An Engineering Trade Study on Computers in Education

I am in the process of completing my Masters degree in Space Systems Engineering. Last semester I took a class called Decision and Risk Analysis. Our final project for that class was to choose a system (any system we were interested in) and perform an engineering trade study on that system. An engineering trade study is a method used to help decision makers choose a system from a set of alternatives. The system I chose was a computing system for a 1:1 computing program for a Central Florida school district. I wanted to look at several leading alternatives for educational computing devices (like iPads, Chromebooks, convertible laptops, etc...) and see which of these options would truly work best in an educational environment. I doubt many school administrations go to these lengths to decide on a computing platform, but maybe they should. Below is the executive summary and the final results of the trade study. You can read the full paper here.

One of the major assumptions I made in this study is that total cost of the system was not a primary driver for the decision. This is not a realistic situation for most schools. School districts have very tight budgets and every dollar counts. However, for the purposes of this trade study I really wanted to focus on what the best device was for the educational environment as long as the costs were reasonable. If cost were a more heavily weighted criteria the iPad Air 2 would not have come out on top. I find it interesting that even though the iPad is not the cheapest option out there, it is certainly one of the most popular. Maybe there is something to the results of my trade study after all....

Executive Summary

The local school district here in Central Florida has recognized the dramatic shift towards technology both in education and in industry. The school district has put forth the following engineering trade study to determine the best device for use in a district wide 1:1 computing program. The computing device chosen will be used 1st in a small pilot program consisting of 500 students and then eventually rolled out to every student in the school district. Computers have been used in some capacity at schools for several decades now, but due to the decreasing cost of personal computers these devices have taken on larger and larger roles within education. Computers is schools started out as just a handful of computers in a computer lab that would be used only to supplement a few topics or simply introduce children to how computers work and how they could be instructed through the use of “code” to perform tasks. As the age of the internet progressed, computers were used in school libraries as a research tool and then eventually they were starting to be used instead of typing on a typewriter or hand writing a long written assignment (word processing). With the advent of portable electronics (specifically portable computers), the use of personal computing devices started to grow dramatically. As more and more people started to own and use these devices on a daily basis they also started to use these devices to improve the way in which they communicated with other users. Collaborative software as well as educational software began to evolve rather quickly and soon there was an enormous variety of choice available for collaboration and education. After performing the initial trade study the Lenovo Yoga IIe (a 2-in-1 Chromebook) was the winning candidate. However, after performing a sensitivity study on the results it was determined that only four of the seven original criteria should be used. The trade study was re-computed using just four criteria and the recommended device for the 500 student pilot program was the iPad Air 2.

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