LittleLaptops

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Little Laptops

A quick word about editing. If you're a BBH staff member, you can log in with your network name and password to add your thoughts to this page. If you're not, but you want to be able to edit anyway, contact John Schinker and I'll set you up.


The district purchased eight Asus eeePCs to evaluate this spring. One was purchased for each building, as well as one for the technology department and one for the technology coordinator. The idea is to use them in as many different contexts as possible to determine whether they may fit in as useful tools. Recipients of these devices are strongly encouraged to share them with students and other adults working in the schools, and to solicit their feedback regarding them.

I purposefully didn't pre-configure anything on the computers. I simply put two lists of questions in the box, and delivered them to the tech team members in each building.

Questions that already have answers

What is this? This is an Asus eeePC 4G Surf. It’s a small, low end laptop with a 7” screen. There’s no hard drive – just 4GB of flash memory that holds the operating system and applications. It has 512 MB of RAM. You can save data to an SD card or to a USB flash drive. It has a productivity suite (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.). It also has a web browser and can access the network wirelessly or wired. It has an external VGA port, so it could be connected to a larger monitor or to a projector.

Can I keep it? For now. One was purchased for each of the schools, the technology coordinator, and the tech department. By the end of the school year, we hope to have determined what role (if any) these devices can play in our schools. At that point, we may decide to collect them all and put them in the same place so students can use them.

In the meantime, use it. Share it with teachers and administrators and students. Figure out if it’s a useful tool or just a gadget. Try to think about the questions that need answers. We’ll be discussing them at the April (and maybe May) tech team meetings.

Will it run Successmaker / Kid Pix / Accelerated Reader / Keyboarding software? No. Though, actually, it does include a keyboarding program and two paint programs. They're just not exactly the same programs we're used to using.

Then what good is it? This device will do most of the things we need computers to do. You can word process, create presentations, use the web, and access network resources (file servers, printers, etc). When you think about what most people use computers for most of the time, this little laptop can do most of it.

How much does it cost? It costs $367.37. Price-wise, it’s about half the cost of a desktop computer and a third of the cost of a traditional laptop. Compared to the Alphasmart Neo, it’s about 50% more expensive. So for the same cost as 30 Neos, you could have 20 of these. At the secondary level, it’s about 3 times the cost of a graphing calculator, and only slightly more than an ebook reader.

A note about warranties: The manufacturer gives a one year warranty that covers defects in materials and workmanship. It doesn't cover accidental damage or misuse (which comprise most of our laptop problems). We can purchase third party warranties for these devices if we want. A two-year warranty would be about $57, while a three-year warranty would be $85. To cover accidental damage for three years would cost $250. All of these replace the manufacturer's warranty, so the clock starts when the item is purchased.


Questions that Need Answers

Does this device work well enough to have a place in our schools?

  • Feel free to edit this and add your thoughts.

How could this be used effectively with students?

  • I haven't tried it with my students yet as I am giving Sandy and Rosanne a try with it. However, some of the games may be age-appropriate for the elementary grades. (Michelle)
  • We have used Alphasmarts for years at Central. One complaint I hear a lot is that the screen is too small. Those complaints would end with this device. Much more like a "real" computer in screen size and functionality. (Joe)

What limitations are there that would affect its usefulness?

