Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Educational Choices – What do you want to buy today?

What if the eee PC netbook launched this week along side the iPad?

Would people be calling the eee PC netbook a “game changer” for education? Would we see a college rush to purchase netbooks for all full-time students as we have witnessed for the iPad even if they could do so at half the cost? I doubt it.

CNET article about iPads for all full-time students at Seton Hall

Netbooks seem to be the Rodney Dangerfield of devices, they often do not get the respect they deserve. OK, I am dating myself there but for those of you that are younger you can look it up in Wikipedia.

Despite the lack of publicity netbooks have become a big hit in education. Schools are finding learning value with the netbook form factor and doing so without breaking budgets.

St. Paul Academy - Using classmate PCs and embracing 1:1!

Asus was the computer company that began the netbook revolution by introducing a 7 inch model in October of 2007. To be fair the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) movement really seemed to provide the impetus for Intel to jump into the netbook game a couple of years ago. Since that time however netbooks have evolved, and are still evolving, but there are a few identifying factors for netbooks.

Netbooks are affordable, small, and look like a miniature laptop. Do not let the small size fool you as most netbooks are capable of running the full version of Microsoft Office and connecting to the Internet just like their full-sized brethren. Netbooks are considered a “tweener” in that they are larger than a cell phone yet smaller than a laptop. Typing on a cell phone sized device is cumbersome for me and carrying around a full-sized laptop is inconvienient and heavy so netbooks have stepped in to fill this void.

To be fair the iPad and netbooks are in two different categories of devices and each have their own strengths. Comparing them at this point really is like comparing apples and oranges, sorry couldn’t resist. Even though they are in two different form factors I wanted to provide a snapshot in history of the two devices before the category of netbooks completely disappears from the face of the earth as some are predicting.

iPad, tablets expected to dampen Netbook sales

Today many netbooks come with Windows 7 Starter Edition but you can easily install your favorite Linux distro on most models if you so desire. Generally speaking netbooks cost below 500 US dollars although there are a few models that may exceed this price.

Below are a couple of links to the eee PC Seashell netbook and the iPad with product descriptions and pricing to provide a context for comparison:

Amazon link to the eee PC Seashell 1005PE model netbook
$355 – as of April 6, 2010

Apple link to the iPad website:
$499 – as of April 6, 2010

So if you happen to have $500 burning a hole in your pocket, what device would you buy today, right now, given the two choices above? What choice would you make for your students?

For me it comes down to educational purpose. Too often technologists approach the problem from the wrong end, they start with the device and then look for solutions. In my opinion this seems to be the stage we are going through right now with the iPad. For those comparing the iPad to netbooks it seems to come down to the old form versus function argument. When are we going to learn that it is pedagogy first, then technology?

I do believe that the iPad will continue to evolve and gradually get better and offer more features just as netbooks have done over the past couple of years, but right now the jury is still out on its effectiveness and versatility as an educational tool.

Will I buy an iPad? Maybe, but for now I am sitting this one out until I see value beyond what I am currently getting from my netbook and keeping a couple of Benjamins of savings in my pocket. I also have my eye on several Android slate devices that are coming to market.

So for now the netbook remains a secret enjoyed by those who have bucked others opinions enough to give them a try. Netbooks won’t be for everyone but right now they pack the biggest bang for the buck and during these tough economic times they are worthy of consideration right up there with the iPad. At this point in history a netbook solution should at least be a consideration for any college or school looking to provide students educational tools for 21st Century learning.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Netbook Secrets – A practical story

Today may seem a bit of an odd day to start a new blog called Netbook Secrets considering all the hype around a certain company in California is receiving regarding their latest/greatest device. Just in case you have been under a rock Apple shipped the first round of slate computer devices to their customers known as the iPad over the weekend. The iPad is a slate computing device that costs $499 for the cheapest model. The iPad does not have a physical keyboard but instead relies upon a touch-screen interface similar to the iPhone.

Netbooks on the other hand are not flashy devices (but they do support Flash unlike the iPad) they are rather diminutive in size, practical, and affordable. Netbooks have been around since 2007 and do not have many of the limitations of the first incarnation of the iPad. Granted, I am sure the iPad will improve with each successive generation but I am amazed that many are not considering a netbook alternative right now in light of such current limitations, not to mention costing half as much and capable of doing so much more than the iPad. Before everyone puts the final nail in the coffin of the netbook story I want to share my experiences over the past couple of years regarding the affordability and effectiveness of netbooks in the classroom.

To be fair the iPad and netbooks are in two different categories of devices and each have their own strengths. Comparing them at this point really is like comparing apples and oranges, sorry couldn’t resist. Even though they are in two different form factor camps I wanted to provide a snapshot in history of the two devices before the category of netbooks completely disappears from the face of the earth as some are predicting.

Screen 9.7 inch
Physical Keyboard – No, but Bluetooth keyboard available separately
Battery Life – 10 hours reported
Flash Support - No
Software – apps approved by Apple
Hard Drive – 16GB, up to 64 GB available
USB Ports - No
VGA or HDMI port - No
Touch Screen - Yes
Removable battery - No
Wide Screen - No
Webcam - No
Multitasking – No
Card Reader - No
Closed Platform - Apple only
Weight - 1.5 pounds
Costs - $499 lowest price model up to $829

Screen 10 inch typical
Physical Keyboard – Yes, 92% full-size
Battery Life – up to 14 hours with latest models
Flash Support - Yes
Software – whatever you want to install, Windows or Linux supported
Hard Drive – 160GB common, larger sizes available
USB Ports - Yes
VGA or HDMI port – Yes, can connect to large screen HDTV
Touch Screen – No, but touch screens are available on some newer models
Removable battery - Yes
Wide Screen - Yes
Webcam - Yes
Multitasking – Yes
Card Reader - Yes
Open Platform – Yes, Windows XP, Windows 7 and/or Linux versions
Weight - 3.2 pounds typical
Costs - Typically between $200 to $500

Here is a recent article from PC World comparing the two devices:

Here is an article from Mobile-Tech-Today predicting the demise of the netbook:

As you can see some have maligned netbooks in the press as being underpowered devices that do not do anything well. Despite such misperceptions netbooks are finding a niche in educational settings.

This blog will share my experiences with netbooks over the past two years and how they do offer many positive benefits for educators and especially students. Most importantly these benefits are real-life and already implemented with proven results. So if you are interested in hearing a few secrets about netbooks you have come to the right place. As with all things technology related netbooks will continue to evolve but they have already made a huge impact for educational institutions willing to keep an open mind.