From the magazine: Laptops versus tablets

When it comes to buying new devices for the school you’re faced with many choices, one of the most basic of which is: laptop or tablet? Alastair Herron, ANME member and network manager at Guiseley School, weighs up the pros and cons of both

When choosing between laptops or tablets for use in school, there are many questions we have to ask. What is the main purpose of the device? Is our infrastructure capable? Do we have an adequate management system in place? Is this just for teachers, or are students to use the devices as well?
The only way to answer these questions is by talking to the key stakeholders to make sure what you have on offer meets their needs. There is no single solution that fits everyone, and some people are just not happy with change, so plan for both scenarios.
First things first – consider purpose
If the main purpose of the device is  teacher use, is there a requirement for access to your MIS system? Do you have a system in place for accessing your MIS from a tablet? There are many systems available that can access – and write back to – MIS, so plan for the additional cost when purchasing such a solution.
Do the end-users have a requirement to print from the device? Tablets may require an additional system that will allow users to do this, especially if your print solution requires authentication. Do you need access to network drives ? If using tablets you may have to implement a way of achieving this securely. Remember, tablets and smartphones are ‘clientless’ devices, so additional authentication requirements will need to be met.
Using laptops instead of tablets is the easiest solution to implement (assuming a reliable wireless system is in place). They natively support MIS, printers are easy to install and security policies are available for most installation scenarios. If there’s a requirement for the laptop to connect to a projector or touchscreen in the classroom, make sure you’re able to do this seamlessly – there’s nothing worse than spending most of your time troubleshooting connectivity issues.
Tablets are a different matter altogether – you’ll need a good mobile device management (MDM) solution in place. Some are free, but most will cost you. Once your devices are fully managed, security policies are easy to implement and deploying applications is relatively easy. Connecting tablets to projectors can be tricky, but networkable projectors are available, and most touchscreens support wireless connectivity natively.
Tablets can also be used as laptops. Using one of a number of different remote access solutions which you may already have in place, coupled with a bluetooth keyboard, you’ve got the best of both worlds.
Best of both worlds
So, what’s the best solution for your school? If your infrastructure has been set up correctly, and you have done plenty of testing and asked the correct questions, why not use both? They both have their merits and both may achieve the desired outcome. Price-wise, tablets – with a bluetooth keyboard and remote desktop system in place – are a similar cost to a decent specification laptop.
Whatever decision is made, make sure the user is comfortable using the device and has clear guidance and training in its use – otherwise you’ll end up with an expensive paperweight, that’s barely even used as a calendar.
This article featured in the April issue of Education ExecutiveSubscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.
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