I got Asus EeePC to play with today from School. There is talk of giving them to Y7s, hopefully one each rather than shared machines. As Papert always said something magical happens when you go from shared machines (any ratio) to one-to-one (see here – listen here).
The machine is cute, and really handy to carry around. It seemed quite rugged but the space bar was already lifting off, and thats before the kids have touched it. However get messenger open and start surfing on wifi and I was hooked. I’m sure that the kids will love them, if not for the sheer portability, for the fact that it will be THEIR machine.
Battery life is supposed to be 3 hours and I think that seems realistic based on one evenings use. Charging seemed to take a long time though. 2 Hours plugged in only took it up to 60%.
One little stated fact of Apple Macs laptops is that the power consumption is so good (cooler, quieter & better sleeping) compared to PC laptops. With no hard drive and a small screen the Asus unit does last longer than an average PC laptop but its Celeron Chip and fan is noiser and pumps out more hot air than the MacBook than I am used to.
So classrooms would need to have ample power sockets. And that will mean all classrooms that Y7 use and then next year all that Y7 and Y8 use, etc.
The screen is small but useable for surfing, the resolution is an odd size 800 x 480 and the lack of vertical height (the 480) could pose problems for some menus eg. on the GIMP (Photoshop replacement software), but who would want to edit photos on such a small screen anyway?
There is a VGA Monitor out, so a normal monitor could be plugged in. But I would rather give the child the extra power of a desktop machine too if the extra screen size were necessary for the task.
Not a Desktop Replacement
This brings us on to teaching ICT. I wouldn’t want to teach my lessons with children on this machine. This is because of performance and screen size. The processor is supossedly 900Mhz but is not being fully used according to wikipedia. The machine feels much slower than 900 Mhz machines that I have used with the same amount of RAM – 512 MB.
Thus there will be issues of Children doing work at home or in other classes on Linux or Open Office and needing to transfer between the schools windows machines, either by memory stick or via a portal – not insurmountable but will need to be thought through. That said, I am a believer in children learning different operating systems and programs, it teaches ICT capability and flexibility which are vital skills.
This model has just 2GB of flash memory, which sounds small, but even with Linux loaded leaves magnitudes more than the 15MB that the kids are allowed on the school network. 3 usb ports for memory sticks etc. is generous.
There is a built in mic and camera on some models (not this one unfortuneately). I think a camera would be highly recommended from the purpose of creating videos and the unit could be taken outside and used for filming quite easily if it’s not raining.
To summarize I love the idea of kids using machines like these for cross curricular ICT, but poor performance, battery life and screen size means that certain lessons will need desktop PCs.
Just carrying the machine around school and showing it to kids and staff showed there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the machine. And this seems to be reflected in the shops: they are selling like hot cakes.
However, it might be an idea to check out the original One-Laptop-Per-Child OLPC laptop that the ASUS is trying to emulate; and actually beat to market. Note the ASUS machine is much less ambitious in what it is trying to achieve.
Windows on Eee PC?
There will be Windows XP versions of this machine coming out, but I don’t like the idea of this for 2 reasons. One, why increase the price of the machine by 50% for XP and office when Linux and Open Office will do the job. Two, All the software they put on the Windows machines to lock them down will slow the Eee PC down to a crawl.