Hardware & Software for 21st-Century Schools
The Need For Network Speed
While wireless networking can blanket a school with data, it still leaves some nooks and crannies where the signal doesn’t quite reach. Hawking Technology’s HSB2 Hi-Gain WiFi Signal Booster can fill in these dead spots, but, at $75, it costs the same as a midrange access point.
Simple to install, the HSB2 booster requires neither software nor tools, and takes half a minute to set up. It can only work with a wireless LAN access point that has a removable antenna, however. The FCC warns that the HSB2 should only be used with approved equipment made by Hawking, but it worked just fine with equipment from D-Link, Netgear, and Linksys.
By using a powerful amplifier and sensitive filters, the device creates a much stronger signal, which can easily reach outside a school’s campus. Those concerned about broadcasting the school’s data beyond its walls can adjust the booster’s output switch. Using a ThinkPad T42 in a hundred-year-old building with no shortage of thick plaster walls, the HSB2 added more than 40 feet to our network’s range while filling in all the dead spots. Better yet, it boosted data speed by about one-third, making it the easiest way to get the most out of a wireless network.
At around $350, it may cost a little more than budget LCD monitors, but the special screen coating on Neovo’s X-19 model can stand up to daily use and abuse in a classroom or lab, which cuts down on repair and replacement costs. With a host of digital and analog inputs and SXGA resolution, it should fit into any class. This LCD monitor is less than seven inches thick, and the company sells optional wall-mounting hardware and a TV tuner. The monitor comes with a three-year warranty.
Although it looks like a spaceship from an alien world, the Lumens DC160 digital visual presenter (right) is really a portable document camera with a built-in light that can work with any modern projector and computer. At around $1,000, it’s pricey, but the device creates super-sharp images—twice the resolution of other cameras—and has a 3X zoom lens. The $100 remote control (left) is also available.
Instant Digital Darkroom
In addition to the expected duties of printing, scanning, and faxing, Epson’s CX7000F multifunction printer can create beautiful photorealistic prints directly from a digital camera. All you do is plug the camera into the printer’s USB port, making it an inexpensive addition to an art room’s digital darkroom. It has the ability to send and receive color faxes, but costs only about $150.
XO Ready To Go
As the much ballyhooed $100 laptop moves closer to reality in beta testing, it looks more likely to be closer to $150 when it ships by year’s end. Made by Taiwan’s Quanta Computer Inc., the XO will be based on the Linux operating system, have a 7.5-inch high-resolution display, and weigh less than four pounds. Inside will be a 500-megahertz AMD processor, 128MB of RAM, four USB ports, and wireless networking; there’ll even be an optional crank-up power source for charging. The goal is to produce 10 million XO notebooks in the first year, and Thailand, Libya, and India have committed to buy sys- tems. Many other countries are discussing purchases.
Tablets, the Mac Way
Axiotron’s ModBook, the first Macintosh tablet, is a great alternative to PC-based tablets for Apple-centric schools. Based on a slate design, the ModBook trades a keyboard for a touch screen and stylus, but mirrors MacBook hardware with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, DVD drive, and built-in video camera. The 13.3-inch screen has a Wacom stylus digitizer, and the rugged magnesium tablet has an optional GPS mapping system.
Short Throw, Long Reach
Perfect for small rooms, offices, or mini-classrooms, the Toshiba TDP-ET20U can fill a screen from as close as four feet away. At over ten pounds, it’s a bit much to lug around, but the TDP has a built-in DVD player, and its DLP imaging engine pumps out 1,100 lumens of brightness at a resolution of 854 by 480.
Are You Being Served?
The Linksys WPSM54G wireless print server has the unique ability to move data both ways, so that it can not only send documents to be printed, but can move scans and faxes from a multifunction device to a PC. The $120 unit works with all 802.11b or g networks, and is compatible with a variety of recent multifunction devices from the major manufacturers.
Along with a bold look and a host of new features, Microsoft’s Windows Vista includes a way to quickly and easily move files from one system to another. You’ll need a special cable to take advantage of it, however. Belkin’s $40 Easy Transfer Cable is perfect for sharing files and documents in a classroom or small school that lacks a data network. Just plug the eight-foot cable into the USB ports on the systems and Vista does the rest for basic transfers. The Belkin cable comes with Laplink software for automatically updating and synchronizing files and folders.
Bet On Better Scores
With everything from tutorials and diagnostics to exams, flash cards, and practice drills, Franklin’s Pocket Prep is one of the best ways to get a college-bound class ready for the all-important SAT day. The tiny tutor’s software, lessons, and tests come from The Princeton Review, which makes a similar device for the ACT. The best part is that the device has a money-back guarantee: if scores don’t improve, you get your $150 back. Seems like a safe bet.
The Promethean Activboard+2 projection system does not require costly in-ceiling wiring, a major consideration when retrofitting older classrooms or specifying new classroom construction. The projector is mounted to the board by a strong steel arm positioned approximately three feet away from the board screen, and can be operated remotely, giving teachers complete control. The device includes a connections module that can link to a computer, VCR, DVD, document camera, and other peripherals. For added security, a wall-mounted lockable security cage is available as an optional extra.