, legality, or reliability of the information contained in this Guide.