Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An access model problem and my new netbook: The Acer Aspire One

As our school continues to explore new web 2.0 technologies, we've been experiencing greater pressures on our access model. Currently, St. Christopher's maintains a lab based access model. This model has served its purpose for a number of years but now the pressure is on. Despite our best efforts, scheduling time in the lab continues to be a problem. The 2 biggest obstacles are finding an open slot and then making sure that the lab has sufficient machines to handle the class size. Unfortunately, one lab only has 16 machines which causes teachers to shy away if they have to send some students to the library or the other lab.

So what does that mean? It means our teachers are integrating technology with greater frequency and they want to use more of it with their classes. But there is a caveat, they would like more access but without the headaches of juggling/jockeying for lab space or wondering if there will be sufficient computers to accommodate the class size.

The good news is that the MS is up for a replacement of its computers which has prompted our tech department to do some exploring and creative thinking. Soon thereafter, I came upon a tweet mentioning the Acer Education K-12 Seed Program. I took a look and determined it was a great opportunity to beta test a netbook in a school environment.

So here is how it worked. Essentially, Acer would give you a netbook to try out and after a given time period, one could either return it and just pay shipping or one could purchase the Acer Aspire One for $199.00 at the end of the trial period. That deal was simply too good to pass up so I signed up.

Upon receiving the netbook, I was immediately stunned by how light weight it was.  I've been a laptop/tablet user for quite some time and they just seemed like boat anchors by comparison.  The next thing that caught my eye was the screen.  It is super crisp and it supports a max resolution of 1024x600.  The keyboard is considerably more comfortable than the 2goPC tablet's but I wish the space bar were a bit more responsive towards the ends of the key.

The OS + upgrades
The netbook shipped with XP home sp3 which did surprisingly well but made it difficult to connect to network resources at our school because one cannot connect to the domain.  After using the netbook for about 2 weeks, I decided to switch to Win7 and I increased the memory to 2 GB(it ships w/ one). Let's just say I will never look back.  Win 7 runs great on a netbook and the RAM upgrade just made the overall experience that much better.

Putting the netbook through its paces
I've been using the netbook daily for several weeks now and I am impressed. I've run multiple programs concurrently while teaching and it has yet to hiccup. On several occassions, I've run Excel, Chrome, Synchroneyes, and Outlook without a noticeable decline in performance.  I've also projected wirelessly with this netbook but in this case video refresh did decline.  I have to test this again because I was still running Aero.  I have not tested video editing and rendering but I suspect it will handle short clips(2-3 min) without a problem.

Is this a viable device for students?
I would say yes. The size, weight, performance, and battery life make netbooks a nice alternative to a full fledged laptop.  The price point is particularly budget friendly for schools and parents and it is a nice alternative to the desktop/lab model.  It can provide the ubiquitous learning environment that models how our students will engage with technology in their daily lives.

I'll keep you posted on what we decide but wish us luck, because I know where I would like to go.

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