I first was introduced to the idea of a netbook two years ago while walking through the aisles at Target. I spotted a little wireless Asus EEPC with its a seven inch screen and an 8GB flash drive. The first thing I thought was, “Awww.” The second thing was, “Finally.”
The netbook is loosely defined as a notebook computer whose primary purpose is surfing the Web. Netbooks tend to be tiny and low-powered, with small keyboards and little chance for expandability. Who would want such a machine? I had one before Christmas.
Now, I like a powerful computer as much as the next guy, but as a teacher I spend most of my time typing, surfing the web, and responding to email. The last thing I have the time for or interest in is playing video games. Yet that is how most computers are judged-by their ability to play the latest game. That’s not what a school should be looking for when buying computers.
Netbooks are small, so the screen can seemed cramped, but as they mature as a market, the screens have been getting better. The machines themselves are also getting tougher; battery life on some stretches to seven hours, almost a full school day! Netbooks make portable computing easy and affordable for schools, especially since many of the new models are faster and, in fact, built for schools.
Here are two of the models that have been produced especially for the education market.
The Dell Latitude 2100: This computer is built like a Mack truck, with a tough, rubberized body that makes it extra-easy for gripping. It is loaded with options such as an anti-microbial keyboard, a handy carrying strap and a touch screen (that I assume would work with SMARTboard software?). Dell seems to have thought a lot about what teachers’ concerns might be. For example, they offer a big LED on the top of the netbook that lights up if someone is surfing the internet. They also came up with a special docking cart so you never have to worry about a rats’ nest of tangled cords.
The HP Mini 100e: HP was a little slow to the education-netbook game, although their mini line is solid and very user-friendly. They have just released the Mini 100e, a netbook with a carrying strap and spill-resistant keyboard. It has the usual features of a netbook, two USB ports, Ethernet, and audio-jacks, but what surprised me was this: it has a modem. A modem: the Coelacanth of the computer world. Who uses dial-up? The dozens of kids I work with, who live outside the realm of cable or DSL, that’s who. I imagine there are many rural districts like mine where students would love to check out a laptop but can’t use the internet since most don’t have modems.
A few “musts” before investing in netbooks:
Larger batteries: Most netbooks come with three-cell or six-cell batteries and as a result get only about four hours of life. I think it’s much better to spend a little extra and get a larger battery to give you at least six hours, enough to get through a school day or a long field trip.
A dependable wireless system in your school: These are more affordable than you might think. A high-volume wireless port that can connect students to your network is a must. I will never forget the frustration of having wonderful new laptops and never being able to use them due to disconnects or long log-on times Add in a class full of frustrated students, and fun technology quickly becomes more trouble than it’s worth.