Teachers, by and large, aren't the geekiest folks around. Unless you're talking about computer science professors at some research university - those guys are really geeky. The average K12 teacher, though, regardless of where they fall on the geek spectrum, has tech needs, whether they know it or not. This presents great opportunities for gifts, avoiding the apple and "World's Greatest Teacher" mug cliches. In no particular order, speaking as a former teacher and someone who regularly assesses that tools and capabilities that teachers need to do their jobs effectively, is a list of several gift ideas that are sure to be hits with the teachers in your life.
Dell Inspiron Duo
OK, this is for the teacher you really like. As in one to whom you're either married or gave birth. It hasn't yet made it to the Dell Connected Classroom or to educational pricing (I'm told that this is on its way early in 2011; a full review will be forthcoming as soon as Dell sends me an educational SKU), but this is the very sort of device that even a slightly savvy teacher would love to carry into class.
It's a netbook on steroids, so the price is reasonable (starting at $549) and it provides teachers with a handy interface for walking among students and sharing images, files, grades, and other content.
This one's cheap in terms of money, but will probably cost you in terms of tech support. While some schools provide wonderful resources for e-learning and sharing content between teachers and students, many more simply don't have the IT support, the wherewithal, the vision, or the supporting policies. Teachers often turn to free blogging services and other Web 2.0 sites to share content (even as simple as posting homework online). However, with the support of a loving relative or a particularly grateful student, they can not only have their own hosted domain, but that domain could easily contain a WordPress installation, a Moodle instance, or just a simple site builder. It won't be long before the domain becomes a hub for their classes.
A Box.net subscription
Again, most schools don't provide VPN access to school data or even teacher laptops to easily take their work home. A Box.net subscription lets them store everything they do in the cloud, as well as share the content they want with their students. 5 free gigabytes are generous and you look good for giving a free gift.
A mobile 3G (or 4G) card/device
If that special teacher can't access all the content they want to share with students because of Draconian content filtering, a 3G USB dongle will take care of things. A MiFi will do the same. Data costs can add up, but slow, unreliable, or unfriendly school connections can stand between a progressive teacher and, well, being progressive. Should I be advocating this sort of guerilla Internet access? Probably not, but this is a gift guide, not a policy discussion, and there aren't many teachers who don't bristle at content filtering that interferes with a demo, video, or presentation in class.
Not everyone is a fan of the cloud. Sometimes, they'd rather back up to a USB stick and sneakernet their work home. Never fear, thumb drives are cheap, small, and increasingly cool. Check out this one from ThinkGeek:
Just don't forget the teacher on your list. Teachers, geeky or not, need toys too, and they might as well be 21st Century toys, right?
Christopher Dawson grew up in Seattle, back in the days of pre-antitrust Microsoft, coffeeshops owned by something other than Starbucks, and really loud, inarticulate music. He escaped to the right coast in the early 90's and received a degree in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University. While there, he began a career in health a...
Christopher Dawson is the owner and principle consultant for tekedu.net, formerly 6geeks.net, formerly 2D Business Services. Obviously this little company has evolved over the years, first as a side job consulting for local biotechs and ultimately becoming an umbrella for consulting and writing work related to educational technology. He spent 2 years as Vice President of Business Development for WizIQ, Inc., heading up US operations for the Indian company; he still consults for them. He has worked for his local school district as a teacher and technology director, for the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, and for Biogen, Inc. (now Biogen-IDEC, Inc.). He has also consulted with STATNet and Cytyc Corporation and retains close ties with X2 Development Corporation (now part of Follett Software, the supplier of the student information system he administered for several years), including occasional activities that involve some sort of honorarium. However, he promises that if he writes about anything interesting they do, it's because it's interesting and not because they tossed him a few hundred bucks a while back.