  • Keyboard Size
    • Keyboard is small, and the screen requires a lot of scrolling. I think this is something that we'll get used to, and I don't think the kids will have as much of a problem with it as we do.
    • So far, this little machine is pretty cool. The one bad thing about it is the keyboard. My fingers are too big for the little keys. I have to type a little slower than I am used to.(Wasil)
    • HUMMM...THIS MEANS THEY MAY BE PERFECT FOR ELEMENTARY STUDENTS FOR WHICH A FULL SIZED KEYBOARD IS SOMETIMES HARD TO USE! I CAN'T WAIT TO GIVE IT TO A FEW THIRD GRADERS TO TRY OUT THEIR NEWLY ACQUIRED, EVER DEVELOPING, KEYBOARDING SKILLS. (HENDRICKS)
    • Sandy makes a great point about the small keyboard for young students. I will try this also. I will begin playing with other applications when I get time. More to come (Wasil).
      • I agree that the smaller keyboards are the perfect size for the little fingers. After typing for a little while and scrunching my fingers, I found it easier to use. (Kristen)
    • I think that the keyboard is tiny and hard for me to type on. However, it is probably the perfect size for younger students. I personally need a mouse! (Michelle)
    • I second the motion for a mouse, even for the kids. The touchpad, as with all laptops, really slows navigation. (Joe)
    • Although I find the keyboard a bit small I had my personal product tester, my 6th grade son Joey, use it to complete a homework assignment. He loved it and said the keyboard was fine. I had to break the news to him that I had to take it back to school on Monday. He was crushed! He wants me to buy one for our home. (Joe)
  • Money
    • I do not know how this could happen due to the 367.00 dollar price tag and having to buy a class set or even a school set. Wow- budget problems now barely permit us to purchase 5 dollar notebooks for kids let alone a computer. I like your thinking though Ben. (Wasil)
  • No CD Drive
    • One aspect I do not like about this is the fact that there is no CD-ROM drive to load new programs. I understand the concept of the small hard drive and all that, but paying 367.00 dollars for a device that we can not really customize by adding a simple program or two worries me a little.(Wasil)
    • You don't want to customize it much. It's a low end laptop designed to do a few things very well. Don't ask it to do a lot of stuff it wasn't designed to handle. (John)
    • I agree. When we buy an appliance at home we're always dazzled by all of the cool features yet end up usually just using the basic functions. This is a nice alternative to more expensive machines that can do way more than we need them to do. Word process, slide shows, Internet. That covers most of what we need a portable computer to do. (Joe)
    • Most software for linux is distributed online -- just download it. No CD necessary. If you do need one, you can connect an external. You can also use flash drives or SD cards. I'm not worried about this at all. (John)
    • I like the idea of having a small hard drive. Keeps the clutter away. Everyone has a memory stick (Valenti)
      • I'm with Tom. 99% of what we do with computers at Central does not involve a CD. It's all about creating, manipulating, and printing or presenting documents and searching the web. (Joe)
      • I fully agree. The flash drive is really all that is necessary. It is also easy to then transfer the data to another computer. I don't think that we want to start loading every program we can onto it. (Kristen)
    • I agree with Todd's earlier comment that the lack of a CD-ROM drive is a negative. (Michelle)
    • Interesting. Let's talk about that. What do you need to do that requires a CD drive? (John)
  • Wireless Issues
    • Some have reported problems with it losing WEP and WPA encryption keys. To alleviate this, go to the Network icon (not the wireless one). Find the wireless connection, and set it to start automatically on startup. Then, it'll remember the connection and re-establish it when available.
    • We are having LOTS of problems getting these to work on Beesnet, especially as known devices. This could be due to firewalling between the wireless and wired networks.


Are there solutions to overcome those limitations?

  • Keyboard size
    • Seems to be an issue with adults. Students (even at the high school level) haven't complained. We should target these devices for student (not adult) use.
  • No optical drive
    • This is a limitation we'll have to live with if we're going to use this device. With the availability of network storage and USB devices, it shouldn't be very difficult.
  • Wireless
    • This will take some work, but there aren't any deal-breakers here.
  • Money
    • It's tough to add additional devices, especially without additional funding. If we can buy these INSTEAD of something else, that would be ideal. If we can find ways in which these can save money, that would help. It may also be possible to reduce the funding for the teacher tech grants, and/or fold these into the offerings.

What technical hurdles would have to be overcome to make the use of these devices successful?

  • Adding more wireless access points to our infrastructure.
    • This is huge! To make these a better buy than an Alphasmart, it has to be wireless. Although... a strategically placed hub with cables would work. Wireless is definitely better though. (Joe)
    • A wireless network solution would definitely be a prerequisite. Improving our wireless infrastructure is on the network to-do list. We won't be covering all of our buildings with wireless everywhere, but hopefully we'll lay enough of a foundation to make it easier to expand the network into places where it's needed for things like this. I don't think we'd consider using these in a situation where we'd have to run network cables (John).
    • Ditto on the wireless. I find myself not using the internet programs at school because of the lack of access. (Kristen)
  • They need to support multiple users with logins, at least in grades 6-12.
  • The only way I would endorse this in a classroom is if the classroom had wireless connectivity. This device is perfect for a classroom desk and should not have to be plugged in to a wall, which of course defeats the purpose of its portable design. I could definitely see my self teaching 3rd graders how to find and analyze information on the internet with this device.(Wasil)
  • The IM thing would probably need to go (Ben Lesh)
  • We need to figure out whether this can be used in a multi-user environment. How do we connect to network drives?


