Netbooks Update

by Rusty Meyners.  

Deployed a set of Acer Aspire Ones to a High School English classroom yesterday with desired results and then some. Students were walked through initializing the machines which currently have XP Home on them. Another set is being prepped with XP Pro to be swapped in but we felt it important to quick-start pilot testing an all digital classroom in a non-technology subject. Both student and teacher initial reactions were universally positive and all started seeing potential they had not yet considered for the ways curriculum management might be enhanced by personal laptops and Moodle. The teacher was already promising to keep the laptops busy every period remaining in the semester but now is actually seeing the possibilities of a near "paperless" classroom.

Got wind on Twitter last night of yet another contender for the netbook dollar – a Dell which already has a couple of entries but this one is really serious. The Dell Latitude 2100 reportedly aims for the enterprise market that only HP has so far has made a real run at, including the price structure that goes with that. Currently the HP 2140 might be considered the "Cadillac" of netbooks when money is not an issue but the new Dell which is not to be officially unveiled until around mid-May, might just be the "Lincoln Continental". Besides the upscaled design, quality and feature-set, enterprise-grade support is a critical factor of this approach, with both Dell and HP being a natural fit for it.

Meanwhile, however; price is a factor, so with that in mind we have quite positive expectations for the Acer Aspire One 10" model – the "Chevrolet" of netbooks! Incidentally, Acer is reportedly outselling all netbook brands including Asus, the pioneering "Ford" of netbooks, with their eeePC.

UPDATE 05/07/09:

Acer Aspire Ones working out quite well with nagging exception of 4 machines (out of 50) needing to be returned and one of the pilot teachers experiencing "digital fatigue". Out of the box or shortly after, two of the A1s suffered from dead trackpads and another from a bad display, while just today another trackpad bit the dust. The teacher of one of the netbook pilot test classes has discovered a need to periodically decompress with an occasional resort to pen, paper and grease pencil, at least during a transitional period. The kids on the other hand have found very little to complain about and indeed it can be difficult to convince them that some work should be done other than on the computer.

We are actually pilot testing the netbooks in two classes now (the other being Social Studies) with both using Google Apps in Moodle heavily. The sharing features in GAPPS are invaluable for hand-outs, student collaboration and teacher grading, as well as a nifty ability to embed presentations directly in a Moodle topic section. The GAPPS folder navigation can be a little confusing at first, seeing that it looks like an email client; but when you consider the actual purposes and function, it starts to make more sense.

We are in the process of installing iTalc on the netbooks to provide more manageability with the digital classroom. It is imperative that the teacher be given effective tools for keeping the kids on task, because lacking them, the clamor to block valuable but often distracting Web 2.0 resources will be an overwhelming force.

Full Summary of our Netbook Evaluations Here


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