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May 8, 2017

2017-18 Classroom Technology Guide: Student-Facing Technology

Choosing tools to fit students' technology needs means finding the right balance between performance and cost. You want the best performance for your investment, but some technology can be overpowered for the grade level you're targeting. Our staff educational technologist created this guide to help schools navigate the many classroom technologies currently on the market.

To make sure to feature the right technology for a student’s needs, we had conversations with educators, technologists, and school leaders to learn what problems they need student-facing technology to solve. We then conducted hands-on testing and observed students using the tools in our lab school classrooms. After weighing how much performance, usability, and cost benefit is optimal for each grade level for the below devices, we compiled this guide with pros and cons, best uses, and budgeting recommendations for each.

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iPad Mini 4 (Tablet)

Summary: The iPad took schools by storm in the early part of the decade, but wasn’t a true K-12 silver bullet. It is now finding its place as a level-specific device in the elementary range. The iPad Mini 4 remains the best model available for this age range. While somewhat expensive, even this 2015 device should last a full three-year duty cycle. At lower levels, Apple Classroom supports multi-user devices, allowing for lower expenditure and less device management.

Recommended Grade Levels: TK-2

Manufacturer & Release Date: Apple, September 2015

Operating System: iOS 10+

MSRP: $399

Pros

  • High quality Apple hardware
  • Large library of educational apps
  • With MDM (mobile device management) and DEP (device enrollment program), easy configuration
  • Classroom Management App at system level
  • Long service life (est. 2015-20)
  • 128GB model now priced at $399

Cons

  • High upfront cost
  • Must be MDM and DEP configured
  • G Suite integration more difficult
  • Keyboard not included
  • Upfront configuration of MDM and DEP settings can be difficult, and are required

Don’t Forget: To optimize the iOS experience, devices need DEP and mobile device management, so it’s crucial that these devices are enrolled. Cases should also be procured for each device, as the lower age range is prone to accidents. iPads should be used in K-2 classrooms almost exclusively, but can have their use expanded with an attachable keyboard.

Acer Chromebook Spin 11 (Touch/Stylus 2-in-1 Chromebook)

Summary: While there are many 2-in-1 Chromebooks hitting the market, this is the first that was developed in partnership with Google and with an eye to education. It appears to be the descendent of the popular school Chromebook Acer C720/C740, but it is convertible and touchscreen and electro-magnetic resonance (EMR) stylus equipped. While it hasn’t hit the market yet, support of Google and Acer’s strong history with school devices indicates this will be a solid choice for upper elementary classrooms.

Recommended Grade Levels: 2-5

Manufacturer & Release Date: Acer, spring 2017

Operating System: ChromeOS

MSRP: Estimated $250-$350 based on hardware precedent

Octane per Dollar: Estimated 8,000 Octane (23-32 per dollar)

Pros

  • Convertible 11” device
  • Strong Acer education pedigree
  • World-facing camera
  • EMR stylus equipped
  • Android app ready

Cons

  • Touch devices trend low on performance
  • Android on Chrome is in early days

Don’t Forget: Since the device has a stylus (though not device specific), plan to have students store their styluses in a special classroom location. This is the newest device on the list, and is therefore untested, but given its placement on the Google Edu homepage, and the strong history of Acer Chromebooks, it has a solid precedent for success.

Samsung Chromebook Plus (Large Touch/Stylus 2-in-1 Chromebook)

Summary: The Samsung Chromebook Plus appeared at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this winter alongside the ASUS C302CA as the more evolved form of the ASUS Flip and Acer R11 from last year. The device is EMR stylus equipped and strikes a higher end, higher quality build that will appeal to older students.

Recommended Grade Levels: 6-12

Manufacturer & Release Date: Samsung, spring 2017

Operating System: ChromeOS

MSRP: Plus Model $450

Octane per Dollar: 10,000 Octane (22 per dollar)

Pros

  • EMR stylus equipped
  • Android app ready
  • High quality construction
  • High quality display

Cons

  • High price tag
  • Large bezel
  • Low performance considering price
  • Pro model not yet available

Don’t Forget: Since the device has a stylus (though not device specific), plan to have students store their styluses in a special classroom location. In a small contradiction, the performance is high for a touch Chromebook, but low given its price point. Choose this if you are looking for greater continuity between elementary touch devices.

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ASUS Chromebook C302CA (Large Touch 2-in-1 Chromebook)

Summary: Unveiled at CES 2017 alongside the Samsung Pro/Plus, this device is the follow-up to their ASUS Flip, which was the first Chrome device to get Android applications. While this follow-up lacks a stylus, it comes through in all the hardware quality measures and, with an Intel M3, is one of the most performant touch Chromebooks since the Pixel.

