Monday, March 23, 2009

The Perfect Student Computer: part III

The quest by the Computer Using Educators of BC for 'The Perfect Student Computer' has been wildly successful.  For those of you reading this post for the first time, here is the link to the research on the different netbooks available, and the initial review of the Acer Aspire One device we selected.

As a recap, our organization is looking for a computer that, in the hands of students, would transform education across the province.  Our belief is that if students have a full-featured device, with software capable of accessing information, creating documents and other multimedia representations of their learning, it would provide educators with the freedom to change how they teach.

To this end, we purchased six computers, and distributed them to the members of our executive.  Each of use has used them in different ways.  In my case, I've loaned the computer to a number of educators at different grade levels to try the computer them self, but more importantly, to get the computer in the hands of students.

Here is some of the feedback:
  • Dennis lent the computer to a teacher-librarian at his school that used it with primary and intemediate students for researching the internet.  She liked that it had a good battery and was even useful for students working in pairs on one computer.  Another classroom teach in the school loved it so much that she bought one the next day at Costco.
  • Carol is a district student services teacher who works with teachers and parents of special needs students, after using the CUEBC netbook, many of the parents immediately purchased a device for their child as they quickly realized the potential of having constant access to a computer in school would benefit their son or daughter.  We also found that the netbook was even able to run DragonSpeak Natural (voice recognition software).
  • Mike uses the netbook in his classroom each and every day.  He already had a number of netbooks running Linux but the students prefer the Windows XP operating system for its ease of use and familiarity.
  • Terry used it with his grade 4/5 class and they were impressed by with the speed and portability.  Many are considering purchasing their own as they fit nicely into their back packs.
  • Anita purchased an Acer Aspire for her son about 3 months ago after James showed her one. Her son already had a laptop but it was quite heavy for him to be carrying to and from school each day. He read and agrees with the comments of the other users in this blog. It was a bit of a learning curve for me to network it (having had no previous experience with networking) but it was doable. There are video tutorials on You Tube which were helpful. He said he especially likes that the Acer is not heavy, and that it has good speakers -- meaning he can turn them up nice and loud to watch ACDC videos :-) Overall Anita and her son are very happy with it's performance so far.
  • Julia passed the netbook around to TLITE teachers and we found the size and weight ideal for kids. The keyboard was great for small hands but there was an initial challenge for my hands to get used to the repositioning. It eliminated the need for trolleys and enabled teachers, like myself, who move from school to school to be able to carry several computers to the users, redefining notions of “classroom” and where learning can take place.  
Things we would like improved
As it can be expected, these machines are not 'perfect', I just use the work to increase hits on this post :)  Here are some issues to consider:
  • Hardware issues - out of the six machines, there is a trackpad that isn't working and one that occasionally can't find the boot drive.  They are currently under warantee but long-term durability will have to be considered in a future post.

Other advances in the technology
As to be expected in computer hardware, there have already been advances on the technology and reductions in cost.  For example:
  • ASUS now has a 10 inch screen model for about the same price and a multi-touch trackpad.  See the current price.
  • Most excitingly ASUS has a full touchscreen model on the horizon.  See news article.
If you are an educator or student who has one of these netbook for use in teaching or learning we would like to hear from you.  What are your thoughts, are these the 'perfect student computers?'  Feel free to comment to this post!