Top tech gifts for teachers

The teacher in your life doesn't need another mug. He or she needs some cool tech.

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.

A domain

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 subscription

Again, most schools don't provide VPN access to school data or even teacher laptops to easily take their work home. A 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.

Thumb drives

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?