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I've been thinking about asking students to have devices like iphones instead of laptops or tablets. To me, it seems the greatest value is in access to information. I'd be willing to forgo the production benefits of the larger devices if I could also forgo the cost, infrastructure, and support that they require.

I look with a bit of envy at those countries that skipped the land line infrastructure and went straight to wireless. I'm amazed by the pace of technological progress and all the different ways people use their phones today. I don't like to bet on the future, but it seems to me that we are 3-5 years away from smart phones being able to almost completely replace laptops anyway.

What do you think?

Views: 21

Comment by Peter Gow on June 1, 2008 at 3:05pm
I'm increasingly inclined to agree that smartphones are a pretty good idea for schools and students. There has been a lot of chatter about regulating use of these devices (including all cell phones) on a couple of educational listservs lately, but I had a couple of students beat me over the head the other day with a simple fact that I had just kind of missed: that they use their cellphones as timepieces, and so at least some of the casual use we get grumpy about at school is simply about kids trying to be on time somewhere. The single-function wristwatch (nice bling though it might be) is nowhere near as useful as a smartphone, and such phones are now approaching rapid deployability as internet devices as well as communication tools; better interfaces and document handling will make them almost--but not quite yet--junior-grade laptops.

I keep looking at tablets and the new breed of cheap, small laptops, and waiting for the one device that will supplant everything (even textbooks) as a reader, a rapid input device capable of information processing, an internet tool, an entertainment center, and a multimode communication gadget. Smartphones are almost there, although the small form factor is still hard on my aging eyes for extended reads, even if I can make the text larger on my iPhone at the cost of having to do more scrolling.

I want to get my hands on an Amazon Kindle, although I wish it were waterproof (or strictly speaking, tub-proof), and I want to spend some time with an OLPC or the little Asus or its rivals, but what would really make me ecstatic would be a MacOS tablet the size of a trade paperback that would let me use it as a phone, probably through some kind of bluetooth-like technology that didn't require me to become Borg. In the meantime, I explore the utility of my iPhone and imagine new and better ways of using it as a serious teaching tool.

Well, that's what I think, anyhow.
Comment by Jim Heynderickx on June 1, 2008 at 4:00pm
I agree that students would like to use computers like they use cell phones, and drop them, and replace them easily and cheaply.

At the same time, I don't see papers written easily on iPhones, or probeware in science, or printing to color laser printers, etc.

My kids have enjoyed the eeePC we got for Christmas, especially when a password got put on that my son couldn't remember. Pressing F9 during restart restored the entire software image from a hidden partition on the memory-based drive.

Next step, I believe, is to try out a MSI Wind laptop, and maybe the HP one as well. Durability and cost, but full size keyboard and decent screen-- tough to do for 500 dollars or less.
Comment by Jamie Britto on June 1, 2008 at 7:41pm
Thanks Peter and Jim for adding to the thread.

We have one Kindle, three OLPCs and five eeePCs at my school. To me the kindle is kind of an ipod for books. It's tied to an individual's amazon account, keeps track of the books the individual has bought. I think it's ideal for the well read traveler more than the stationary scholar or student.

The OLPCs intrigue me as examples of technology created in the absence of American consumerism. The mesh network, the power efficiency, and the lack of emphasize on entertainment are cool in a utilitarian kind of way, but I'm not ready to go Vegan and I'm not ready to use one of these either.

The eeePCs are doing well for certain labs in our science department. The biggest drawback is the small keyboard really wouldn't work for typing papers.

I think the phones will increasing work well for finding information, and then with some new peripherals; ways to have a projected keyboard or screen, or a docking station of sorts, the phones will become the main computing devices and we'll go to workstations for specific tasks like video production.

Should be a fun and interesting ride no matter where we end up!
Comment by Demetri Orlando on June 3, 2008 at 8:26pm
interesting discussion. my only .02 is wanting the tablet functionality for students taking notes in class. I can imagine the iphone (held horizontally and with a stylus) as having some possibility for this; or perhaps a projected virtual screen will mean students will be scrawling with their styli on the surface of the desk and the iphone will capture it all.
Comment by Jim Heynderickx on June 4, 2008 at 10:35am
I'm planning on buying at least one MSI Wind Windows XP version when I visit the states this summer-- the full size keyboard and 5.5 hour battery are appealing to me. I'll post a short report here.

The three eeePCs we have have held up well, as well as the one I have at home for the kids. All are less than a year old, but they seem durable enough. I don't like the small keyboard, though. Nor the screen resolution that requires sliding left and right on web pages. The Wind with the 10 inch screen, larger keyboard and XGA resolution may respond to these issues well. I wonder if it can self-restore from a hidden image like the eeePC does? Since it doesn't have an optical drive, it may have to.


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