Random Thoughts

Asking The Right Questions

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Over the last few weeks I have received a hand full of e-mails all asking the same question. 

What would you recommend?

MacBook vs ChromeBook

Laptop vs Tablet

Tablet Laptop vs Tablet Slates

The problem is that’s not the right question to be asking. Don’t get me wrong, I know what everyone is asking and dealing with. There are a lot of compelling options out there right now and at the end of the day the best option is the one your school can afford. 

However, if you are looking at a couple different platforms then your school must have the budget to do some shopping and thinking about which platform is best for students and this is where our question begins. 

Do not ask “What should we use to go 1:1 with?

Ask “What do we want students to create?

I wrote about this in my Technology Plan (Free PDF that needs to be updated) a few years back. The technology should support the learning which means we need to know what we expect students to create (key word there) with technology. 

Let’s take 3rd Grade as an example. I would expect 3rd Graders at my school to:

  • Collaborating on Google Docs
  • Blogging (including uploading of images)
  • Creating simple movies
  • Creating simple podcasts
  • Commenting on others blogs

I would sit down with the 3rd Grade team and have them help me brainstorm this list. Remembering to stay focus on what we want students to do, not what we’re currently doing (sometimes a big difference!). 

Some rights reserved by mikecogh

Why do I focus on creating? Simple, we want every student to be able to consume information via technology. That’s a given and each of the devices above allows you to consume information, there is nothing, other than form factor that really sets them apart. If you only want students to consume information the choice is easy…a tablet such as an iPad is made to do just that. Looking at the quick list that I created I’m now going to go and look at all my options for hardware and choose the best fit that allows my students to do everything I want them to do. In the case above everything listed, except collaborate on Google Docs, can simply be done on an iPad. So, using this list (and I know it’s not complete) I would go 1:1 with iPads in 3rd Grade and then have a cart of laptops available for the Google Docs piece.

This is the question I started with in my recent blog post about what my dream school 1:1 program would look like. At the end of the day the right device is the device that allows your teachers and students to do what they want to do and are not held back by the technology. Make your decision on what you want students to create and you can’t go wrong.

Featured Image: Some rights reserved by rwentechaney

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Thanks for this reality check Jeff. You mentioned about “staying focused on what students want to do and not what we are currently doing.” This rally hit home with me. We are at the beginning stages of our 1:1 laptop program (started this year) at our school and we need to create these lists as you mentioned. What I am concerned about is that we have five sections at our grade level and technology looks very different from one class to the other. Some teacher’s are setting a pretty high bar with technology in their classes and it is almost creating tension as other teacher’s at the grade level are feeling they have to play ‘catch-up’. We need to stay focused and think about what’s best for student learning.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      This competitive nature between grade level teachers drives me nuts. What really gets to me is when a school says everyone has to be doing the same thing so that the parents don’t compare one teacher against another. Here are the facts.

      – Parents will always compare teacher A and teacher B even if they are teaching the same thing at the same time
      – If you are so insecure in what you’re doing in the classroom that you feel like you are not doing enough….you probably aren’t
      – Setting a “high bar” for teaching partners to try an obtain isn’t a bad thing. I’d even say it’s our professional duty to do so

      We’re all good in some subjects and not good in others and we help each other out. I was never a good reading and writing teacher and relied on my colleagues to help me out in those areas. Buy my strong areas were social studies, math, and project-based learning. So I pushed them in those areas they pushed me in my weak areas. Isn’t that what teamwork is suppose to be? Why do some teachers feel they have to be great at everything or compare themselves to the teacher down the hall. Either I was really lucky all through my classroom teaching days to have really good teaching partners or the landscape has changed where teachers are feeling threatens by each other up and down the hallway. I see it at a lot of schools mine included.

      If we truly were focused on student learning then all this other stuff would go away, but it’s not, which means we’re focused on something else. I think we spend to much energy worrying about what other teachers are doing or what parents are saying and that takes away for our true focus of learning and kids.

