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Best in Tech 2009: Netbooks

News, Advice, Reviews

By Ken Royal | August 2009

Netbooks, Notebooks, Tablets, and 1:1
The latest and greatest in options for going mobile.

Notebooks are rapidly becoming the core of the digital classroom. But with hundreds to choose from, which computer to use can be a tough choice. Our reviewers approached the decision from different angles, but the results are the same: a richer and more dynamic educational environment that rewards innovation.

Lenovo IdeaPad S10

Goal: We wanted to put a quality computer in the hands of every student so they could explore the digital world, do online research, and perform group work. We limit parents to the choice of three systems.
Response: The kids are excited about the notebooks. Currently, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is the favorite. Parents like it because it costs about one-third of what the others do; students like it because it is smaller and lighter. So far, the systems we recommended have stood up well to three years of high school use.
Lesson Learned: We learned that specifying certain models was helpful for maintenance. We have established a relationship with vendors and gotten a good price. We do many of the repairs ourselves and stock some parts for a quick turnaround. We even have a few loaner machines.
Usage: The students carry the notebooks all day. They use them in just about every class with a curriculum that is a mix of digital and traditional.
Future: Right now, only the high school students receive notebooks, but this coming school year we’re expanding the program to make it voluntary in the middle school. Soon, about half of all our students will have notebooks. —Dustin Durbin

Fujitsu LifeBook U810
Goal: The middle school was lacking the necessary technology, and our computers were 13 years old. The choice was influenced by student cell phone and handheld use.
Response: Students love using the mini notebook. Some veteran staff members were skeptical because of the small size and their own learning curve on how to use it. However, parents have been very supportive of the implementation into the building.
Lesson Learned: We had to develop new security protocols, so the small devices didn’t disappear. We instituted protocols for teachers and added GPS security software, without creating an onerous environment.
Usage: Teachers and students have digitally captured presentations and discussions they have had in class and posted them to sites like TeacherTube. Teachers have also saved student work to a flash drive for later assessment. The webcams have proved to be valuable teaching tools.
Future: It is my hope that we will be able to support the tablet functionality in the mini through teacher tablet laptops, where teachers will be able to project from their tablet laptops —Scott J. Hunt

HP Mini-Note 2140
Goal: We wanted to help teachers promote a technology-rich, problem-based learning environment for students, improve student achievement, and increase graduation rates.
Response: Teachers, principals, and students are very excited.
Lesson Learned: This is a way to prevent high school students from “powering down” when they come to school. The Mini-Note will play an important part in that.
Usage: The district will create a learning environment that looks more like a real-world workplace. Providing staff development and opportunities to change the environment is important to our plan.
Future: We believe that, in four years, students will be achieving at a higher level and mastering more concepts because of the learning environment we are creating today. —Janet Herdman

Dell Latitude 2100
Goal: We wanted to increase the computer-to-student ratio without breaking the bank, infuse creative technology use in class, increase student achievement, and address families without Internet access.
Response: A planning committee agreed to the need for more wireless computers. By engaging our administrators, teachers, community members, and parents, we have planted some seeds for using netbooks.
Lesson Learned: Netbooks can be sent home with preloaded content, thus engaging the parents as a resource in their child’s education. District webpages can be accessed anywhere. Dell’s warranty program ensures that equipment is repaired quickly.
Usage: We have set teacher expectations, established usage and operational procedures, and collected survey data. Utilization of webcams and touch screens is important.
Future: Sixty percent of annual computer purchases will
be netbooks. Using Stoneware’s WebOS will give us a cost-effective platform. —Michael Taylor

Asus Eee PC 1000 HE
Goal: To go 1:1 for seventh and eighth grades, and then expand.
Response: I had students demo units, and Asus was one of the top favorites. The cost difference made our choice. The Asus has some handy features: extreme battery life, multi-finger mousepad features, and a hardy keyboard.
Usage: We purchased 100 units. The majority will go to our
middle school, and 24 will go to the elementary school.
Future: We hope to achieve our middle school 1:1 goals and project expansion to other levels. —Chad Frerichs

Goal: We hope to increase technology literacy and offer more courses, such as online AP, credit recovery, and STEMs. We chose MacBooks for their creative tools and ease of administration.
Response: The administration has been pivotal. There are some teachers that are leery of a 1:1, but most are excited. Students are thrilled that they can take them home.
Lesson Learned: We needed to be very specific about our needs. It is impossible to overplan.
Usage: All 7–12 students get a MacBook for the school year. Students use them at home and anywhere else they need. They have access to e-mail and Moodle course materials.
Future: We will increase technology lessons and continue professional development and peer sharing. Students will develop creative solutions. —Karl Hehr

Toshiba Portégé M750 Tablet
Goal: We wanted to implement a 1:1 tablet PC program to enhance our students’ learning experience.
Response: Teachers and students like the lighter weight and great portability.
Lesson Learned: We started training our teachers a year prior to the start of our program, but more time would have been better.
Usage: Seniors use the Toshiba Tecra M4, juniors the Portégé M400, sophomores the M700, and this fall our incoming freshmen will get the new Portégé M750 Tablet.
Future: We will move toward wireless projection in class, using tablets to annotate onto the screen. —Blair Cook
Neo 2
The Neo2 works with Google docs, so teachers and students can wirelessly access and store work, and its onboard resources—such as Accelerated Reading quizzes, 2Know Classroom Response, Text2Speech, and MathFacts—are very appealing. Under two pounds, the Neo2 prints wirelessly and can run up to 700 hours on three AA batteries. $199.

Acer Aspire One
The Acer netbook family has some low-cost models beginning at $299. They feature the Intel Atom N270 processor, a 10.1-inch screen, a 160GB hard drive, a webcam, a digital card reader, and a comfortable keyboard. They come with a three-cell battery and weigh 2.44 pounds.

Samsung NC10-14GB
The N270 Atom NC10-14GB netbook is priced at $419.99, has a 10.2-inch screen, and weights 2.8 pounds with 1GB RAM, a 160GB hard drive, and a six-cell battery. It’s wireless and includes a webcam. There is also an N120-12GW model with a full-size 12-inch keyboard for $439.99.

The familiar-shaped StudentMate, which runs the Linux OS, has wireless capability and SD card memory that can be expanded. Onboard, it has Microsoft-compatible word processing and spreadsheet tools, as well as e-mail, calendar, calculator, typing-tutor, paint-program, homework-tracker, and tutorial apps. It’s priced at $299, with a five-year warranty.

MSI Wind
MSI Wind offers several low-priced netbooks. They use the Intel Atom N270 processor, have a 10-inch screen, with 1GB system memory and a 160GB hard drive. The U100 models weigh 2.3 pounds, come with a three-cell battery, and have built in wireless, starting at $289.99.

CDI refurbishes computers and sells them at half the cost of buying them new. Districts can standardize the notebooks or desktops to suit their needs, and with a three-year warranty, it’s a viable way to add technology within the confines of today’s tighter budgets.

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