He regularly purchases and/or recommends Dell hardware. This is because Dell makes good hardware and has truly committed itself to education in innovative ways, particularly with their "Connected Classroom" initiative. It isn't because he has had dealings with the company through his role at WizIQ (which he has) or because they have provided him with long-term loans of a variety of equipment for in-depth testing (which they have). HP gets nods from him, too; they have similarly provided him with equipment on long-term loan and their workstations rock out loud, so they deserve the coverage.
He actually buys Apple equipment because they don't send him free stuff and he has a nasty Apple habit that he can't help feeding occasionally.
Intel (reference designer for the Classmate PCs he has implemented in his local schools) has provided him with long-term loans of Classmate PCs for testing, as as has Lenovo with its educational offerings. Intel paid all expenses for his attendance at the 2009 Intel Classmate PC Ecosystem Summit which he attended as the sole representative of the technology press. He was invited to attend in 2010 but his wife would have killed him if he spent 3 days in Vegas geeking out and left her home alone with a new baby.
And Google? Well, he has more than one Chromebook provided as preview units and runs his consulting business with Google Apps (in fact, he has 5 different domains tied to Google Apps, one of which he actually pays for to use Google Apps for Business).
Acer provided him with a 50% discount on an Aspire One netbook in early 2009 after he tested it for 30 days through their educational seed program. He liked the netbook at the time but it has since broken and sits unused in his office. Canonical sent him Ubuntu lanyards, t-shirts, and mousepads for his kids. He stole one of the lanyards and proudly hangs his keys from it and occasionally features his 8-year old wearing an oversized Ubuntu t-shirt on his Facebook profile.
Gunnar Optiks sent him a pair of computer glasses to evaluate for a holiday gift guide. He is wearing them now as he types this because they never asked for them back and they rock out loud, too. Seriously - they work brilliantly and make it much easier to spend 20 hours a day staring at an LCD. If they ever asked for them back, he would fork over the $99 and buy a pair.He even convinced his mom to buy him a pair of their sunglasses for his birthday.
Microsoft gave him 2 free copies of Office 2010 professional, a desktop clock, and a useless book on Office 2010 when he attended the launch of Office/Sharepoint 2010. He occasionally uses the SharePoint lanyard they gave him instead of the Ubuntu lanyard for his keys, but feels dirty afterwards.
Blackboard paid him to be a keynote speaker at their 2012 Developers Conference but then went and bought a bunch of open source companies, bumped him from the program so they could explain why they would do such a thing, and he got to keep the cash, all for covering the event for a day. It was bloody hot and humid in New Orleans, so he earned every cent.
Adobe has given him lots of software and more than a couple free lunches at various conferences. Like the Gunnars, he would actually buy a Creative Cloud subscription if his free licenses on CS6/Creative Cloud run out because he couldn't do his job without them and CS6 (yes, I'm going to say it again) rocks out loud. Seriously. $50/month for Creative Cloud is a third of what he'd be willing to pay for it. Which is saying something, because he's actually pretty cheap.
Any other companies wishing to send him cool things to evaluate, wear, or otherwise adorn his kids are more than welcome to; he promises to disclose it here if he keeps any of the stuff.
And speaking of free stuff, Tuf-Luv has sent him enough free stuff to cover just about every tablet, phone, and laptop he's ever owned. That said, when his dog destroyed one of the cases and the Motorola Xoom inside it survived without a slobber mark, he went out and actually bought a new one. Same goes for an iPad he gave away as part of a contest he ran with WizIQ - he (meaning his corporate Amex) actually bought a Tuff-Luv case because (you guessed it) they rock out loud.
He may report on any of these companies as his experiences with them have direct bearing on educational technology, Google, cloud services, etc; positive reports are not necessarily an endorsement and he receives no direct financial compensation from these companies or any others.
He's pretty sure that's it. If he thinks of anything else, he'll be sure to tell you all about it here. By the way, he also writes for lots of other publications, but pretty much just about SMB stuff, so it doesn't really much matter. The writing and broadcasting he does for Edukwest (not surprisingly, ed tech-related) usually gets cross-posted to ZDNet, so that's all good too.