Sunday, September 20, 2009

tt4t_098 EIU tech fair, netbooks, and the eeeasaurus

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It’s Sunday, September 20th, 2009 and welcome to episode 98 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This past week was our annual technology fair here at EIU and the Instructional Technology Center had a booth at this years event to share some of the many innovations that we have been working on in the College of Education and Professional Studies.

There was a lot of interest in our netbook project and also in what we call our eeeasaurus classroom presentation system. The netbook project is going very well in our college and we shared what we have been doing with these very affordable alternatives to traditional laptops.

Netbooks are miniature laptops that typically cost between three and four-hundred dollars that offer a viable solution for use by our students in the classroom when lessons require technology integration.

Last year we needed to replace one of our mobile laptop carts and after much research and testing we elected to replace them with a netbook solution. We use technologies extensively throughout all of our programs and we serve a large number of students. Trying to reserve time in the ITC Lab is nearly impossible as we have 13 scheduled courses in our lab every week.

To help meet these needs the ITC utilizes mobile laptop carts for faculty to checkout for classroom use by our students for on-demand computing needs. This essentially makes every classroom in our building a computer lab when needed. We have been using this solution for over eight years now and our faculty and students use the mobile laptop carts regularly. Last year the ITC checked-out our mobile laptop carts 365 times to classrooms for faculty and students to use as part of lessons that required technology-integrated activites.

A mobile laptop cart solution requires a strong wireless access component so if you are considering a netbook solution you also need to address wireless access in your buildings if you plan on using Internet resources with netbooks.

The low-cost of the new netbooks meant that we were able to purchase twice the number of units for less than half the cost of traditional laptops. Because we were able to double the number of units purchased, at less than the price of a conventional solution ,we were able to place an additional set of netbook carts in another building that previously never had the ITC mobile cart service available. We can now serve more students and offer more technology-integrated lessons in our classrooms using this on-demand mobile netbook cart solution and we have done so without breaking the budget.

Here is a table of approximate costs comparing a netbook solution to a laptop solution for our needs.

Netbook Solution A
60 units x $400 per unit = $24,000

Traditional Laptop Solution B
60 units x $1000 per unit = $60,000

Thus in the example above we were able to save $36,000 over a traditional laptop solution. It is true that you can now buy a traditional laptop for much less than $1000 but it is also true that you can spend a lot more than $1000 on a traditional laptop. For schools that are experiencing budget constraints or schools that need to serve a large number of students a netbook solution makes a lot of sense.

Now if this were expanded school-wide or state-wide the savings become even more significant. 1000 units at $1000 each would cost $1,000,000 compared to a netbook solution of 1000 units costing $400 each where the cost would be $400,000, a $600,000 savings. Looking at it in a different way you could supply 2000 netbook units for a total of $800,000 and still have $200,000 savings while serving double the number of students compared to the traditional approach. That $200,000 in savings would go a long way for improving the required wireless access points that are also needed for a campus solution. In these days and times of economic turmoil netbooks are certainly something to be considered. Tax payers will also be appreciative of solutions that save significant amounts of public money that provide similar results to the old way of doing business.

Opponents of netbooks often state that the processing power of a netbook is not great enough for all computing needs and it is true that if you do need to do processor intensive applications like video production the current crop of netbooks would not be a good choice. However, netbooks were not designed for video editing, instead they have evolved to take advantage of Web 2.0 services in the cloud by accessing the Internet and thus the name netbook.

I have been using netbooks since they first became available in 2007 and a netbook easily serves 80 to 90 percent of the computing activities that I do. Most of the TechTalk4Teachers episodes have been produced on a netbook.

The other big advantage of the netbooks that we have discovered is the extended battery life that the netbooks offer. We easily get over 8 hours of battery life out of our netbooks and the latest models offer more than 10 hours. Compare that to the 1.5 to 2 hours of battery life that the old laptops were getting and you can see that we are quite pleased with the new netbooks. We checkout mobile laptop carts to classrooms regularly at the ITC and this advantage in battery life is HUGE, recharging between checkouts has been significantly reduced.

I also had several questions from visitors at the Tech Fair regarding the HDTV and netbook setup we were using in our ITC booth. I have provided a picture of our booth in the show notes.

The eeeasaurus is a very simple system and can be built today for under $1500. Rather than re-count the system here I will point you back to epidodes 82 and 83 of TechTalk4Teachers where I shared in detail how we built the now famous eeeasaurus classroom presentation system. Links to episode 82 and 83 are provided in the show notes.

tt4t_082 Meet the Eeeasaurus an affordable classroom presentation solution

tt4t_083 The eeeasaurus netbook project, part 2

I also received several questions about the netbook connected to the eeeasaurus that was running the Windows 7 operating system. For those of you that are a bit more technical you will appreciate the fact that I had the full version of Windows 7 Ultimate Release Candidate OS, Office 2007, and Smart Notebook Version 10 applications running on the netbook in the ITC booth at the Tech Fair and it all ran very well.

The netbook I was using in the booth running Windows 7 had the Intel N280 1.6GHz Atom processor with only 1GB of RAM, it was a stock netbook with no modifications or upgrades, a pretty impressive feat.

So, if your school is experiencing budget cuts, as many are, or if you need to be frugal with technology purchases and get the most bang for the buck to serve more students I would encourage you to purchase a netbook and test it out for the situations you foresee your school using. You may be surprised at just how versatile these little guys are.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a link to an article from Wired magazine from back in February of this year that provides additional background information about the netbook phenomenon. Since I have received many questions about netbooks this article does a nice job in describing the history of netbook development and a glimpse to where netbooks are heading in the future. A link is available in the show notes.

The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time by Clive Thompson

The computer industry is still reacting to netbooks. Many manufacturers have jumped on the netbook bandwagon but the netbook market is still evolving and time will tell if manufacturers can keep costs low. We are beginning to see a blurring of netbook models with new models sporting screen sizes larger than 10 inches, with increased screen size typically comes increased costs.

For many schools netbooks may offer an affordable solution to meet the computing needs of students. Time will tell if these small devices continue in their rise in popularity. Are you using a netbook? If you are drop me a note and let me know how you and your students are using them in the classroom.

That wraps it up for episode 98 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the Eastern Illinois University Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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