Can mini-notebooks meet teacher needs, too?

Can mini-notebooks meet teacher needs, too?

Summary: Now that HP has introduced its underpowered, yet fairly compelling Mini-note to the growing market of ultra low-cost PCs (ULCPs) and Dell is soon to get in on the act, one has to ask if the computers originally targeted at young students can actually satisfy teacher needs as well.Those who have used the XO and the Classmate know that these little laptops tend to be immediate hits with kids and something of an acquired taste for adults.

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Now that HP has introduced its underpowered, yet fairly compelling Mini-note to the growing market of ultra low-cost PCs (ULCPs) and Dell is soon to get in on the act, one has to ask if the computers originally targeted at young students can actually satisfy teacher needs as well.

Those who have used the XO and the Classmate know that these little laptops tend to be immediate hits with kids and something of an acquired taste for adults. Primarily, the keyboards are really little. This is an easy adaptation for small-handed teachers like me, as well as the Blackberry set who are just happy to see QWERTY. However, we have one 60-year-old former basketball star turned health teacher who can barely hit the keys on a standard keyboard. A netbook probably wouldn't be such a hot choice for him.

HP's netbook (if you can call it that; the 2133 definitely pushes the boundary of the ULPC/netbook category with a $500 base price) addresses this to some extent with a 92% of full sized keyboard. Again, some of us with small hands may actually find that this slight reduction in size improves typing speed; I certainly type faster on my MacBook and on my son's old Dell Latitude 12" ultraportable than I do on a full-sized keyboard.

That's me, though. Same goes for the 9" screen. I felt like the 9" screen on the Classmate I recently reviewed was a great balance between size/weight and usability (although the native resolution should have been higher). Teachers whose reading glasses aren't as strong as mine may disagree.

The one thing they won't disagree on is weight. I've seen their looks of envy as I walk between classes, carrying my MacBook in one hand while they struggle with their 9 pound, 15" aging beasts. Tiny, light netbooks, for those who can adapt to typing on them, would be absolutely ideal for the average teacher roaming the halls and moving between student desks. Finding information with students, recording grades on homework, etc., are easily facilitated with a lightweight, small machine.

In a case like this, the HP Mini-Note could fill the bill quite nicely. In fact, the Classmate could also do the trick and wouldn't make me so squeamish, bumping down crowded halls or balancing on the edges of desks with its semi-ruggedized design.

As usual, this whole process comes down to defining user needs and deciding whether you want to take a one-size fits all approach to teacher computing. I'm wrestling with this question right now? Do I roll out MacBooks for everyone this summer, standardizing training, leasing through a single vendor, and standardizing parts/software/repairs, or do I identify the teachers whose computational needs are limited but who could benefit from this new crop of netbooks and really give them what they need?

I'm actually leaning toward the latter. As Atom-based netbooks start popping up, I think that more and more teachers will find that these suit their needs quite well; their bags are full enough every night with papers to grade. A tiny netbook that lets them communicate with students, enter grades, write up lesson plans, and put together presentations may be all they need.

For those who need more (podcasting, video editing, full-sized keyboard and screen, math/analytical applications, and/or more sophisticated content creation), the MacBooks are probably the way to go. As much as the IT guy in me screams for a standardized deployment across the board, the teacher in me knows that one size really doesn't fit all. Differentiated instruction doesn't just apply to our special education students.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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3 comments
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  • The power of computing

    "As much as the IT guy in me screams for a standardized deployment across the board, the teacher in me knows that one size really doesn?t fit all."

    As a 20 year IT professional, and a 25+ year computer user, I am getting a little tired of the one size fits all attitude. Part of the power of computing is the flexibility. If we really want to be of greater service to our customers, we need to offer them the same flexibility that we so often demand. If we choose standardization, we should err on the side of too much rather than too little.

    In the end, finding out what people really need and even catering to their wants where it is not too cumbersome is just good customer service. It may not be possible to offer everything, but the more we can offer, the better our users will work, feel, and think of us.
    philpenn
  • RE: Can mini-notebooks meet teacher needs, too?

    I'm an IT teacher. I just got our first UMPC - the eee, and I'm liking it so far. Problem is how we might use a linux system with our entirely windows based network. Straight away I see the benefits for students carrying one around, a wireless connection would be needed and I am concerned about power supply in classrooms.

    As for teachers, we already have a desktop in every classroom and every teacher has a laptop (some of them unused). We have a local install MIS that wouldn't work on linux, but in the future this will be web based and will therefore work on anything.

    I just requested my new laptop be a tablet but that was rejected by our systems manager. Laptops are standard issue and there is to be no flexibility because alternative OS (winxpte) are not supported.

    I guess there is an argument that we have already addressed laptops for teachers and they don't carry them round school so no need for umpcs, except reducing replacement costs when machines finish their 6 years.

    Ultimately the technology needs to be driven by the desired and actual outcomes of the work.
    daibarnes
  • Ever try an exterior keyboard?

    I have small hands too, so laptop keyboards are never an issue for me, but I am geek enough that I bought one of the rubbery roll up spill-proof keyboards just because they looked neat. Something like that is relatively cheap, pretty portable, and fills the need for a bigger keyboard if you are really in need of one. Not great for an airplane seat, but fine on a desk or table, which I would assume is where most teachers use their laptops, especially if they are doing really intensive keyboarding.
    ajole