The Back-to-School Gadget Craze: What do Students Really Need?

by Matt Klassen on August 31, 2011

If you’re one of those that actually pays attention to those annoying back-to-school commercials that began one week into July and have played on every station ad nauseam ever since, you may have noticed a particular marketing focus: gadgets.

While I’m sure the traditional pens, paper, and binder commercials are still out there, they have been buried under a torrent of tech device marketing targeted at you the parent, designed to convince you that your children, regardless of their age, need the latest and greatest technology to learn; a sentiment your children will likely echo.

But technological wish lists aside, in this modern age of mobile devices—smartphones, tablets, netbooks, portable video game consoles and everything in between—what do your children really need as they prepare to return to school?

I’ll admit at the outset that despite my role as a technology and telecommunications blogger I remain predominantly a technology sceptic. Simply put, while I recognize the benefits technology can have in our lives, I cringe at our culture’s absolute dependence on it. Further, when it comes to education, there’s something to be said for buckling down and doing research, as opposed to what many students in classes I’ve taught in the past have done, cutting and pasting from Wikipedia…but I digress.

Returning to the question of what students really need, let’s start with elementary school. From my perspective, an elementary school age child needs almost no technological assistance. Personally, I would avoid giving child of this age group anything but a simple and straightforward ol’ fashioned cellphone that he or she could use in case of emergencies.  Some introduction to technology may be able to happen at home, but for back-to-school, tech remains unnecessary. Heck, I would avoid giving a child a calculator until high school.

So, what about high school students? In a recent study it was found that almost 3/4s of Canadian high school students carry some sort of Internet-enabled device, be it a gaming device, MP3 player, tablet, laptop or smartphone. Most schools have rules governing the role of these devices in the classroom, rules that thankfully force students to leave most of them in their lockers. But the question remains, can a laptop or tablet help your child to learn at this age?

I will admit that in high school access to a computer of some sort is essential, and with current education budgets as tight as there are, schools generally aren’t able to provide those technological resources for their students. Of course that being said, a laptop or tablet is not necessary to fill this need, as technological portability is not a huge issue. Instead, consider investing in a high end home computer, one that both you and your children can benefit from.

It’s when we hit university that modern mobile technology really starts to play a role, but with computer and gadget stores advertising laptops, tablets, and smartphones as the three “must-haves” for this school year, it can be difficult to find out what is really needed. Its here that you’ll need to make some decisions, are you looking for educational tools or simply technological gadgets?

If you’re in the former category, I would suggest looking no further than a modestly equipped laptop or Netbook, a portable device that gives your child access to the Internet, an easy way to take notes, and an entertainment platform. Sure the salesperson (and likely your child) will tell you that a tablet is the better choice, but truthfully tablets are still in large part consumer products, meant for fun but not really for productivity.

In the end, what you think your children need as they return to school is really up to you, but before you pull out the credit card take a minute and decide what devices will really help with your children’s education, and which one’s may actually hinder it.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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