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US Schools Struggle with EdTech Challenge, as Device Types Proliferate

Education Device Trends Market Research, Analysis and Commentary

US schools are facing a new technology challenge, as the uptake of EdTech moves from adopter phase to device renewal and refresh. A recent study from Futuresource Consulting shows that many school districts are inadvertently creating a patchwork of devices and operating systems, which is increasingly hard to manage. And the situation has worsened due to the fight against COVID-19, as stay-at-home measures have prompted a rapid rollout of new tech.

Devices and OS Rationalisation Required

“With most schools running a mixed estate of device types and operating systems, we’re hearing concerns from schools about the ability to coordinate replacement programs,” says Chris Pennell, Principal Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “The new objective for IT decision makers is to streamline device and OS inventories, as schools plan their future device strategies. It is also not uncommon for smaller schools to be running older versions of Windows. This is compounding the problem, and they will find it increasingly difficult to run newer versions of applications, as well as becoming more vulnerable to certain security risks.”

The Futuresource study, based on interviews with IT decision makers across more than 400 US K-12 school districts, was carried out in Q1 2020 and provides a snapshot of EdTech behaviours. Its intention is to understand what schools are demanding of end user devices and how they are using them. For the purposes of the report, school districts have been split into six segments and cover schools with less than 1,000 enrolled students, all the way through to those with more than 25,000.

A Move to Mobile, Though Windows Still Dominates

As expected, schools continue to move away from desktop PCs in favour of mobile devices. Microsoft remains the most widely used operating system, with a share of more than 85% for desktop and nearly 60% for mobile. Chromebooks continue to prove popular, particularly for use with students, although they have yet to have the same impact outside the classroom environment. In line with the rise of Chromebooks, Chrome accounts for 25% of mobile operating systems, with Futuresource research showing the OS is more common in schools with up to 5,000 students.

“For desktops, price remains the number one influencer on purchasing decisions,” says Pennell, “but when it comes to mobile devices, longevity and durability are influencing the decision-making process, even above the form factor.”

Many Schools Still Over-exposed to Cyberattack

The research also shows that nearly 10% of schools that are using Windows are still running Windows 7 on their desktop machines. As Windows 7 reached End of Life in January 2020, this means Microsoft is no longer providing patches and security updates, potentially leaving schools open to security risks. Nearly two-in-three of these schools say they will upgrade to the latest Windows OS rather than adopt a different operating system, but 20% of them are delaying or postponing the decision until an unspecified future date.

The Future of EdTech

“Over the next two years, upgrading facilities and esport devices are the top investment priorities for schools,” says Pennell, “and that’s the case even for schools which are relatively slow at adopting technology. Watch out for esports as it begins to gain some serious traction over the next few years, driving a wave of demand for high-end PCs. Headless interfaces will begin to emerge too, doing away with the display in favour of interacting with a virtual assistant through speech alone. However, we expect to see adoption occur in back office areas before the classroom, as privacy and security issues still needs to be addressed.”

Futuresource Consulting’s EdTech report provides feedback on the current usage of EdTech in schools and planned investment, specifically computing devices used by administrators, teachers and students. It is based on interviews with IT decision makers across more than 400 US K-12 school districts. The report also provides an insight into which factors are most important to schools when investing in client device computing and their planned future purchases. For further information on this report, please contact Matthew Ledgerwood via 

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Chris Pennell

About the author

Chris Pennell

Chris Pennell is a Principal Analyst for Futuresource Consulting, leading Futuresource’s research across the Connectivity and Services practice. His research focuses on emerging technologies transforming enterprises' use of AV solutions.

Chris's recent research covers areas such as the shift to IP-connected devices, the use of managed and cloud-based services, and the impact of Pro AV solutions on the Future of Work. Working with various vendors and end users has enabled Chris to explore and build knowledge of the innovative ways enterprises use AV technologies to address ongoing challenges. Outside work, Chris is happiest helping raise his young family and supporting his local Scout troop.

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