We have a new Executive headteacher and in her previous school, she used Android tablets. I love Android as I have used it personally for about 5 years, I have a Google Nexus too, but I was worried about how they would compare with Apple. I’ve never used Apple devices, I mean I did once “play” the piano on one during a conference and I have taken a photo on an iPod touch, but I am definitely no expert. As an ICT leader, everyone expects me to know all about them but honestly, not a clue. I can fiddle and find the answer but I’ve not used them in school or for personal use. I’ve always found Android phones to do what I want and have never needed to look elsewhere.
My first dabble with Apple devices was setting up my wife’s iPod touches to sync with each other. She has 40 and they were setup initially so that only a couple could sync at once due to the bandwidth but soon she had 40 devices that didn’t sync with anything and were all different. I spent a few days over the summer holiday trying to wipe them and start again. They had apps that were purchased pre-Volume Purchasing so these wouldn’t work either. We set about deciding whether to use Apple Configurator or not and after many, many hours, we had a device that looked like it might work. We have now shared this with the others, but I still don’t think it’s perfect. Just four weeks later and apparently they’re not all synced. We just wanted an option to wipe and start again (to remove children’s photos for example) every few weeks. I know many schools have got the sync issue sorted, but I got bored with it if I’m honest. Compared to managing say, a set of chromebooks, it was far too complicated. Maybe I need to take another look.
In my school, we have just bought 10 iPads and for these, I decided to use Meraki to manage them. 8 of the 10 would purely be used by teachers in Early Years and the pre-school to observe young children using 2Simple’s 2Build a Profile so I didn’t need to worry about managing them. It was a case of plonking a profile on them with the wifi settings, adding them to the dashboard so I could push apps out and installing 1 app. It seemed so simple, it might be the way to go for my wife’s ones too… The other 2 iPads are for SLT so these are almost personal devices and they can sort these out themselves. One of these is being used brilliantly to take photos and share learning with pupils amongst many other things.
So, I knew I wanted devices for the children to use. But what for? Rather than starting with the tool or device, it is always a good idea to think about your main needs and then identify the correct tool/device. So what were our needs?
- It had to have a front-facing camera – We have only got a few digital cameras in school so having devices for taking photos would be ideal
- It had to be able to run the sites that we use the most – Purple Mash, Accelrated Reader, Education City, Busy Things, BrainPOP, Sumdog – Some of these would be possible via an app, others need a Flash-enabled browser
- It had to be cheap(ish) – We had a budget. DO we go for lots of cheap ones or a few more expensive ones?
After a bit of browsing, I found the Gigaset QV830 (nope, me neither). It was on the PC World website for £70 inc vat. I read a few reviews and they all seemed decent. So after a brief chat with the head, we ordered one to play with.
It is surprisingly well made and feels solid. I have held £50 tablets before and they always seem plastic-y but this doesn’t. It feels similar to my 2012 Nexus if I’m honest! The camera is ok, 5MP is good enough and being Android, it works works well with all Google Apps stuff too. I gave it to a few children and we were able to play most Sumdog games, the dragging ones were a bit unresponsive, we played Education City and we could run an Accelerated Reader test. All good so far. I spent hours trying to find a flaw and all I can find is that sometimes the Wifi drops out. So you press the Wifi button to turn it off and on again, that’s it.
Some people on Twitter mentions the lack of quality apps when compared to Apple but we are not buying them for apps. We have a huge lack of ICT equipment in the infant school and I need to get devices to the children as easily as possible. I am using these primarily as a web browser and then eventually we will look at apps and if we find good ones, it will be a bonus.
I’ll blog about the setup and some settings later, but I gave the tablet to two teachers to share and by lunchtime they had both taken photos and taken a video recording of their classes during Literacy sessions. I had set it up so that when the photos or videos were shared with Google Drive, there was a folder waiting for them. Every class had a folder available and every teacher had a logon to then show this on the whiteboard. All of the folders are linked so that I can access them all. I can then print pictures from my desktop if needed. We will get printing from tablets sorted, but that can wait til next week.
Seeing how quickly these devices could be used by children and staff has prompted us to buy more. We spoke to PC World Business and including delivery, will be paying £54(!!!!!) per tablet. You’d be spending nearly that on a camera alone. Within a week we should have around 6 per class throughout both schools. Managing them will be a challenge, but I don’t think every device needs to be identical. Would Year 1 want the same thing Year 6 do? Probably not. I am hoping that I can use Meraki for the main configuration and then train some Digital Leaders to help with any firefighting. But hey, it’s an Android tablet so it’s easy enough to use. It’s a very exciting time, but it will bring up a whole load of new challenges I’m sure!