Recycled Computing

Education Trends: Netbooks and iPads

- 2010.09.08

Two relatively new devices are going to make an impact on computers in education.


The netbook is not new, but we are using them at our school in order to save money. Our language department wanted to set up a computer lab and run some foreign language programs on the Internet. Mr. Mike created a new disk image for a bunch of old iMac G3s we had "retired", and I cleaned them off. (I used to like Velcroô, but removing it's adhesive residue is no fun.)

But when the administration looked at the cost of building a wall to create space for the lab, they reconsidered the language department request. Now, even though we had computers, the cost of construction was so steep that our IT director discovered it was much cheaper to "build" a "computer cart" using PC netbooks, a generic cart, and an AirPort base station. The language department was more than happy to have a cart it could move from room to room for less money than building a separate computer lab.

In my high school, about 90% of the computer usage involves Internet browsing and running Microsoft Office. A netbook can do this, and when you compare the price of your average netbook with a bottom-of-the-line MacBook, you can see why we going to be using netbooks and making up our own "computer carts".

I know that Steve Jobs has pooh-poohed the idea of Apple making a Mac netbook and is going full stream ahead with the iPad and the new iPhone 4 - but why not license Dell to produce a netbook for you? Most of the Dell netbooks play nice with Leopard.

I know, probably never going to happen.

Whatever Apple plans to do, schools are going to make their budget dollars stretch. Netbooks go for around $300, and the lowest priced MacBook is around a $1000 (a bit less with the education discount). If you lose a netbook (theft, vandalism, etc.), you are only out the $300. If you lose a MacBook....

I am a loyal Apple-phile, but netbooks are proving to be something worth looking at in the education market.

The iPad

Apple's new iPad is going to make a big impact on education. Low End Mac has already had a couple of columns about a college student using an iPad on campus, and I can see that it may become the accessory for our terribly trendy style-setters. What I notice from my perch in a public high school is that all students have cell phones. And, in all likelihood, that trend will move to smartphones - and then to tablet devices. This trend means that the next generation will interact with mobile computers in a totally different way than we do.

The iPhone and the iPod touch pioneered what I call a "gestural interface", that is, natural hand movements are used to operate the computer. In the past, we had been wedded to the QWERTY keyboard and a mouse or trackpad. Now computers can be introduced to students at a younger age (I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing), and a production computer can be easily tailored to provide an electronic "assistant" to special education students.

I have a feeling that this trend is going to mirrored in the general public, but I still can't muster up much enthusiasm for netbooks - unless you can install OS X on them. LEM

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