Being Mobile | Blog

When Computers Are Free--Next Month--What is K-12 Going to Do?

Acer has announced[i] the $99 Android 7-inch tablet for delivery in 2013. The previous low-priced computer was the $199 Google Nexus 7-inch tablet. But even now, on the net you can find comparable devices for $125 [ii]. If Acer can make it for $99, then Asus, Lenovo, Toshiba, etc. can – and will – make them in that low price range too.

And let’s be clear: the specs on the $99 Android devices are quite impressive: Dual-core, Cortex-A9, 1.5 GHz, processor plus GPU, 1024 * 600 high resolution screen, 1GB RAM memory, 8GB HDD storage, support for external storage, etc. At least for K-8 this is a fine computing device. (Let’s put high school aside; high school is so complicated for pedagogical and non-pedagogical reasons; we will devote a blog to high school’s complications later.)

$99 for a computer means the computer is for all intents and purposes…. FREE.

Does the TI graphing calculator appear on your school’s “supplies” list that parents receive in August”? Well, the $99 Android device may well displace the TI graphing calculator. The Android computer can do all that the TI graphing calculator can do – and so much more. (Getting the math department to go along is another issue; we will address that issue, too, in another blog.)

And the $99 Android computer will displace BYOD, as well.

Why would a clear thinking school suffer the pedagogical, curricular, and support issues that come with a classroom full of different devices when each child could bring essentially the same device to school – for … nothing? For... it’s on the parent’s “supplies” list?

  • Finally, a teacher can make an assignment (e.g., create a concept map for the water cycle) that all the students can do—since they all have the same concept mapping app and, in fact they all have the same suite of domain-independent productivity apps and content specific apps loaded natively on their devices - and it’s easy to turn in via an LMS for feedback and grading.
  • Finally, teachers and students can develop a common, shared expertise in using the homogenous devices – and thus everyone is a potential support person.
  • Finally, the IT department (read: 1 person at best, more than likely a teacher serving part-time) can have a chance at providing support to the hundreds of students and teachers in the school.

Indeed – and here is the key to pedagogical change – homogeneity makes it possible to use the devices as essential tools, not just supplemental, add-on tools. And the data are clear: ONLY when computing devices are used as essential tools does student achievement increase![iii] Using a computing device for a short period during the day, while fun and engaging for sure, does not result in increased student achievement. But, when students use a device for 50-75% of the school day – and outside of the school as well, employing a range of apps (reading, writing, time lining, animating, concept mapping, KWLing, etc., etc., etc.), only then is increased student achievement achieved. Only then does the device become a truly useful tool.

But wait, schools or parents don’t need to purchase special devices for school – students can bring whatever devices they already have! What a great idea – look at all the money that can be saved! Yup,

BYOD is being heralded as the Silver Bullet with schools jumping onto the BYOD bandwagon apparently in droves – if publicity is a proxy for action.

In a BYOD model, where does the educational software come from? The Internet. Thus, a suitable BYOD device need only have a browser app. What happens, however, when the Wi-Fi signal that brings the Internet into the device’s browser drops? Without apps running native on a device, the student is stuck – waiting for the Internet to come back up. But the whole point of BYOD is that the devices do not need native apps – all the software is on the Internet!

Question: how often does the Wi-Fi signal in your school drop – on occasion? frequently? NO school we have been in has an always-on Wi-Fi signal.

But, Oak Hills Local Schools in Ohio has made it all work[iv]. How? Throw money at it. Oak Hills Local can do that since their mean family income is $89,362[v]. Oak Hills has built a portal that has a private cloud and a public cloud that is well-populated with software and that is well-supported by an IT staff (about 3-5 FTE). Yup, BYOD works like a champ in Oak Hills Local!

We are strapped in; let’s hear from districts that have made BYOD work. By the way, what does “work” mean? Improved test scores? In all the preening about BYOD, we haven’t read where schools say that they have observed increased test scores. Increased engagement? Most certainly – but increased engagement is not enough!

Bring it on; our skins are thick. (Well, Cathie’s is, but Elliot is a crybaby.)

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at


Fri, Sep 12, 2014 emily ohio

what if i dont have wifi how would it work

Fri, Sep 12, 2014 emily ohio

what if i dont have wifi how would it work

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 bgibson135 Fayetteville, NC USA

I have a $250 Samsung Chromebook and have been "playing" with it for a couple of months. I work in the IT department of a small university, focusing on web and mobile technologies directed toward the academic side. I like WordPress as a standard for organizing and sharing information. It is simple to use, and learn to use, and is mobile friendly both for creating & delivering content. You can post to a site via email or phone (audio posts). *So, if you are using a Chromebook to take notes (via your Gmail account) and WIFI drops out, you can continue to create your email (notes). When WIFI connection is re-established, your email is sent automatically, and your blog post (notes) are added. **The "Chrome Remote Desktop" means that you can remote into your Windows 7 PC or Mac and use the programs on those systems as if they were running on your Chromebook. I leave my Windows 7 office PC running, and connect from home using my Chromebook. **If my HTC EVO Android phone ever gets a full-sized, Bluetooth, wireless keyboard that works, I will use it a whole lot more for email & blogging (note taking, etc.).

Sat, Jan 12, 2013 Elliot Soloway Michigan

Thank you, David; thank you, Ben K. ** Folks, read David's blog -- David is the Grand Master of Ed Tech; he knows of what he speaks. Thank you for your astute comment, David; we must MUST change the tests. PISA is changing the tests! So, that mountain can be moved. ** Ben, you too have a good point; middle schoolers do write more so they do need more than a thumbboard - some of the time. So Bluetoohed keyboards need to be available in a classroom. But always on connections - for cloud-based work - in schools is problematic; it hasn't happened, and it won't until IT budgets are more substantial. It's expensive to keep up an always on environment. I have one of those $250 Chromebooks and I agree it is nifty. I have 2 of everything; I am techie; what more can I say?! (Most of those black boxes don't work... but they do get smaller and smaller )

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 David Moursund

Thanks for the really useful information. However, the last paragraph misses the importance of what should actually be happening. Testing needs to change so that the test is about "what me and my connected connected computer device" can do in terms of solving problems and accomplishing tasks in various discipline areas. If this topic interests you, see my blog at

Mon, Jan 7, 2013 Ben K. Minneapolis, MN

This is awesome. I can't wait to get my hands on one of these. I like that you differentiated high school from middle school. I'd like to see you differentiate even more and separate middle school and primary school. I feel that a touch screen device is perfect for primary and even elementary. I'm not sure it's appropriate for middle school. Currently, in my opinion, middle school students need to have a keyboard for writing. I think a $250 Chromebook is the next logical step. I don't have a ton of experience with typing on a touch screen but my experience tells me that it isn't the most efficient. That opinion might change in the future. The other thing to think about is wireless. You mention it only speak of the system going out. In my experience, the more devices you add to a network, the more it slows down. In these schools, you need to invest in more access points and possibly a faster line coming into the school. Great post. I completely agree that $99 is amazing. I also feel that $250 is a pretty awesome deal at a district level.

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