Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The ideal digital learning tool

I'm thinking about what the ideal digital tool would be for student learning.

It has to offer strong reading and browsing abilities as well as data entry.  I want the benefits of a passive consumption device (like a tablet) with the benefits of an active media production device (like a laptop).  My ideal device must have a keyboard and mouse pad, but also offer touch screen functionality.  It'll also rotate to use the screen more effectively as a reader/tablet.

It also has to be ruggedized (I have no misconceptions about how hard kids are on electronics).  It would also be built like lego (compartmentalized and accessible to easily replace failed parts).  The goal weight would be under 3 pounds.  At three pounds we'd be providing a device that can easily carry all the student's text books, binders and loose paper without injuring them or destroying the planet.

Some devices I'd shamelessly steal brilliant design ideas from:

Dell's latest round of ultrabooks with a flippable screen offer the kind of flexibility I'm looking for - the benefits of a rotating tablet screen (allowing you to turn a widescreen to a tall screen for reading), light weight, flexible, powerful...

In fairness (and because I have one), HP has been making touch screen/tablet laptops for years.

I don't care which technology gets used (which ever is more durable), but the idea of a lightweight touch screen reader AND a laptop that allows for full media creation is vital!

Horizontal wide-screens are designed for entertainment, but reading only happens well when you've got continuous text you don't have to constantly scroll through a narrow window.  These learning tools MUST allow for the most accessible e-reading experience - meaning a device that can mimic a tablet.  

The end result has at least a 128GB solid state drive (SSD), that allows for multiple OS installs if a student wants them.  The hardware would be able to run CHROME OS, LINUX, OSx and Windows (depending on student experience, preference and ability).  The choice to upgrade on-device storage would be easy because the SSD it comes with would be a standard 2.5 inch laptop hard drive bay that would take any of many choices of hard or solid state drive.

Basic connectivity to the device would be through USB3 and video out - mini-dvi (for sharing presentations).  No manufacturer specific connectors (Apple, I'm looking at you and your weird dongle fixation).

The screen would be a 13 inch unit with a standard resolution of 1366x768, though a student who wants a higher (retina) level display could always upgrade to one (since they bolt on, this would be a matter of standardizing monitor connectors and offering variations in resolution and colour quality based on cost and need.  

While we're standardizing things, these digital tools would use standardized screws and fasteners that make repairs easy (are you still listening Apple?).  Any high school would have its own genius bar/nerd cave where students in senior computer engineering can repair and upgrade equipment at minimal cost.

The compartmentalization is vital to this tool.  The screen needs to detach logically and easily for replacement, same with the memory, hard/solid state drive, CPU, battery and keyboard.  Compartmentalization allows for much cheaper upkeep.  I'd also like all the pieces to be easily recyclable as well as replace/up-gradable.

The end result would be an easily upgrade-able, component replaceable device that is operating system agnostic, highly adaptable and tough.

The idea of an environmentally sensible laptop isn't a pipe dream.

Google could easily make this happen working with their hardware partners (an Edu-Nexus?) - Microsoft and Apple seem intent on closed eco-system models, even for education, but I live in hope.

It's already the end of 2012.  I'd love to see the silicon valley geniuses recognize that digital literacy is vital for education (and for the future of industry too - we're not producing digitally literate graduates!).

If we could get our hands on that modular, easily upgrade-able/maintainable, ruggedized transformable laptop/data creation, tablet/content consumption device, we'd be one giant step closer to helping students grasp opportunities for digital literacy.

I think we could mass produce these things for $300 for a basic one up to $600 for a tricked out one.  The revolution is well underway, it's time for someone to give us the classroom tools we need to teach it.