Intel Classmate PC in USA Schools: A First-Hand Report

   
   
   
   
   
classmate pc usa
Intel's Classmate PC

Intel is now piloting its in several U.S. schools. Three of us from the University of California, Irvine visited Newport Heights Elementary in Newport Beach, California.

The school was provided with 70 Classmate PCs to use in two classrooms - a sixth grade class and a fifth grade class - for a pilot study to take place from November 2007 to March 2008. Following the pilot study in this and other schools in the U.S. and other countries, the Classmate PC will supposedly go on the market.

Intel Classmate

Intel provided 70 Classmate PCs, 2 power cords each computer (so one could be kept at school and one at the students' homes), slim blue rubber wrap-around cases for each Classmate, and an Intel knapsack for each Classmate. I was told that the Classmates came with a 40GB hard drive (and that a flash drive version of the Classmate had been abandoned after an earlier trial); 504k of RAM, and licenses for Microsoft Office (which was installed on the computers).

It is powered by an Intel Celeron microprocessor. The computer has no CD or DVD drive; a small, low-resolution screen; and a small keyboard. Otherwise, it appears to be a fully functioning low-end Wintel notebook computer. Intel reports the battery life as four hours, and the teachers told me that they had as of yet had no problems with the batteries.

School Visit

During our two-hour visit to the school, we visited the two classrooms using the Classmates, spoke with the teachers and students, tried out a Classmate, and spoke with administrators and technology coordinators at the school and district. Students at the school had been using the Classmates for about a week and had taken them home a couple of times.

olpc classmate linux
Classmates in Costa Rica

I have a good deal of experience observing 1-to-1 laptop classrooms (see, e.g., my book, Laptops and Literacy), and what I observed in these classes was typical of my prior observations where students had used Mac, Dell, and Toshiba laptops.

Students in this class, like in those classes, were working busily and excitedly on their computers using MS Word, Power Point, and Internet Explorer in a variety of pedagogically meaningful activities.

User Impressions

When I tried the Classmate myself, it took forever to boot up and get going, but that was apparently due to the particular network configuration at the school, and the fact that the Classmate was logged in to the administrator for the first time, rather than to any feature of the Classmate itself. I found the small keyboard very hard to work with and I made constant typing errors. I also found the small screen (6" by 4 "; i.e., 7" diagonal) difficult on my eyes. In other words my first impression of the machine was not very positive.

But then I observed the students working on it enthusiastically and I also took ten minutes in one of the classrooms to speak to the fifth grade students. They were unanimous in their excitement about the Classmate PC. When I asked specifically what they liked about, many pointed to the small keyboard as an advantage rather than a disadvantage; they found it fit their hands well. The majority also liked the small screen (with only 1 or 2 saying it took some getting used to). And they very much liked the small size and light weight (reportedly about 3 pounds).

The school is in a middle class neighborhood and most of the students have other computers in their house, as well as high-speed Internet access. Yet almost all the students said that they preferred to work on the Classmate PC rather than their family computer at home, either because they felt it was theirs, or because they had sole access to it, or because it allowed them to bring their schoolwork back and forth from home to school without any hassles.

I was told by the people at the school (who did not include any direct Intel representatives) that they had been informed that the Classmate PC would be sold next year for $250. Interestingly, I have thought for a while that $250 was a tipping point price for school laptops. If indeed the Classmate PC is sold at that price, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a huge hit, especially for elementary and middle school students who might fit well with a mini-sized notebook.

Final Points

A couple of final points. First, I have never laid my hands on an XO, nor have I seen it in use. None of my comments above should be taken as any comparison between the Classmate and the XO.

olpc classmate linux
OLPC power cord bundle

And secondly, one small factor that seemed to make a big difference was the inclusion of a second power cord per laptop. The teacher, who had earlier taught with Toshiba laptops, said that unhooking the power cords, bringing them home, bringing them back, etc. had long been a headache, and many students had failed to bring their laptops to school fully charged.

The access to a second power cord - one for school and one for home - seemed to make a huge difference. Schools that are implementing 1-to-1 laptop programs may want to investigate the possibility of purchasing a second power cord per computer, especially if that could be achieved at a reasonable price.

Written by Mark Warschauer, Professor in the Department of Education and the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine and director of UCI's Ph.D. in Education program.

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25 Comments

"The computer has no CD or DVD drive"

Could somebody recommend a portable DVD or CD drive that I could plug into the usb port?

Pricewatch.com has external, usb cdrom, the Memorex 3202-3244 for $32 shipped but you ought see if there are drivers and whether they'll work in the Classmate.

Concerning the article, what's the definition of "pedagogically meaningful activities"?

I do hope that is supposed to read 540Mb of RAM, not 540k?

Newport Beach median income $97K in 2005
median home/condo price: $1 million

Pretty far from Jabi Lake Secondary School in Abuja.

"Schools that are implementing 1-to-1 laptop programs may want to investigate the possibility of purchasing a second power cord per computer, especially if that could be achieved at a reasonable price."

OLPC didn't even give us the pull cord charger which is the most useful accessory in XO laptop!

That second power cord was a stroke of genius! That's what you learn when you ask your customer what they want. And make no mistake, their customer is the school system that can afford it.

http://www.nmusd.us/depts/assessment/sarc/2005-06/049.pdf

Not exactly the worse school in California. It's already outperforming most California schools.

I would have liked to see these piloted against the same machines running Linux. I have an Asus Eee--which is built on the same general platform as these machines I believe--and the machine's boot time and stability seem far improved under Linux (a modified Xandros build in the case of the Eee), not to mention the considerable price savings.

