Classroom tech: a guide

Stone Group's John Haslam highlights some of the hardware and software that classrooms can invest in without blowing the budget

A squeeze on budgets has meant schools are having to deliver the curriculum with less. As such, they are having to think creatively about solutions to enhance teaching and learning and explore technology they wouldn’t necessarily have considered before.

In addition, BYOD and 1-to-1 schemes continue to remain popular and allow schools to focus IT spend on infrastructure rather than devices should they choose.

Before investing in devices and software, schools are looking at suppliers that deliver the best value for money. They want to know what technology will work best with their existing infrastructure and operating systems.

Mobile Devices

When it comes to mobile devices for schools, there are three main choices:

  • Laptops: Today, we’re seeing the standard classroom laptop being replaced with tablets and Chromebooks – tighter budgets make these an attractive proposition for schools. However, laptops continue to appeal to academies and Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) that operate within a traditional Microsoft Windows / Office 365 environment.

When it comes to accessing and sharing learning resources, with more port and connectivity options than tablets, laptops tend to come out on top. They are also familiar to most pupils and teachers. Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba all offer good entry-level laptops with great battery life starting at the £250 price mark. 

  • Chromebooks or Windows S Devices: Chromebooks use Google’s Chrome operating system and work on the principle that everything is stored in the cloud, not on the laptop itself, making them less prone to software errors but are dependent upon the school’s internet connection. 

Chromebooks, like Windows laptops, come in many configurations and at various price points. These are typically lower priced, and you should not need to spend more than around £250 to get one that is suitable for students.

  • Tablets or 2-in-1 devices: We tend to think of iPads when we think of tablets, and Apple continues to remain popular with teachers and pupils alike with its vast apps library. However, there has been a shift in the market as schools consider alternative and more cost-effective tablet solutions. 

There are also a number of new low cost / low-end Windows tablets serving this market that offer a ‘best of both worlds’ approach that can be a slate style tablet. We recommend the Lenovo Miix 510, Acer Switch Alpha 10 or 12, and the Microsoft Surface Pro range of 2-in-1 devices.

Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR) helps bring learning to life, providing a deeper, more immersive educational experience to the classroom. With curriculum-aligned content and structured lesson plans, teachers can use the VR headsets to take students on virtual fieldtrips to places such as Mars, the Great Barrier Reef and Buckingham Palace.

Google Expeditions is a low-cost solution that delivers over 500 VR experiences. It uses handheld technology and apps available from Google’s Play or Apple’s App Store on iPads and Android devices.

We recommend Google Expeditions with the ClassVR headsets from Avantis. The Avantis solution includes 8 x headsets, charging and storage case, and a cloud-based controller that provides an affordable and integrated solution, costing around £1,999.  

AV / interactive whiteboards

The right audio visual set up is a sure-fire way to increase collaboration and engagement in the classroom.

Interactive boards better reflect a connected community, with large format displays, (e.g. 65” to 85” displays) and/or interactive touch screen displays enabling teachers to project media to the front of class.

Traditionally most schools have used SMART or Promethean displays that have a huge library of resources and worldwide community for support. But there are also many alternatives from partners such as Clevertouch, CTOUCH, and Iiyama who also offer a great range of classroom-ready tech.

LEGO® Education

LEGO® Education is low-cost, fun and a great tool for learning. It comes with a programming instructions sheet and covers big sections of the coding/computing curriculum. LEGO® Education makes both primary and secondary school science and computing come to life.

Through real-life STEM challenges and engaging physical and digital creation, it encourages students to develop coding skills as they program solutions in a real-world context. With all LEGO® Education software, curriculum material and teaching support is available to download free.

Online Safety and Safeguarding

Internet safety is part of personal, social, health, economic (PSHE) education and ICT in schools, but many schools simply don’t know how to teach the subject effectively. But there are a host of innovative ways to overcome this.

One example is Gooseberry Planet. The app uses gaming technology to help children learn about internet safety. During a game, children are exposed to online issues requiring a response such as meeting strangers, bullying, grooming and sexual exploitation. The platform encourages the participation of parents and teachers to discuss the issues raised in the game, and to monitor their reactions to the situations.

Looking at internet security and web filtering solutions, Smoothwall is a good choice for schools who want real-time monitoring, included with reporting, social media controls and BYOD policies. 

Refurbished devices

It’s no secret that schools’ budgets are stretched at the moment, and buying new technology may not be within reach.

As a result, refurbished devices may be a better option for some. A device that’s referred to as ‘refurbished’ has been returned to the manufacturer or an approved refurbisher and internally and externally cleaned and cleared of any defects. Refurbished doesn’t mean ‘old’; normally these devices are between a few months to few years old but can be purchased at a much lower price point – usually from 10% up to 40% less.