When will someone produce a learning tool for today’s students?

Why can’t Alphasmart, Apple, Dell, Intel, or even Leapfrog, create a portable learning tool for students?  Really.  This does not strike me as terribly difficult.  Surely there is a willing market of schools and students who would want such a device.  So why did we not see the perfect device appear at Macworld yesterday?

If I have not made it clear in some of my previous posts, I believe ubiquitous computing is a must in schools today.  Anytime anywhere learning is crucial for both students and teachers to truly integrate technology into their day.  One of the main problems with one-to-one laptop programs is the question of cost-effectiveness: does it really make financial sense to give a student a $1000+ laptop?  Some of the fallout from doing so is often a culture of fear of not using such an expensive device.  If the school has paid so much for a computer, the students better be using it 24/7.

It would be preferable, in my opinion, to buy a $300 device that was smaller perhaps than a full laptop and yet did all the things a student might need to do.  While several devices have emerged very recently I am still not convinced anyone is taking this very seriously.  Apple would have been my bet, with their history of serving education, but they seem to be getting away from that.  Switching to Intel processors and abandoning OS9 has rendered hundreds of excellent educational software titles in our school’s library completely useless.   Now, I happen to think that OSX and the bundled iLife suite currently offer students the best learning tools for education today, but even a basic Macbook is around $1000.  Why not, Apple?

The OLPC, Intel’s Classmate, the Asus EEE PC and the Everex Cloudbook are all entering this market, though the first two are for emerging markets and the latter seem more for cheapskates than students.  I have nothing against emerging markets nor Linux but I do not see any of these as a perfect device.  I guess I think we need to depart from the “laptop” idea.  Something that is part iPhone, part tablet PC, part EEE PC, part OLPC and part Amazon Kindle.  Touch display, pen interaction, built-in camera, webcam and video cam, web browser, small form factor, rugged and lightweight.  All for $300.  Is that too much to ask?

Clearly, yes.

But someday soon.  If not Apple, then maybe Alphasmart, or Leapfrog or some new company.  I think perhaps the big guys are too married to the laptop form factor.

The Macbook Air is nice though.  I wouldn’t say no to one myself.


We had a good discussion today about whether or not our school should go ahead with the idea of being a one-to-one school, that is a school where every student has their own laptop.

Actually, we did not discuss that question so much as we have been over the issue many times before and everyone on our Info-Tech team seems to agree that, in order to achieve the educational needs of the 21st century, technology must be ubiquitous within the school.  If students are really to be using technology as a tool in their daily work, be it science, math, art or whatever, then they need anytime, anywhere access to said technology.  So, we already all agree that we must provide anytime, anywhere access to technology at ISKL.  What we discussed today was when that might become a reality, what kind of timeline we might be looking at and other issues surrounding how we might get there, what we need to do and what some of the questions are surrounding the implementation.

Some questions/issues we raised:

What grades would get laptops?  Not Kindergarten certainly.  So, which students are we actually talking about and which grade or grades would we start with (assuming we can not just jump in and give 2000 students laptops in one year.

What kind of computing device are we talking about?  MacBooks?  PC’s? Tablet PC’s?  OLPC’s? Asus EEE PC’s ($400 mini-laptop)? Alphasmart Dana’s?  Something else entirely?

How will we support them?

What kind of PD will we offer to teachers to prepare them for a room-full of laptop-toting students?

That last question garnered our greatest attention.  Without good professional development and training, laptop programs tend to fail out of the gate.  This is a crucial piece.

More on that next post.