Solving the collaborative classroom with computers conundrum

I teach an undergraduate face-to-face class in a classroom with Windows XP desktop computers, with students facing me in straight rows. I have one projector and one screen with a Windows XP computer for my podium. There’s a smartboard in the room, and although it appears to be connected to my computer, I can’t get it to work.

The class I’m teaching is called Educational Technology: Classroom Applications, a required class for all pre-service teachers. The class has evolved a lot over the years and fortunately has changed for the better. Instead of culminating with a high-stakes, multiple-choice test, students now construct a portfolio throughout the semester, demonstrating their proficiencies in meeting ISTE NETS for Teachers standards.

But you know me . . . I want more! I want a classroom that has flexible seating, laptops that allow for spontaneous movement and rearranging, a document camera so I can show anything on the projector, a way to show multiple computer screens, a microphone that will amplify my voice so everyone can hear, and collaborative stations where students can share and construct their work together.

I ALMOST have the problem solved. I can use a classroom in the Interactive Learning Center, a beautiful new building on campus, that has small tables on wheels (flexible!) and four TeamSpot collaborative stations. The instructor podium includes a touch-screen interface that quickly allows for showing multiple computer screens, along with an ELMO document camera. A wireless mike is provided for a speaker. It’s just about perfect for my classroom.

The only thing that is missing are laptops for my students. I figure all I need is a maximum of 20 laptops with minimal capacity storage and memory, since most of the applications we use for the class are browser-based. (The reason I teach this is for them to be able to help ALL students access rich application tools without having to spend a dime.)

What kind of laptops do today’s portable students need? For this class and for most student needs in the classroom, a lightweight, mini-laptop with wireless access and USB ports should work great. We have seen the continuing growth of mini-laptops and in September, 2008, Dell jumped into this market. Dell offers what looks like a very competitive and desirable product, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9. With the standard operating system, Ubuntu Linux, and flash memory, this computer looks good. (Oh, and you also get 2GB of free storage from box.net, a company I’ve written about before.)

And the price fits . . . about $350 for this computer. Twenty of these computers would cost $7000 plus a laptop cart at about $1500, for a total of $8500. And I’m talking retail, before I even BEGIN negotiating with Dell.

Why am I interested in testing/using mini-computers? I would be able to show students how easy it is to use a flash drive as their portable computer on campus, installing portable applications, using them on mini-laptops. I would be able to explain “cloud computing” to them and start talking about using online storage, online applications, and a host of online programs to simplify their lives and their computer storage needs. And of course, I would be able to conduct class, since most of the class activities require working on a computer.

I’m going to keep working on this and talk to other people who might be able to help. In the meantime, I’ll still teach my class in the current classroom. But I’m aching to try out a new approach and integrate more collaborative, active learning in these classes.

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2 thoughts on “Solving the collaborative classroom with computers conundrum

  1. Do let us know what you decide. At the Albertsons Library we offer laptop loan program where you can check out a laptop for a three hour period. We have a total of 10 laptops and they come equipped with Microsoft Office 2007, Clean Access, and the ability to print to BroncoWeb. Here’s the blog post for it: http://tinyurl.com/5w3op8

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  2. Thanks, Memo, for responding! I’m sure I’ll figure this out, but as always, I appreciate the helpfulness of the Albertsons Library folks. You guys are great!

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