Are NetBooks In School Worth The Money?

I found this wonderful article from The Journal.

PUSHING a netbook program in a school setting these days is a bit like suggesting the purchase of an external modem or analog surveillance camera. Sure, it might work, but aren’t the technologies a bit dated? Besides, the lackadaisical laptop computing experience offered by the typical netbook no longer seems to be enough; users want the intrigue of smartphones or tablet computing.

So what could netbooks possibly offer a district that some other gadget wouldn’t be better at? Try this: addressing basic computing needs and providing access to the web at a price that’s hard to beat. As long as wireless internet access is available, there are no extra service fees required. Netbooks have a screen size larger than a smartphone and a keyboard that’s more familiar than a pad or tablet.

Those are the lures that drew Wentzville School District in Missouri, now in the process of preparing for a 900-netbook rollout to freshman English students in the spring semester. Technology Director Richard Wilson specifically chose Acer Aspire One netbooks because the district has had a good experience with the machines in mobile and science class labs. “They’ve been really solid and come with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty, which is a big thing,” he says.

The district was afforded the luxury of buying the netbooks thanks to an anonymous $500,000 donation earmarked for instructional technology. The unexpected gift replaced funding already set aside to purchase interactive whiteboards for classrooms and digital e-books for school libraries. So the budget was redirected to the district’s 1-to-1 netbook initiative, which may be powered in part by cloud-based versions of Moodle for course management and Google Apps for Educationfor collaboration and e-mail.

Wilson admits there was a “lot of discussion” about the relative merits of netbooks and tablets. The former won out during the first two years of the program because of “the familiarity and comfort level” district staff and teachers have with the mini-laptop device. Price mattered too: Wilson expects to pay between $200 and $300 per netbook; most of the tablets his district has evaluated were more than $500. “Right now, with the resources we have, the netbooks just made more sense. Then, in a few more years, we’ll make the transition to the tablets.”

Affordability was also a factor at Coleman Tech Charter High School in San Diego. This year-old school is almost entirely cloud-based. At the start of the school year, says Assistant Principal Neil McCurdy, each student receives a netbook, which, like at Wentzville, is an Acer Aspire One. “Because of the price of [these] now, we can just give the kids a computer when they enroll in the school, and it’s theirs to keep as long as they graduate from Coleman Tech,” he explains. By then, he adds, “Those computers will be devalued anyway. We won’t be able to use them for anything else.”

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