As an educator and an advocate of technology, I believe one 0f the biggest stumbling blocks of the effective and appropriate integration of Information and Communication technologies into the classroom is access.
As teachers we must seize the moment as it arises. Computers in a lab are often unaccessible when the need arises, so computers in the classroom are a huge improvement. But in a state school with 20 to 35 students in a classroom, 4 computers at the back of the room leads to a whole heap of passengers.
We know that students doing has a better retention and learning outcomes (75% retention) than watching (10-20% retention).
Pods of laptops often have similar problems to those of a lab availability, booking, lack of spontaneity, but pods of laptops also have other consideration:
- cost - while the cost has come down so to has the reliability. The $1000 laptop you buy from the warehouse will not be as robust or reliable as the $2500 machine supported with a SLA
- Liciences – this is often a hidden cost, but MS or Apple liciences, software etc soon add up
- Reliability – laptops have moving parts and unless you buy a toughbook they need care and reaslly don’t appreciate the knocks
- load times vary but they do take time boot
Enter the OLPC, Intel Classmate, Asus Eee and co – they are cheap (the Eee is $599 from Dick Smith retail) tough – no moving parts and solid state memory makes them more resistent to knocks, have a long battery life, fast load time and cheap liciences as many run on OSS software.
Its worth considering the use of these technologies as an alternative to classroom computers or laptop pods. For the price of a good laptop (lets say $2000) you could buy 3 Asus Eee or similar machines and buy memory keys to act as personal storage for the students work. A laptop pod of 10 machines which realistically is a 2 or 3 to 1 ratio in the classrooms becomes a 1 to 1 classroom.
Alternatively, one pod of laptops could easily become 3 pods of OLPC’s or similar.
The question of performance is really a red herring, what do our students need to do. For the most part their needs are internet access, text and data processing, graphics manipulation, simple web publishing and multimedia viewing. More complex actions Will require better equipment, but for most common activities these machines will surfice.
I consider that tablet computers represent the next evolution in laptops. Multimodal input using keyboard, pointing device, voice recognition or stylus allows flexibility not available in the traditional keyboard mouse arrangement. I look forward to seeing a tablet style version of the OLPC. They can be created in a smaller form factor like this one
The Tango Nano Touchscreen. This is an interesting development as well. I am not sure if it has full tablet functionality or if its price is comparable with OLPC, Classmate or Asus Eee, but its interesting never the less. Can we get a tablet OLPC, Classmate or Eee?