Friday, December 12, 2008

The Perfect Student Computer

Here is what we have selected as a test model for our 'perfect student computer'

As you have followed in previous blog posts, our provincial organization, the Computer Using Educators of BC are on a quest for the 'Perfect Student Computer'.  As the price of computers continues to drop, it will allow the purchase and Our list comes from our experience and conversations with classroom teachers about what type of computer we could get into the hands of every student in our class. Here is our list:
  • Must be cheap
  • Light and portable
  • Good battery life
  • Capable of capturing multi-media
  • Decent performance
I intentionally leave processor speeds and memory size off the list as the goal it to define the perfect student computer by what type of device we would recommend to students and their parents.  The research with a table of technical specifications, prices and links to resellers is in this blog post.

The computer that was selected is the Acer Aspire One.  What I like about the Acer:
  • Great price.  These machines were purchased at Bestbuy for $399.  Bestbuy was also a gold sponsor at our 2008 conference.
  • Good reviews.  The article in this month's edition of Computer World magazine was very favourable towards the Acer machine.
  • Comfortable keyboard.  Although this machine is for students, I did try my large hands on many of the different models and found touch typing easy and efficient for taking meeting notes.
  • Lots of storage.  With  140 Gb hard drive there is plenty of space to take copies of your favourite movies and pictures whereever you go.
Things about the Acer Aspire One that we would like improved in future models:
  • Better battery life.  This model has a 3 cell battery which is less than the 4 or 6 cells of some of their competators.  However, I've managed to get about 3 hours of working time with the power saving options optimally configured.
  • Trackpad buttons.  The Acer has the trackpad buttons on either side of the pad.  This saves space but is difficult for manuvers like the drag-and-drop.
Questions from the field
I've had a number of people ask me how do you install software without a CD drive?  While this is a fair question, I think it comes from the paradim shift we went through when the first iMac left out the floppy drive.  Here is the answer.  This device is a 'netbook' meaning it is designed to be connected to the internet or network.  This means at home I connect the netbook to my home computer which has a CD/DVD drive by a process called mapping.  Details about how to do this can be found on the Microsoft website.  This allowed me to do CD installs.  The rest of the software was downloaded and installed from the internet.  The list of free and opensource software installed is here.  One highlight for me was the Google pack which provides a great utility to download and automatically install a large number of titles including the most customizable browser, Firefox.
Other questions that have naturally arisen is about having this netbook as a teacher computers.  The thinking being that if they are so good for students then they would be good for teachers too.  I don't think this laptop is ready to be the main computer for teachers.  It's small screen and keyboard will not be condusive for sustain lesson creating or on-screen marking.  That being said, the three USB ports could connect to an external mouse and keyboard and the VGA port can connect to a large secondary monitor, can transform the netbook to a 'docked' workstation.  The portability factor will be huge for many people as the 2ish lb weight makes it a take anywhere device.

At this point, we purchased six machines and they are with the executive of CUEBC.  We look forward to feedback, comment and thoughts on our journey to find the 'Perfect Student Computer'.

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