Recommended Grade Levels: 3-12

Manufacturer & Release Date: ASUS, January 2017

Operating System: ChromeOS

MSRP: $499

Octane per Dollar: 20,000 Octane (40 per dollar)

Pros

  • Very high performance for any Chromebook
  • High quality display
  • Android app ready
  • High quality construction

Cons

  • No EMR stylus
  • High price tag
  • Large bezel

Don’t Forget: The ASUS C302CA lacks a stylus unlike the Acer Spin and Samsung Pro+, which means it will be lacking in many of the handwriting recognition and drawing web app functions that are sure to come to Chromebooks in the fall. If these areas are important to your deployment, consider a different model.

Acer Chromebook 14 for Work - CP5-471-C0EX (Budget Chromebook)

Summary: This is a workhorse of a Chromebook—sturdy, attractive, businesslike, and highly performant for its price. The CB 14 for Work lacks the convertibility of its many 2016-17 brethren, and has no stylus, but on a budget it is hard to find a 14” Chromebook for middle and high school students with this kind of performance.

Recommended Grade Levels: 6-12

Manufacturer & Release Date: Acer, April 2016

Operating System: ChromeOS

MSRP: $340 (for base model)

Octane per Dollar: 15,300 Octane (45 per dollar)

Pros

  • High performance on a budget
  • Attractive, businesslike, design
  • Large screen
  • Solid trackpad and keyboard

Cons

  • No touchscreen and non-convertible
  • Gorilla Glass lid can break
  • While large, screen is low resolution

Don’t Forget: The lid of the device is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass, which looks great and cleans easily for those end of the year scuff and sticker removals, but it can shatter. In our drop tests, the glass didn’t break particularly easily (it is military grade), but it did break. It didn’t affect performance or seem to cause hazards, but aesthetically it can be an issue.

Acer C740 (Budget Chromebook)

Summary: An older Chromebook, but a solid choice. The Acer C740 and its older brother the C720 have established an excellent legacy for the Acer Spin 11 to follow. The C740 is a powerful, very sturdy, 11” device that can be comfortably used from the third grade all the way through graduation. If you are on a budget and you can find stock of this older device, it is a great choice.

Recommended Grade Levels: 3-12

Manufacturer & Release Date: Acer, February 2015

Operating System: ChromeOS

MSRP: $250

Octane per Dollar: 14,000 Octane (56 per dollar)

Pros

  • Best performance per dollar of any device we reviewed
  • Sturdy, easy to repair
  • Good trackpad and keyboard

Cons

  • On the old side, hard to recommend these for a three-year duty cycle
  • 2GB model deceptively affordable‍

Don’t Forget: The Acer C740 is a great device still, but its early 2015 release makes it a hard sell for schools looking for a long term device. Due to its age it is available in 2GB and 4GB configurations, but we do not recommend the 2GB configuration, especially this late in the C740’s lifespan.

Fintie Kiddie Case (Tablet Case)

Summary: The Fintie Kiddie Casebot is as close to a child friendly and bullet proof tablet case as they come. Made out of EVA foam, the cases are flexible but thick and very strong. When you are using expensive devices, compromises cannot be made on protection.

Recommended Grade Levels: TK-2

Manufacturer: Fintie

MSRP: $25

Pros

  • Very resistant to shock damage and point pressure
  • Handle excellently for young children
  • Bright colors useful for group organization in non-1:1 deployments
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • Colors tend to lose their luster in elementary classrooms
  • Can be a difficult to apply to and remove from devices‍

Don’t Forget: Cases can only cover most of the device. Any good technology deployment should include proper handling training in addition to preventive measures like cases.

LilGadgets Connect+ (Headphones)

Summary: While older students are likely to have headphones that they bring with them everywhere, younger students will frequently need to be provided with them. The LilGadgets Connect+ are low volume, foldable, small headphones for young children complete with a male to male detachable cord to prevent them from pulling devices away with them.

Recommended Grade Levels: TK-2

Manufacturer: LilGadgets

MSRP: $30

Pros

  • Foldable design makes them easy to store
  • Can be daisy chained for students to share an audio input on two pairs of headphones
  • Bright colors can be correlated with iPad case covers
  • Detachable cord eases tangles

Cons

  • Male-to-male detachable cable can get lost
  • May be too small for some students

Don’t Forget: Headphones are likely to have one of the highest casualty rates of any classroom technology—they are likely to get lost or damaged. When purchasing headphones, expect a one-year duty cycle at the most.

Ergotron ZIP-40 (Charging Cart)

Summary: Charging carts are a big investment for any device deployment, but they greatly simplify charging and security when in place and last a very long time. There are many options out there, but for their price and storage capacity, Ergotron’s carts are solid utilitarian solutions.

Manufacturer: Ergotron

Capacity: 40 Devices

MSRP: $2,100

Pros

  • Adjustable storage for up to 40 full size laptops
  • Easy to rewire
  • Solid construction, secure locks
  • Five-year duty cycle, minimum

Cons

  • High upfront investment
  • Large classroom footprint

Don’t Forget: Students will pull on cables if they are in a hurry, so make sure to secure cables in the rear of the cart with zip ties to prevent a tangled mess, and have teachers plan device returns into their class schedule.

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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.

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