I just heard from Intel that two evaluation Classmate PCs should be arriving for my review on Tuesday. I have to say that the curiosity is definitely getting the best of me. Just how well will a 7 inch screen really do, especially in the hands of American high school students? Is it a complete dog, or a rugged, energy efficient, low-cost way to bring computers into the hands of a lot of kids (not just in developing countries)? How well does the Linux version perform compared to the Windows version (that's why they are sending two: one for each platform). Is it just the right size to shove in a backpack or is it too small for anyone bigger than elementary school kids?
It's one thing to read the specs and talk to representatives from Intel; it's quite another to actually try to get work done on one of these little machines. Obviously, these computers are largely directed at developing countries, particularly areas like China with emerging infrastructure, but very limited access to technology in a classroom setting. Intel has not announced whether it intends to make them available in the States. Yet as I teach more and more, I'm finding an increasing number of classroom applications in which a computer on every students' lap would actually be very helpful (if software and watchful eyes were available to minimize the distractions and maximize the learning).
Increasingly, our computer labs are full every period of the day, with teachers arranging lessons around access to the labs and competing for the space. Two students in my physics class today broke out their laptops during a discussion of tidal/wave power generation and were able to guide the discussion and help us develop further areas of research with a few good queries. The same kids then posted links to the sites on their blogs for the other students to check after school. Hardly MySpace frivolity, computers of late have become nearly essential tools for many of our teachers to facilitate research, communication, and documentation.
Only some hands-on time will tell if the Classmate and it's miniature ilk like the Asus Eee will be able to satisfy this need in a classroom where only a handful can afford full-blown laptops.