If we were to start using these computers, what could they replace? What could we buy fewer of to make this cost effective?

  • Fewer full sized laptops, especially if we could get a little better price through volume purchases. (Joe)
  • Buy fewer Alphasmarts. Buy fewer batteries for the Alphasmarts. We can go through batteries so quick when the classes are using them for a project. (Kristen)
  • Are there other alternatives or is this the only device of its type on the market? (Joe)
    • There are several, but this seems to be the best one. See the links at the bottom of the page for comparisons (John).

Are these computers durable enough for student use?

  • Feel free to edit this and add your thoughts.
  • They're more substantial than I expected.
  • Joey's been lugging it around the house without incident. Lots of fingerprints and smudges though. Does it come in black? (Joe)
  • We did have one break. The person who was using it said something about a kid and a dog. Basically, the "S" key came off. Rick was able to reattach it, and it has worked fine since. (John)
  • It is worth noting that these do NOT have a warranty that covers misuse or accidental damage -- two of our leading causes of laptop problems. Factoring that in with the device cost will probably mean more replacing than repairing. (John.)

Is Linux too complicated / different / cumbersome / annoying to be used in this environment?

  • I don't think so. If anything, I think its pretty simple with the way that everything is organized. -Dan Kauffman
  • Given the right application, this is perfect. The folder structure gives a very low learning curve, and it's easy to be productive with the office suite and web browser very quickly. Since that's about 80% of what we do with computers, we should be fine. It doesn't necessarily help much with teaching tech skills -- the UI hides the operating system from the user. But those skills are met elsewhere in the curriculum.


You have more questions / ideas / comments? This is the place for them. Edit this page.

Comments and Observations

General

  • Feel free to edit this and add your thoughts
  • Click on link below to view a Quick Math Game explanation for younger grades (Wasil)

http://staff.bbhcsd.org/wasilt/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/mathgame.MOV

  • Click on the link below to watch one of my students play a math game. They love it. (Wasil)

http://staff.bbhcsd.org/wasilt/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/seth.MOV

  • Is there a planner function? If a student could use this as an assignment notebook, then $$$ designated for those could be used for these? (Lesh)
    • There is a planner. Go to WORK, ACCESSORIES, PIM. (John)
  • Do we go so far as to host email accounts for the students? As I type that, I can see the multitude of problems that would create. (Lesh)
    • We would probably not have to worry about this in the elementary buildings. (Wasil)
    • Email is a separate can of worms. I wouldn't be opposed to starting that discussion for internal-only accounts for grades 6-12, but that doesn't affect the eeePC (John).
  • I do like Open Office. (Lesh)
    • I used the WP to type a document. Overall, I was very pleased. Most of the menus were the same as Word. It was part of a bigger document and it pasted in without losing any formatting. One down side was the longer I typed the more errors I made. I attribute this to the keyboard size. (Joe)
  • My thoughts about the planner stem from the high school students rather than elementary (sort of ethnocentric of me...sorry). Todd: as far as adding programs go, could these laptops lighten the load for menial tasks (basic word processing, "painting", etc) so computer lab time with the larger programs would free up? As I understand, computer lab time is at a premium in the elementary levels (very structured, very limited). It sure is here at the HS, and I'm sure it is elsewhere in the district. John: do spreadsheet equations from Excel translate into Open Office (for the most part)?(Ben) (just wanted to know if we could write in HTML for future linking, if necessary)
    • I think the formulas mostly translate. They're not identical though. See my blog for exhaustive frustrating whining about the OpenOffice spreadsheet (John).
    • FYI --this uses wiki markup -- not html. Click 'editing help' at the bottom of the edit window for help, or use the tools at the top. Hint: the asterix is used for bullet points. Use multiple asterixes for deeper levels (john)
  • I had my students use this for practicing math facts. Wow, what an effective tool for this. There is a pre-loaded math game that you can customize to the child's strengths and weaknesses. If you have a high math child who needs challenge facts, you can set it. On the other hand, you have someone who needs more practice with basic facts, you accommodate them too. (Wasil)
  • Patty Schnellinger brought up the excellent point that these devices are not approved for use on the SAT (and probably other standardized tests). Therefore, they couldn't completely replace a graphing calculator without putting our students at a disadvantage.
  • I like that the power cord is long. I wish the battery lasted longer though. It appears to be about 2-3 hour battery life. (Joe)

