All entries for Wednesday 09 July 2008

July 09, 2008

Asus Eee – the perfect laptop for children and teachers?

On saturday I bought an Asus EEE PC900 laptop for my 3 year old son. It cost only £250 from ToysRUs, and is sufficiently tough for him to handle on his own. Good result. Yes, it might be the perfect laptop for children. But it’s a lot more than that: if you are a mobile worker, but you don’t want to carry a laptop, the PC900 is perfect. There are other advantages that make it a great tool for teaching and learning.

I didn’t wait for the latest Intel Atom model (which will have a much better battery life), instead deciding to spend a lot less on a machine that will get abused by the trainee terrorist. It’s small (maybe half the size of an average laptop), tough (with solid state storage rather than a fragile disk) and well designed. The keyboard is a bit tiny for some adults, but perfect for me and Lawrence. The screen on the PC900 is bigger than the original PC700, and fine for web browsing and movies.

Here’s a photo of the PC900 being modelled delightfully by some typical users…

Apparently, big hand bags are fashionable at the moment.

Already, I have put 6 of his DVD movies (in Quicktime format) onto the hard disk, as well as some wildlife programs. Each movie takes up between 300 and 600 MB. Once the 7MB spare solid state storage is full, i’ll start using an 8 GB SD card. Video and audio performance is excellent.

It also comes with Skype, a mic and a webcam (built into the top of the screen case), for voice and video conferencing over the web. This has been a major revalation! Last night we talked with a friend in Cambridge, with sound coming out of the speakers (no headphones needed). It was crystal clear, with no echo or noise. And loud too.

Combine all that with fast and reliable wifi (record video and audio messages straight into Warwick Blogs or Sitebuilder), and it really is revolutionary.

I will soon be buying the new Intel Atom powered Asus Eee PC901. That will please Lawrence, as he’s got very territorial about his own Eee.

Virtual Learning Environment benchmarking workshop

There seems to be a demand from universities for a more realistic, learner/teacher-centric evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments. How easy would it be to evaluate and compare the leading platforms? Perhaps we could just get them all together (users not vendors) in one room, on a set of screens, and do an evaluation? That’s what I am planning to do, with the aim of publishing the resulting findings, but also giving developers a chance to steal the best features from each system.

We have a nice shiny new experimental teaching space called the Teaching Grid. It has lots of projectors, nicely spaced out, with moveable partitions that can be used to create separate zones. My idea is this:
  1. Divide the room up into 6 zones, each with a screen, PC and projector.
  2. In each zone, display one of 6 different VLEs (WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, Sitebuilder/Warwick Blogs, and WebLearn/Boddington).
  3. Have a team of VLE users (teachers and students) & admins for each of the 6.
  4. Create a matrix of requirements, features, design patterns, and analyse each one accordingly.
  5. Present a list of 5 best aspects of each one.
  6. Allow each of the 6 teams to visit all of the others.

There will also be a “beyond the VLE” section, for features and design patterns that don’t exist in any of the VLEs.

We have the technology. I can get money for a lavish(!) buffet. All I need are representatives from unis that use each of the systems.

I’m aiming for mid-September 2008 for this.

Anyone interested?