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An update on the Safebook and 1:1 computing

My students had another day to play with Devon IT's Safebook today. I also took the opportunity to ask them a few questions about 1:1 computing.

My students had another day to play with Devon IT's Safebook today. I also took the opportunity to ask them a few questions about 1:1 computing. Keep in mind that these kids are from a solidly middle-class community; many have access to computers and the web, but the majority share an aging machine with siblings and parents. Only a minority have their own laptops. Not surprisingly, when I asked what they would think of being provided with a laptop for use at school and home, their initial reaction was unanimous excitement. Who wouldn't want a laptop, right?

Yet when we talked about it a bit more extensively, they had some interesting perspectives. Most actually felt that once the novelty of a new computer wore off, they would actually make real use of the notebook for school-related activities. No doubt there would be a fair amount of extra-curricular communication going on, but the general sense was that even being able to research and type a paper in their room at night would be preferable to fighting for time on a shared computer. Similarly, only a small minority thought the prospect of YouTube in class was especially attractive; rather, they immediately keyed in on the way the few students in the class who have laptops have access to so much information to contribute to class discussions and projects.

They also noted that, while the computer labs are great, it is often hard for a teacher to schedule time in the labs or to use them in an impromptu fashion. An overwhelming majority expressed a preference for being able to type their work instead of write by hand and felt like they could be more efficient in writing and editing on a computer than they could on paper.

Not the response I expected from an inclusion math class filled with underclassmen; the computer remains a natural resource for these kids and not just an entertainment device as we often perceive. I was quite surprised at how many students really saw the computer for the tool that it is and not just a glorified toy. To test just how much they were willing to stick with the "computer-as-a-tool" model, I asked how they would feel about being assigned a Safebook and having to access most computing capabilities only from the fairly restrictive school environment. As I described the ways in which they could use the Safebook at home to connect to our network and application servers, but would otherwise be very limited in their computing on the laptop locally, most were impressed that such technology even existed.

An overwhelming majority of the students would have happily taken the Safebooks, limited local resources and all, and happily worked at home with easy access to all of their files and the variety of software we can offer on our terminal servers. Here's where the Safebook can start justifying its $599 pricetag. While I could have students using full-featured (if not bleeding edge) laptops for $500-$600 a piece, and even provide similar access to the Terminal Services, at home, it is much harder to control the sites they visit, the applications they run and install, and the malware they bring back to school.

With a Safebook, on the other hand, there isn't a lot the students can do besides surf the Web, unless they are virtually behind your school's firewall. The lack of moving parts also means they are more likely to survive bus rides and backpacks better than inexpensive consumer-oriented laptops.

To make such a scenario work, a robust network and server architecture would have to be in place; however, if it's there and you are thinking about 1:1 models, then the Safebook is certainly worthy of examination. Ideally, students could still choose to purchase their own laptops and forgo a notebook thin client. They would still benefit from the networking, but would reduce costs for the school.

Pictures of the Safebook and it's desktop cousin will follow this weekend. For now, though, is your school considering 1:1 computing? Talk back and let us know.