cheap connected classroom

3 cheap ways to get a connected classroom

You don’t need to have an iPad for every student in your classroom to have a connected classroom. There. I said it. While the idea of having a synced and powerful setup of dozens of iPads might sound amazing, it’s a bit of a pipe-dream for just about every teacher around the world as the cost is out of control expensive. Seriously. There is a slight education discount when schools buy iPads and other education technology tools but it’s certainly not significant enough to make total device integration feasible. Just look at how it worked when the Los Angeles Unified School District tried to do a massive implementation. Not so great.

Let’s say you’re a school leader, parent, or teacher who wants to bring education technology into your classrooms. You don’t have millions of dollars but still want to figure out the best way to leverage the best of today’s technology for some authentic learning. What are your options?

Option 1: Buy one powerful device

Your first option is to buy a single iPad, Google Chromebook, Amazon Kindle Fire, or other high-end tool that will make it easier for students to browse the web, Skype, and download useful apps. There are a boatload of ways to use a single device in a whole classroom of students. You can mirror the device onto a projector, use it to show videos, let groups use it one at a time, hold Skype Classroom calls, take attendance, offer quizzes, and more. It’s not the ideal situation but it brings some much-needed technology power into your classroom.

What you’ll need: $200 – $500, a reliable wi-fi connection, patience

What you get: access to a world of education apps, video calls, the ability to say you run a ‘connected classroom’

Option 2: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Students, teachers, parents, and just about everyone else has a powerful smartphone or tablet. If you’re in a developed nation, chances are quite good you could do a BYOD implementation with little concern over not having enough devices.

Your biggest concern would actually be if it might turn into a ‘who has money’ versus ‘who doesn’t’ as some students will have the latest generation of a device while others might not. The other large issue is over connectivity and interoperability. Large words for a simple problem: how do you manage a classroom of devices that run on an array of platforms? You’ll have Android, iOS, Windows, and other software platforms to worry about and will need to know how each one works.

What you’ll need: $0 – $100 (for a mirroring device like Chromecast or Apple TV if needed), a set of pre-determined guidelines for students and others to understand before bringing their device out in the classroom, patience, and the ability to manage a variety of software platforms.

What you’ll get: A ton of new ways to measure learning, get students collaborating, taking quizzes (e.g. Socrative), and knowing where they stand in the classroom (e.g. Class Dojo or Edmodo).

Option 3: Multiple cheaper devices

Amazon Fire TV Stick comparison chart

If the first two options didn’t quite help you out, fear not. There’s a third option that you should think about. You can always purchase and integrate a far cheaper set of tools that students of any age will be able to use. A prime example of this are the so-called ‘streaming sticks’ that let you mirror a device, stream content, play games, and more.

One of the newest and most interesting options is the Amazon Fire TV Stick. It’s basically the Amazon Fire TV but takes up less space and doesn’t let you download content. It’s a dongle that lets you mirror your device so you can display whatever you’re looking at to others. These kind of cheap tools are becoming a far more popular way to create connected classrooms without having to worry about cost.

The average stick ranges from $40 to $80 or so (prices vary). You could use a stick with a few Google Chromebooks (also quite cheap!) and really have a high-power classroom for less than $500 overall. That’s less than the price of one iPad for those keeping score.

What you’ll need: About $500 if you want a couple Google Chromebooks and a Chromecast (or similar devices), patience, research into the best education apps and services like Freetime from Amazon.

What you’ll get: Easy-to-connect services, a unified experience for students, the ability to stream education content, mirror devices, and do a lot of high-tech collaboration.

Which Option Is Right For You?

Honestly, there’s no right answer here. If you already have an iPad, perhaps investing in an Apple TV is the right move. If you have no wi-fi in your school, perhaps BYOD might work so you can use smartphones. There’s a lot to consider but hopefully this helped you out.

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Written by Jeff Dunn

Jeff is an education and technology lover who has worked in far too many industries to count. Okay, like maybe 5 or 6. Jeff can indeed count that high but it’s not recommended. Jeff also likes to write bios in the third-person.

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