Software

Internet
  • Browser works pretty well. Many web pages require a lot of scrolling. The kids don't seem to mind much. I've been surprised that Flash and Java sites have worked well (John).
  • Skype works amazingly well. I used the built in speaker and microphone to talk to a guy in Victoria, BC and didn't have any problems at all. He was also using an eeePC. The one annoying thing is that Skype tells you whenever one of your contacts comes online or goes offline. This can be disabled in the notifications settings (John).
  • I connected wirelessly in my classroom and it worked great! I viewed a number of sites with no problem at all. The students have not minded the endless scrolling because of the small screen. (Valenti)
Work
  • I could open Word and Powerpoint XP files with no problem. Custom animations from Powerpoint carried over. (John)


Learn
  • Hangman was good. Some of the words or names are tricky. It's fun. (Megan S., First Grade)
  • I really liked the typing games. Being repetivive, but the smaller keyboards would be better for the kids to learn how to type properly! (Kristen)


Play
  • All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Settings
  • Configuration and stuff.


Network

  • Regarding the wireless network, I am looking forward to taking this home tonight to see how it works with wireless internet. This type of device, because of its size and portability, can be very useful when a wireless network is accessible. To access quick information in such a small and portable device is very beneficial.(Wasil)
  • I took it home and logged into my wireless network. It worked really well and the speed was just as fast as my desktop and laptop. It took a little getting used to the small screen though. (Wasil)

No one except for Todd has mentioned the screen size. At 7" is it readable and can it display enough information to be useful. I recently bought a small laptop computer from DELL which I thought would be handy because of it's size. With my close to 50 year old eyes though I became frustrated with the screen size which was bigger than 7". I traded the laptop to my college age son who is using it now but has it connected to a larger screen.(ROBINSON)

I haven't seen one of these little computers but if they can get the job done in most areas it would be a wonderful cost savings. This review is excellent and I appreciate John's efforts in looking at new technologies which will help our students. I will continue to watch the postings :-) (ROBINSON)

Discoveries

  • You can use the PDF Reader to make this look like a book. Open a PDF file. Then go to VIEW, ROTATE VIEW, and select CLOCKWISE or COUNTER CLOCKWISE. In the lower left corner, there's a button for "Full Screen View." Then, you can turn the laptop sideways and read it like a book. The mouse buttons are used to go to the previous or next pages.
  • In the lower right corner, there's a black triangle. Click this to hide the task bar at the bottom of the screen. With such a small screen, every little bit of space if valuable, and hiding the task bar buys a little more room. Click it again to get the task bar back.
  • In the web browser, press F11 to go to full screen mode. Again, it'll hide most of the toolbars and give you more space.
  • The external video connection works about as intuitively as you could hope for. After connecting it to a projector, I used FN-F5 to enable the VGA port (this is different from the Dells, which use FN-F8, but it works the same way). The eeePC refers to the external video as "CRT" and the internal as "LCD". Once you have the projector working, you can go to Settings, Desktop Mode and change the resolution. It supports up to 1024x768. On the little screen, you won't be able to see everything at higher resolutions, but it'll work on the projector. When you change back to LCD-ONLY, it changes the resolution back to the default.
  • To set up a printer, go to Settings, Printers. Chose ADD, and then NETWORK PRINTER. Network type is OTHER. For the printer name, use a recognizable name. This is the name that you will see in the printer list. Connection should be APPSOCKET/HP JETDIRECT. For the PATH, typ e in the IP address of the printer. Click NEXT. In most cases, it should autodetect the printer. Make any necessary changes (but you shouldn't need to change anything). Click NEXT again. Print a test page, or don't, and click FINISH.
  • Samba server runs by default, which is probably not a good idea. It can be disabled by deleting /etc/rc2.d/S20samba. Yes, it does seem to use runlevel 2 by default. Odd, isn't it?

Geeky Stuff

  • Use "apt-get install ssh" as root to install ssh server. This makes command-line editing/use much easier.
  • Use this for /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb http://update.eeepc.asus.com/p701 p701 main deb http://update.eeepc.asus.com/p701/en p701 main deb http://xnv4.xandros.com/4.0/pkg/ xandros4.0-xn main contrib non-free deb http://dccamirror.xandros.com/dccri/ dccri-3.0 main deb http://www.geekconnection.org xandros4 main deb http://http.us.debian.org/debian/ sarge main contrib non-free

Then, run "apt-get update"

Links and Resources

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