Small Technologies Make a Big Difference for Schools with Tight Budgets

Netbooks and thin clients are affordable and efficient alternatives.

It’s very possible that the person who coined the phrase “Good things come in small packages” was more likely an eager woman waiting for her guy to slip a ring on her finger than an IT manager looking for more compact and inexpensive technology options.

It's very possible that the person who coined the phrase “Good things come in small packages” was more likely an eager woman waiting for her guy to slip a ring on her finger than an IT manager looking for more compact and inexpensive technology options. Yet the sentiment is becoming applicable in IT circles as school districts look for ways to accommodate students with smaller form factors while working within tighter budgets.

And although a netbook computer is no substitute for a diamond ring (at least not at my house), it is quickly becoming the technology of choice for schools implementing one-to-one computer programs.

Netbooks may prove to be one of the best ways to get technology to K–12 students, says Stewart Crais, a founder of the Lausanne Laptop Institute, a program that focuses on one-to-one computing.

“So far the netbooks have performed well, especially based on cost, and they seem to be getting more powerful,” Crais says. “For what we do in schools, there's no advantage to having a fully configured laptop with lots of bells and whistles.”

The Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, where Crais is director of operations, has begun purchasing Lenovo's IdeaPad netbook for carts in the lower grades. And last year, about 20 percent of Lausanne students bought netbooks.

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Netbooks are the latest but certainly not the last step in the evolution of computers for personal use, says Gartner analyst Bill Rust, who tracks technology in K–12 schools.

“Netbooks are cheaper and lighter than full-size laptops, and those are both good things for schools,” Rust says. “Netbooks will evolve and other devices will come along, and the aim will continue to be to deliver information effectively and efficiently.”

For more information about netbooks, click here to read the Lenovo S10e Peer Review, and click here to read “Mobile Computing's Lighter Side.”

A Thinner Option

While netbooks save schools space and money in the mobile computing environment, thin clients are doing the same on the desktop.

Tracy Smith, technology coordinator at Fremont County Joint School District #215 in St. Anthony, Idaho, says students at his district take turns doing word processing, or math or reading exercises on NComputing thin clients. “The teachers love having the computer resources for their students. It saved money and the administrators are thrilled with the solution,” says Smith, who plans to expand his thin-client implementation.

At Hudson Falls Central School District, Greg Partch, director of information technology, also plans to expand his thin-client offerings. He's considering installing desktop virtualization, so students can access more processor-intensive programs such as computer-aided design software, and blade PCs, so students can use video-editing software.

To learn more about schools that are implementing thin clients in their classrooms, click here to read “Trimming Down.”

Lorain City Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, like her colleagues, looks forward to this technology evolution.

“I see technology as part of who we are,” Atkinson says. “The world isn't waiting on us to get comfortable with technology. It's progressing at a rapid pace, a pace that we have to keep up with.”

Ryan Petersen
MANAGING EDITOR

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Aug 28 2009

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