I know that there's a similar pilot running in Peru, obviously under very different social and economic circumstances. I haven't been able to go visit, but from third-party opinions I think it's quite carefully planned and more focused on educational outcomes than the demonstration run in Arahuay. I'll try to get there before the school year ends (next week, so I better run!) and post a report.

I kind of like the idea of it having 504k :) reminds me of "back in the day when"... 8k Pets and 64k Commadore 64!

"Students in this class, like in those classes, were working busily and excitedly on their computers using MS Word, Power Point, and Internet Explorer in a variety of pedagogically meaningful activities."

It would be really interesting if you could share with us how effective the use of these application is from an educational stand point. By that, I don't mean to learn the skill to use these products. Instead, I mean how learning was affected by them.

If the Classmate becomes widely available for $250 each in shops, than the XO will be in trouble even in the educational field in the developed world. Schools which would like to just start their small-scale laptop programs simply cannot get them (See the example of the Austrian education ministry).

That is why I say that OLPC should remove any barrier to access to the XO and start selling them to everybody at near the current production price.

I was wondering how they handled security? Without anti-virus and firewalls, these laptops become unfunctional very fast.

Winter

Security concerns about Windows are certainly worthwhile. Real-world, as opposed to sales-oriented, cost of maintenance have to be figured in to any comparison and that doesn't include considerations of liability for failure to properly maintain and oversee the computers.

I don't know of any cases in which liability applies for failure to take proper security measures, resulting in a botted PCs, resulting in actionable damage, resulting in adverse judgments, but I can see it happening some time in the future.

No response yet on what constitutes a definition of "pedagogically meaningful activities",

Put an XO in that class and notice all the children with flock to it. XO is much better for educational use no matter what. Then ask those children after a few minutes use which laptop they prefer, all children will tell you that the XO is better.

This just smells as a desperate attempt by Intel to counter the XO arriving in Birmingham Alabama.

Power consumption needs to be low, the screen needs to work for reading ebooks, it needs to work outdoors, it needs to be durable, kid-friendly. Global Warming and high energy costs require that we use more power effecient computers, XO is 3-20 times more power efficient. Wireless Mesh lets students collaborate and it can be used as an always on wake-up on incomming message from other students, messages from teachers by its WiFi being on and consuming less than 200 milliwatts while the rest of the computer is at sleep. Thus XO can function as a VOIP always on device, keeping the students always connected with the school, leaving your Classmate always on to do the same task would consume 100 times more power.

By "pedagogically meaningful activities," I meant activities that appeared well justified from what we know about effective teaching and learning. I only visited the school for two hours and I was not attempting to evaluate the teaching and learning. However, one of the teachers in the program had previously used "regular" Toshiba laptops for two years in the classroom. I observed his classes at that time for a full year and documented in depth the improved learning environment that student use of laptops contributed to (I'll try to report on them more later when I have more time). He said that he felt the Classmate PC was more or less the same for his educational goals. (The only possible drawback I saw is that the small screen size makes it a bit more difficult for groups of students to collaborate at one computer).

As for the school, it was not in the wealthy part of Newport Beach, but it ain't poor either. A comfortable middle class neighborhood.

And, finally, to repeat, I was not attempting a comparison with the XO.

Thanks for the explanation. Do you know if there's a study were they measured the gap between a high-performing school and a low-performing school, introduced computers into the low-performing school, and measured the gap at the end of the year?

I'll second Maddie's question.

"Do you know if there's a study were they measured the gap between a high-performing school and a low-performing school, introduced computers into the low-performing school, and measured the gap at the end of the year?"

No, I don't. In one study a colleague and I did, where both the high-performing and low-performing schools received laptops, the gap in test scores between the two schools increased after one year and returned to the original gap after two years.

In general, laptop use in schools does not improve test scores, largely because the benefits of laptop use (creativity, innovation, productivity, research, information literacy, multimedia literacy) are not really measured by standardized tests. Even things like writing, which are measured by standardized tests, are taught one way using laptops (with planning, drafting, revision, online research, spell and grammar check, etc.) and tested another way (30 minutes one-time paper and pencil writing assignments).

Thanks for the quick feedback. I'm surprised the laptop didn't help with rote memorization/drill type activities.

"Thanks for the quick feedback. I'm surprised the laptop didn't help with rote memorization/drill type activities."

You could look here for an extensive meta-study of educational software from New Zealand:
http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/7672/A-Review-of-the-Literature-on-Computer-Assisted.pdf

A Review of the Literature on Computer-Assisted Learning, Particularly Integrated Learning Systems, and Outcomes with Respect to Literacy and Numeracy
Report to the Ministry of Education

Winter

I am very happy to see thing's like this happen....There is only one problem that I see: What about the children of the United States.

I was thinking wow there is help for people that cant buy one for there child.But from what I see so far.There is no free laptop for my child or any other!

I purchased the buy one give one so my granddaughter would have one...i am testing it to see if it runs good..Mixed feelings...thought it would have a more child tough case...plastic...not rubberized..I also thought she could use it to chat with me but it seems to be limited to the school servers and so far I have found none. I find other wireless networks but none are schools. I thought I would like to purchase the classmate for the other grand child but can't seem to find where to purchase it..since it runs windows and linux. Any one have any ideas on where to get one?

Pam, you can find the "2go pc" laptop (basically the Classmate 2) at Amazon.com. However as Mike Lee recently put it: "The 2go pc is remarkably unremarkable."

Is there a current case study that is happening now that the dates of the other one have passed?

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