Towers and laptops and tablets – oh my!

The future of school computer use is making things difficult for the school hardware purchasers like me.  Do I buy new towers or laptops or one of three OS tablets?  Then throw Chromebooks into the mix. Eeek.  I buy towers for my labs for monitor size and they are not likely to walk away.  Laptops now have the power and reliability of towers and the portability is nice in a standard classroom.  Laptop prices have also become comparable to equivalent towers.  They do present some physical management issues (check out, battery life/power, being dropped, growing legs) but these can be dealt with.  Tablets are the big gray area for me.  The school has iPads and for particular tasks (surfing and particular apps) they are great, but they are not much for producing work.  Programming is slowly breaking into the iPad world (Codea) but dealing with the small screen and the need for a keyboard make it sort of a pain in the rear.  Android tablets have a great price point but it is an unfamiliar OS for me and my teachers.  After a while you simply have to say enough is enough.  Microsoft tablets are priced out of range and the Windows RT versions only run Store software, a major issue.

My wish is for a Win8 convertible in the $500 range.  Tablets are great for portability but are just not great if a lot of typing or a larger screen is needed.  The wireless keyboard does solve the keyboard issue but then you might as well get a laptop.  One of my teachers pointed out an aspect with laptops I had never considered.  She does not like laptops in her classes because the kids had a tendency to hide behind the screens.  She does a lot of groups with kids in a circle.  The laptop screen seems to be a barrier in the communication in this group work, especially with the quieter kids.  She wants iPads or tablets in her room for this reason.  This “barrier” is not something I had even considered but it does seem to be an issue to consider in this type of class.  (It is extremely important to have good communication with your teachers; they actually have good ideas and observations.)

I would love to be able to buy one device to satisfy all needs but it is not going to happen.  And one device is a bad idea.  Kids need to be able to learn multiple devices and the best way to do that is to offer multiple devices.

As a production tool the tower PC is still on the top of the pile.  Nothing beats 23 inch dual monitors with a real keyboard and a mouse for actually doing work.  It can write software for Android, iOS and Windows.  I have two set up this way in my advanced programming lab (only two kids) and it makes a huge difference.  The advanced kids do a lot of reading of on-line text material so the dual screen is a must.  As a consumer tool I think the 7 inch tablet will be the direction of the future.  My wife won an iPad mini last month so I have had time to compare the regular iPad and the mini.  The mini is the way to go.  It is large enough for even my blind eyes and the smaller size is much handier.  For the little kids the size is perfect for little hands.

Towers, laptops and tablets.  Windows, iOS, Chrome and Android.  All stirred together with a big stick.  We’re having fun now!

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