In his call for a $100 LAPTOP for education in 2005, Nicholas Negroponte changed the course of computer history. In the face of many naysayers, Taiwan-based Asus announced the EeePC 701 subnotebook in June 2007 for a price of $199. While the actual price in November 2007 was about double that, Asus still sold 300,000 units in the first four months of its release and ultimately sold four million units in its first year of availability.
Meanwhile, Intel launched the Classmate in 2011, a similarly priced subnotebook with a built-in handle. Intel worked with countries such as Portugal, Mexico and Libya to build local factories for producing Classmates—sometimes for orders in quantities of 1 million. Intel explicitly nurtured the development of curriculum, educational software and professional development to support teachers using the Classmate.
The XO—the device put out by Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child organization—claimed that the kids would just program the cute, green XO devices, so there was no need for an educational ecology. That was wrong. The recent scathing report on the depth of the XO failure in Peru’s schools is almost too painful to read.
As of 2012, however, the $100 computer has arrived, along with an ever-growing teacher-supporting ecology. There are a plethora of manufacturers and distributors churning out Android tablets in the $100 price range that have sufficient computing power to run a broad range of educational software applications.
One might argue that these Android tablets are better for learning than laptops, since they typically sport a built-in GPS, an accelerometer, a touch-sensitive screen, and a camera, all of which enable the development of new types of educational software, such as augmented reality apps, immersive simulation apps and sensor-based apps. These $100 computers, weighing two pounds and under, are much more mobile than laptops and netbooks, heavier cousins of the original subnotebooks.
But it gets even better. From this point forward, $100 computers will increasingly become available in all shapes and sizes. These will include smartphones, with razor-sharp, high-definition, expandable screens; and quad-core, 10-inch-screen tablets for those who insist that more screen real estate is needed for learning. The $100 barrier has been irrevocably cracked, and the $10 computer barrier is within the computer industry’s sights. There are two major implications of the immediate availability of the $100 computer. First, while we have said in previous columns that bring your own device (BYOD) was inevitable, we now need to temper that statement. The $100 computer makes BYOD just one option and perhaps not even the best option.
BYOD has one major drawback, which is heterogeneity. In a class of 30 BYOD students, there may be as many as 30 different computing devices, each with its own complement of software. It is a real challenge for a teacher to create assignments all year long that are doable on those 30 different devices.
While BYOD saves the school from having to purchase devices, there is a hidden cost that the teacher will pay.
Classroom in a Box
The second implication is that vendors are springing up to offer some version of a “classroom in a box.” They might offer 30 Android tablets, a complement of educational software, a Wi-Fi access point for creating a local classroom network, a laptop for the teacher with a learning management system, subject- and grade-specific curricula that leverage the technology, and registration for the teacher in a personal learning network—all for about $5,000 to $7,000 per classroom. That price point is well within the reach of schools, and it enables a classroom to be homogeneous again; the teacher can count on all students’ being able to use their technology to do assignments.
BYOD or “classroom in a box” is inevitable. In this context, we repeat our prediction that by 2015 every student in every class in every K12 school in the United States will be using a mobile computing device, 24/7, for curricular purposes.
Cathleen Norris is a regents professor at the University of North Texas and a past ISTE President. Elliot Soloway is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and Chair of ISTE's Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning (SIGML).For ten years they have been advocating for the use of mobile technologies in the classroom.