Archive for January, 2008

As I said in the earlier blogpost, though I’m in love with the form factor of the eee, I do have some concerns about it as a machine and as part of a school program. Here are the main things I have seen using the machine for about a month now:

  1. The size doesn’t bother me at all. I have no trouble viewing applications or web pages. Likewise, I don’t have any problem with the smaller keyboard (of course I’m not a touch typist…I don’t know how difficult it would be if I were). I don’t like the fact that the screen is significantly heavier than the keyboard. It works fine on a table top, but when I rest it on my lap, it continuously falls over, often causing me to make typing errors. I correct this by putting a book underneath which helps.
  2. Another good reason for the book is to keep the heat of the machine from burning my legs! I wonder about the overall power efficiency of the machine, since it gives off a lot of heat both underneath and through the keyboard. It doesn’t become uncomfortable, but you do feel the heat through the keys on your fingertips after typing for a while.
  3. Probably partially as a result of this, the battery life is poor. The book claims that it should be good for four hours, but I get closer to three, less if I am doing significant wireless work. I’ve read on another blog that a new version of the computer will come with three batteries which will help, but that’s more weight to carry and more charging to remem ber.
  4. The touchpad (like most touchpads) is temperamental and hard to use. Attaching a mouse makes the machine MUCH easier to use.
  5. The video card is not particularly robust. When I try to stream video from the web the video pauses often while it is loading the first time. I ran a side-by-side test with one of the wireless laptops currently used by teachers, each streaming a 20 minute video. The Toshiba played the video without a pause, but the eee was constantly pausing to load more data. Now, there are workarounds for this, once the video is downloaded it plays without a problem, and you can always download a video ahead of time, but I wonder whether this would become a hindrance over time.
  6. The lack of a CD/DVD drive doesn’t particularly bother me, though this might cause some compatibility issues down the line. If a textbook or reference was only available on CD, it would have to be converted to another media. I also wonder whether we would have issues with software that teachers really want that would be unavailable for Linux.

To have students get an eee PC would by necessity mean a scaled down machine, not one designed for high-level graphics. Rather it would be a tool for writing, research and other basic classroom uses. I’m not sure whether this machine will meet our needs (the first edition certainly doesn’t), but I do think it is something to watch as we examine other machines.

“The great thing about a computer notebook is that no matter how much you stuff into it, it doesn’t get bigger or heavier.”
Bill Gates

An interesting discussion of the “Digital Natives…” article:

Without knowing any of them, I recognize all the respondents!!

The eee PC from ASUS is the little laptop that I passed around at the meeting last month. I presented this as one of the possibilities for future student use. I want to be careful here. I’m not suggesting that we jump to this machine (or any other device). Rather, I was pointing out that there are several interesting developments in the portable PC market, and as we do an overall analysis of our program, we should be looking at everything out there.There are five things that attracted me to the eee for student use:

  1. The size and weight: The machine measures only about 6″x9″x1″ and weighs about 2 lbs. One of the objections I have always had to the traditional laptop is that it is not practical for students to carry and store a heavy machine that won’t fit into a locker.
  2. The stripped-down ease of use. Well over 90% of student computing is simple application use and Internet access. The eee is specifically designed for these tasks. The Open Office software is comfortable for any student who has used Microsoft Office and the Open Office program opens MS Office documents and saves in these formats. Though Open Office does not have all the functionality of the Microsoft product, the average user would be very hard-pressed to find anything lacking. The built-in wireless makes Internet access possible anywhere on campus (or in a Starbucks!).
  3. Portability of data. The eee shifts the paradigm of computer from data storage unit to a processing unit. Since the machine has virtually no hard drive (only 4Mb, 2 of which is used by preinstalled programs), Documents will primarily exist on memory sticks, SD cards, or on the Internet. This new model better fits an evolving image of technology where we have universal access to our data (I carry documents back and forth on my cell phone).
  4. Cost: The $400 price point (this is the retail price before any special school deal is reached) seems so much more reachable for parents than the $1000 or more that would be spent on a well-equipped laptop. At this cost, as student could use the machine for two years and then perhaps upgrade for 2 years.Connected with the cost would be the possibility of using the machine to replace other costs. I’m thinking mainly about textbooks here. I don’t think that “reading intensive” subjects like English, social studies or science would lend themselves to online textbooks (I could be wrong here…personally I don’t like to read books on a computer screen, but this may not be as true with our students), but math could easily be adapted for a digital format, available on a memory stick (or better still online). It would be easy to make the case for a machine like this if we could say that students would save $100 or more a year on textbooks.
  5. School Curricular Program: One of my biggest fears about going to a laptop program is the pressure it would place on teachers in every class to use the laptops incessantly…even for projects not best for suited to them. The small laptops would be easy to carry and have available at a second. This could replace some of the trips to the Multi-media labs, which are currently impacted because (with the exception of 503 and 209) they are the only place where Internet or application based project can be done.

Those are my initial positive reflections. I will be following this up with a discussion of some of the not-so-positive things about this machine (I was going to do this all at once, but this post has become ENORMOUS!.But what do you think about a program that would involve student laptops? Are there points that I am missing (I’m sure they are)? How do you feel as a teacher about this? How would you feel as a parent? as a student?

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”

–Stewart Brand