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Can mini-notebooks meet teacher needs, too?

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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Written by Christopher Dawson on

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.

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