In considering new devices for Hays Middle School students, Hays USD 489 school board members questioned if having touch-screen capability is truly a need or just a want.

The board took no action at its regular Monday night meeting on device upgrades after hearing a detailed cost comparison from the district’s IT director, Scott Summers. The board likely will make a decision on the purchase next month.

Summers compared three devices: iPads — which have been in use for four years — and the Chromebook Dell 3189 and the Windows Dell 3190 two-in-one laptops.

The iPads have the lowest price — $350 per device at a total cost of $238,000 — partly because teachers would continue to use their current iPads, but also because desired software is included in the purchase or already in use.

The Chromebook Dells would cost about $371 per device, for a total of $267,048. The Windows devices would cost $426 per device or $306,712 total.

All three devices have touch screens, front- and rear-facing cameras and keyboards, with the iPad keyboard part of the suggested protective case.

The purchase prices Summers compared also include protective cases for each, warranties, management system and software, PDF annotation software, video editing software and screen mirroring software, some of which would requre additional software purchases for the Chromebooks and Windows devices.

The board has budgeted $290,520 for the middle school device updgrades this fiscal year. The new devices will be put into use next fall.

Board member Paul Adams, along with Lance Bickle and Greg Schwartz, led the questioning if a touch-screen is essential.

“Is the function driving this to make sure we get the same as an iPad?” Adams asked.

Summers and district technology committee member Marie Henderson said the touch-screens are used daily for PDF annotation software.

“Currently a lot of what is done with the touch screen revolves around distribution and collection of work,” Henderson said.

She explained teachers use Canvas to distribute material. Students open it in Notability on their iPads, where they can write on the document with the touch screen, and then teacher collects the work through Canvas.

“I hate to guess how many times a day that occurs, but it’s in almost every class every day,” she said.

“And the only way to do that is via touch screen?” Bickel asked.

“So typing on a paper and writing on a paper are accomplishing different things,” Henderson replied.

“Other than that feature, what else is the touch screen used for?” Schwartz asked.

Summers said the PDF annotation is the biggest use, but it was likely classes also had other uses, such as using science apps or for creation of videos or presentations.

Bickle asked if every device needed video editing software. Summers said he included that cost to make the laptops comparable to iPads, which include iMove with the purchase.

Getting specific information of touch-screen use from teachers is what Adams said he wanted to hear, but he didn’t think Summers report included that.

Assistant Superintendent Shana Dinkel pointed out Summers’ report did include a survey of middle school teachers that asked “The device my students use to master learning objective must be capable of …”.

“Nineteen teachers said (PDF annotation) was required to meet their daily learning objectives,” Henderson said.

“That’s not what your question says,” Adams said. “That doesn’t tell me that they’re using it, that tells me that they wish. Those are two different questions, and I think you need to be clear on what you’re looking for.”

Adams said the board needed that specific input to make the best decision on the device purchase.

“Part of the direction of the board was to identify the functions that are essential or needed or you’ve identified as being relevant to the education for our students, be sure we’re getting the best learning possibility and then from that, we’ll look at the device that is most relevant. I do think you need to answer that part with the teachers. A little more data about why that touch is an essential functionality” is needed, he said.