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.


  1. Thanks for mentioning my school in the link above. Netbooks have been great for us! We've been using the ClassmatePC Convertible for the past year, and it was a good move for us. It was an affordable way to expand our 1:1 program and keep the features teachers and students needed in the classroom. For around $700, we were able to provide 3 years of access to a semi-ruggedized, student-friendly tablet w/no-fault warranty, MS Office, and all the other apps kids need for school. If our curriculum wasn't already so tablet-intensive, we could have done it for even less. Of course, I'm not going to complain when curriculum evolves to be technology-dependent if it works well :-)

  2. Thank you Tami for the comment. Your school is doing great work and it is good to see the focus on the curriculum that provides teachers and students affordable tools that can be scaled for success. Great Job!
    Tom Grissom