We’re trying to get a class set of laptops for student use. We use a lot of technology in our grade 7 and 8 classroom: blogging, homework websites, class wikis, audacity podcasting, twitter, dance dance revolution in the classroom and more.
Like many schools, our computer lab is chronically over-booked. In other words, the technology isn’t available when we need it.
We recently bought a MDG Flip Tablet Netbook with the dream of one day getting a class set of these “Intel-Powered Convertiable Classmate PC”s. We did a Plus-Minus-Interesting (PMI) chart to evaluate the MDG Flip:
- Wireless N networking so it should deal better with a class set of laptops trying to access the internet at the same time (what with all of those wireless signals bouncing off of each other.)
- It’s a tablet laptop / has a touch-screen. Students can take handwritten notes directly into their laptops and then use Evernote so that they can access their notes from any computer. Students don’t have to worry about losing their notes because there’s a digital copy online that they can sync up with and retrieve. Evernote also has indexing-software that allows you to search for keywords in hand-written notes. A tablet PC also means it’s easier to do math assignments because you can draw math equations and diagrams that you can’t easily type.
- It’s small (around 24 cm x 20 cm x 4 cm) and lightweight (around 1.2 kg). Thinner than a Harry Potter book, lighter than most textbooks, and smaller than a regular piece of paper. The display monitor rotates, so you can fold it back onto itself and write on the screen with the laptop “closed.”
- It comes with the Intel Education Administrator USB Generation Tool which allows you to backup your student laptop or restore it to a previous image. This means that if students “mess” up their computers and settings, you just have to stick in a USB key to restore it. At the end of the year, you can restore all of the student laptops to their original state. (You can backup or restore an image of your hard drive onto a USB key or a network location.)
- It comes with a webcam which you can swivel to point towards you or away from you as you type. It’s a simple matter of flipping the software on to start capturing video images. This means it’s easier to integrate digital video and photos into your assignments.
- Spill resistant, but probably not cafeteria-proof. MDG markets this as drop-resistant, shock resistant and spill resistant but we’re not convinced it’s student proof. It might have a spill resistant keyboard, but there certainly are a lot of open ports and ventillation windows where juice could leak in.
- The monitor swivels. You can rotate the display panel of the notebok 180 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise. It’s not hard to imagine careless students rotating the monitor one too many times in one direction and snapping the wires inside. (The manual goes on to warn, “do not try to turn the display panel more than 180 degrees.”) We got the 3 year extended warranty but that only covers manufacturing defects, not physical damage.
- It has a touch-screen. “Do not tap or write on the screen with excessive force. Doing so may damage the LCD display.” Enough said.
- It’s small. The screen is 8.9″ wide (diagonally); the keyboard is quite small. There’s not a lot of screen real-estate, so the font is small and some programs may have difficulty running with a screen resolution of 1024 x 600. The keys are close together which may encourage two-finger typing, carpel-tunnel syndrome, or both.
- It comes with a webcam. Students can take inappropriate images and easily post them on the internet. Students need to be educated and empowered to deal with cyber-bullying and internet safety / privacy.
- You can only buy it online. The MDG stores don’t carry the MDG flip in stock. Nor do they carry a demo version that you can look at. We visited their store and were told that you can only buy it online through their website. In fact, MDG.ca doesn’t sell it directly, but you can buy it through Sears Canada for $599.99. (We were able to buy it through a contact from our school board, but that option may not be available for everyone.)
- Shipping, taxes, and warranty included, we paid $700 (Canadian) for our MDG flip netbook. A class set of laptops would cost $21,000, but this wouldn’t include a docking station for easy recharging. The laptops come with Windows XP, Evernote, ArtRage. Aside from Evernote, you don’t have a Word Processor, but it’s easy enough to install open office. In Ontario, certain software are licensed for school computers, so you could install Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Adobe Photoshop, and the Geometer’s Sketchpad.
- How long does it take for students to acclimitize to having their own laptop so that the technology doesn’t become a distraction? When we start using a data projector in the classroom, initially students are distracted by the technology. (Hand shadow puppets whenever the opportunity presents itself.) After a while, students get used to being taught with a data projector and we can focus on the pedagogy. How long will it take for the novelty of using a laptop in the classroom to wear off?
- How do we get students to focus on the task at-hand? Some students will always be off-task when using manipulatives and the potential for being off-task with a laptop is greater than with pattern-blocks. When we use pattern blocks or algebra tiles in our math lessons, there are always a few students who are making pretty pictures. If we’re trying to get students to use laptops as naturally as they use pen-and-pencil, how do we keep students focused on the work at hand, instead of multi-tasking their attention and “fooling” around.
- Battery life is around 3.5 hours, fully-charged. Long enough to make it through a morning, but you’ll need to thinking about how you can logistically re-charge a class set of laptops.
- Students can get more hard drive space on their student laptops than what they can get on the network. One of the biggest challenges we have in using audacity in the classroom is the small server space allocated by our school board (50 MB). The MDG flip comes with a 60 GB hard drive (probably closer to 55 GB after you count the operating system (Windows XP) and other programs.) You might need to think of a way to backup or sync the files on your student laptop with another location. We’re experimenting with Microsoft’s SyncToy 2.0 over the summer.
- Is it physically appropriate = for our students to be using laptops in the classroom? Like any laptop, the MDG flip gets hot. You wouldn’t want to keep it in your lap too long. Also, the size of the keyboard makes it very ergonomically unfriendly. Carpal tunnel syndrome at age 12. In an era where twenty minutes of daily physical activity (DPA) is critical to making schools healthier places to learn, would complete integration of laptops in the classroom be a healthy choice? (Any more or less healthy than pen-and-pencil alternatives?)
- MDG stores do not carry the MDG Flip Tablet netbook. You can only buy it online (through their partners).
- Unlike FutureShop and BestBuy, MDG doesn’t have a return policy. You can only exchange. So it can be a significant risk to buy a laptop that you can’t try or return.
- Sears Canada carries the MDG Flip 8.9′ Touchscreen Netbook PC for $599.99.
- Sears also carries the MDG Mini 8.9′ Rugged Netbook PC for $499.99.