You’ve secured the budget and have decided to take ICT into the classrooms. So what do you go for, the traditional laptop or the smaller more compact netbook? Our guide below may help you decide.
Notebooks (standard laptops) have 15inch screens and offer around 3 hours battery life. They offer some portability, however this is limited and they are not really designed to be used in corridors, other learning spaces around the school and outside. However, they are more powerful than netbooks and can easily handle video editing as well as software requiring heavy processor and graphics power. Laptops are obviously heavier than netbooks but this shouldn’t be a determining factor, unless you want very young pupils to be moving them around. The cost varies, however you are looking at around £500-£600 if you take up a decent maintenance cover.
Netbooks are much smaller in size with typically 10 inch screens. They offer much longer battery life, up to 10 hours. So technically they can be charged up over night and used throughout the school day. Being more compact and lighter, pupils can use them in learning spaces outside the classroom, for example in the school field. The build quality on them is not as good as laptops and the processing power is also not as powerful. However, for primary school use the speed and multi-tasking capabilities should in most cases be more than adequate. The 10inch screen size is great for pupils using them individually but not ideal for a group of pupils simultaneously working on one machine. The cost for a good netbook is £250-£300.
You will need to purchase a laptop/notebook trolley to make the charging process easier to administer, and this will need to be taken into account when setting the budget. Battery life and charging is an important factor to consider. If, for example, the device is being used in the morning and requires charging before it can be used again, who will be responsible for this? When will they be ready to be used again? Will this limit their availability? Remember that with both laptops and netbooks it is not recommended that pupils use them continuously for over an hour.
Whatever you decide to go for, using them successfully in the classroom relies on a reliable and speedy connection to the Internet and the schools’ network and this is very much determined by how effective and robust your school’s wireless infrastructure is. We have encountered a number of schools in Tameside that have had problems with simultaneously connecting a class set of netbooks to the school’s wireless infrastructure. We would strongly recommend that you test this before buying. A good supplier should facilitate this for you. You should try to avoid being in a position where you're having problems using the wireless and the supplier is not forthcoming. The latest ‘Meru’ wireless system has been designed specifically with schools in mind and can easily handle over 60 devices connecting simultaneously to a single access point. The feedback we’ve received from those schools that have gone with Meru has been extremely encouraging. However upgrading the wireless can be an expensive exercise.
So, essentially, our advice is that the pedagogy should determine what you go for. How will the learning be facilitated with the technology? How do you want them to be used by pupils? How will they be used in group work? Are you going to create opportunities for personalised learning? Is learning also going to take place outside the classroom? Etc. These are the questions you ought to be asking yourself and should help you determine what device you opt for.