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Apple + Tech

Acer, more like crap-er

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I’ve often wondered why I’ve never seen any netbooks being used “in the wild”. Sure, I’ve seen them for sale in Officeworks and Dick Smith, but even there they don’t seem to be turned on.

Well today I found out why.

I’m lucky enough to do the odd afternoon of “Classroom Helper” in my daughter’s Grade 2 class. If you have the opportunity – do it! It’s great to see the fun the kids have with learning and quite special to see your own child interacting with her teacher and peers in her environment. I love it.

This afternoon the kids were doing different small group activities so my daughter’s teacher asked if I’d help some of the kids write their “self-reflection”. It’s a one page document where each kid writes on topics such as what they’ve learned during the year, what they’ve liked doing, with whom they’ve been friends and where they want to improve next year. The page includes a photo from one of the year’s class activities and is included as part of the kid’s end-of-year school report.

This one-page document is created on the class computers – in my daughter’s class a small set of Acer netbooks. These machines have Atom processors and were running Office 2007 on Windows XP.

So you’d reckon a netbook would be able to handle a one-page Word document OK, wouldn’t you?

Nope.

Hardware. These computers were utter crap: the keyboards were tacky, the screen too small, the track-pad unresponsive and the “mouse” button under the track-pad flaky. The only plus I could see was that they were small and light. But these computers were serious plastic crap. They felt like a toy and were not a device that you would use proudly … yep, I reckon that might have something to do with why they are never seen in the wild.

But what about the user-experience? Maybe the software would be OK? Hmm, it was definitely Win/Office. Not my favourite, but generally functional. But on these netbooks, not a great experience.

  1. Firstly, the screen was simply too small. The kids were constantly having to revert to the scroll bars to scroll between different parts of their work.
  2. Second, these computers were not powerful enough to run this software. They particularly struggled with inserting the kids’ pictures into the document. This might have been partially due to the constraint of the school’s network, but even once the pictures were in the document the time it took to resize or move a picture was prohibitive.
  3. Third, the software kept crashing. Again, maybe this was a product of the under-powered processor. But it was certainly teaching these kids important Microsoft software skills … every one of them knew what to do when they encountered the “Microsoft Word has encountered a problem and needs to close” message!

So what would be better?

The iPad of course! For kids of that age I think the experience of moving the objects around the screen with their fingers would be a lot more intuitive than a track pad and keyboard. And using the Pages app they certainly wouldn’t be spending most of their computer time waiting for the computer to do the previous action!

But I also think they’d be better off with standard desktop computers. Even, shock-horror, desktops running WinXP and Office 2007. Of course I haven’t had the *pleasure* of buying a low-end Windows PC for around 15 years, but I’d be surprised if there is not a more powerful desktop selling for the same price as these netbooks crapbooks.

Does it really matter?

I’m not an educator. Nor am I familiar with the IT realities of a government funded primary school. So I’m certainly conscious of sounding like a monorail salesman.

But as a parent I do see my kids interact with technology and I do see their eagerness to create. I want them to have positive technological experiences. I want to see them thinking then creating. I want to see them engaged. I want to see them happy.

I see those things with my kids using the Macs at home. I see them when they’re using the iPad, iPhones and iPods.

But I didn’t see that today in the classroom with the netbooks.

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