  2. Doug Johnson Reply

    Hi Jeff,

    I am a little surprised not to see “reading books” on your list of things you want 3rd graders to be doing with devices. I agree that productivity is a must, but I don’t know that literacy is dead quite yet. I am beginning to look at devices that are both good ebook readers as productivity tools and that narrows things down a bit.

    Hope to see you in Bangkok in a few weeks,


    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      I think reading books falls under the “consuming” area for me. That’s just a given…we want every student to consume information be it digital or not. All the devices allow you to consume/read. So if that’s just the given then we need to look at other things we want students to do to find the hardware that matches.

      See you here in a few!

  3. Do you see potential for iPads to be used for collaborative learning in schools?
    I’ve noticed that the current market of educational apps can sometimes involve interacting with others online but there is not much for getting children interacting within the classroom.
    I know there are ways of doing this without the iPad but it seems to so effective at engaging students it seems logical that it could be used for this as well.
    Have you any knowledge of educators investigating this or using iPads in this way?

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Not that I know of. It would be easy to do I suppose as all the iPads have Bluetooth and could easily communicate with each other in a classroom setting.

      The issue might be that there are very few “real” educational apps…as there’s no real money in it yet as educators want things for free. 🙂

      A great idea but don’t know anything yet that does this.

      • Check out http://www.interface3.com/
        They are working with schools do design apps for collaborative learning.

        But you’re right, teachers are looking for free apps and primarily those that target core subjects rather than collaborative learning.
        It’s definitely going to be interesting to see how the classroom evolves with the changes iPads could potentially bring about.

  4. Thanks for sharing Jeff. I was a little surprized (but pleasantly surprized) to read about the requirements/expectations other schools (such as yours) set for the different grade levels, that I forwarded your blog to a colleague of mine in the third grade at our school. For him, a food for thought & hopefully an encouragement to start reading and exploring the vast ideas that others have about technology in those upper elementary classes.
    We too are looking into a 1:1 laptop program (starting 2013) but need to start thinking about how to get the younger grades ready for when they go to middle and high school. This naturally won’t not be for another few years but it is inspiring, and at the same time challenging, to think about how to get our teachers ready. Because right now, I don’t think we are.
    In addition, how are we going to finance all that tech equipment when schools are dealing with budget-cuts?
    I see great potential in using 1:1 iPads, especially in the lower grades, put also think they can be limiting for 3rd and 4th graders. Hopefully we will be able to have both iPads and Laptops in these classes.

  5. Your thoughts speak to the fundamentals of project management. This is why so much time is spent in committee nailing down project requirements that suit everyone else – because it’s easy to get caught up in the glitz of what a product can do that you forget about all the other things that it DOESN’T do. And it’s why I find the whole “Mac vs. PC” argument so absurd. If something meets your requirements, and you have faith that you know what your requirements are, then go with the solution with the highest acceptance and lowest TCO.

  6. Kellen Bramlett Reply

    Mr. Utecht,

    My name is Kellen Bramlett and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. Like most of the people you received questions from, I have been wondering on what type of technology I should buy next. Lately I have asked myself what the differences are between the iPad and another tablet such as one made by Samsung. Before reading your article I thought more about how they compared against each other rather than what I wanted to do with them. After you explained this topic I now understand what to look for, not only now but also when I become a teacher. Thank you for your post.

    Kellen Bramlett
    Please follow me at:

    • Kellen – Both the iPad and an android-based tablet such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab will perform similar functions, but the market has spoken – it’s simply easier to do many tasks on the iPad because of Apple’s famed intuitive user interface (UI). Plus the fact that the apps available on the iPad are of a much great variety and higher quality makes the iPad a more compelling choice, in my opinion. I speak as someone who owns an iPad 2 and an Android phone – a lot of the apps designed for the Android are kludgy and difficult to use. In other words, it’s easier to make the iPad do what you want because it has more and better apps.

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  8. Hi, I really agreed with what you had to say about picking a piece of equipment that you would be able to do your projects with. I just wanted you to know that my school has iPads and you can use Google Docs on them now. About November of 2010, we started using our iPads for Google docs.

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