Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Open letter to parents: Laptop choice for college

Around this time of year, as the back-to-school sales start showing up online and in stores, I receive emails from parents who are asking my advice about which laptop to purchase for their college freshman. Of course, I have to write back and ask some additional questions about their choice of OS, their planned laptop budget, what major the student is planning to pursue, what else besides schoolwork the student wants to do with the computer, if the laptop is going to be the single machine of the student's, and what school their child will be attending.

The last question is really the most important. I have heard horror stories from college students who purchase a laptop online or in the store of a retailer. Then, at some point during college (usually when they need it the most) the laptop breaks down. The student winds up spending hours on the phone with the laptop manufacturer's tech support or winds up being without the laptop for a few days after they drop it off at the retailer's repair shop.

There are tons of laptops on the market to pick from, but my recommendation is for the student to purchase it through their college's online store. Many colleges have standardized on a Windows-OS laptop brand and the Apple laptops. By purchasing the laptop through the college, the student receives an academic discount as well as the peace of mind to realize their college usually has brand-certified repair personnel either on-staff or on-contract. The student can simply walk into the technology department in their college bookstore and get the help they need. (In addition, at this time of year, there are online purchasing incentives with the purchase of a laptop for college. For example, a Windows-based machine over $699 garners the student a free xBox360 and the purchase of an Apple laptop comes with a $100 gift card to the Mac App store.)

Some things to consider:
  • A budget for a laptop that will serve a student well will not cost under $1000. Matter of fact, that should be the starting point. Parents should plan to spend $1000-1500 for this new laptop.  If a student has a decent desktop, and will only be using the laptop for taking notes in class, then a less-powerful and cheaper one (or even an iPad and external keyboard! will work. Most of the price of a laptop is determined by the processor and its speed, the amount of RAM (4 GB minimum!), the video card RAM (512 or better) and the size and type of the hard drive. (The screen size is part of the cost, but, sometimes, the smaller screens carry a premium price!)
  • Even if the laptop is also going to be the student's desktop machine, do not go for the massive 16-17" monster machine. It is way too heavy to lug around and will not fit nicely on a college chair-desk. Keep the weight of the laptop to under 5 pounds. A 13 or 14" (maybe even a thin 15") with a decent resolution will be just fine.  The price of a large external monitor for the student's desk, if the student feels they need a larger screen at times, will be under $150. (I currently like the  Acer S211HL BD 21.5" monitor ($140) because it is really bright and crisp.)
  • Wait until the student visits the college bookstore to purchase their Office or iWork suite, since the academic pricing in the college store is often the best pricing.)
I also am often asked if the laptop will be able to last through the student's college career.  I tell them, with the wear and tear on a laptop that is carried around in a backpack, used everywhere from the cafeteria to the campus bus, it is likely that a second laptop will probably be needed at the beginning of junior year.

Any thoughts to contribute to the conversation?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ruminations on the first month of retirement
It has been almost a month since I left the office for the last time and, although I do not think I look as relaxed as those retirees that come back to visit the school, I am getting there!

The ISTE11 Conference was first on the retirement "to-do" list. This year's conference in Philadelphia was just buzzing with positive energy! The sessions were varied and well-done, and the entire event was one of the best ISTE Conferences I have attended. My infographics presentation was well-received and the poster session I co-presented with Kim Conner, my district's middle school ITS, dealing with our "Manufacturing Across the Curriculum" Verizon Foundation grant was fun to do, too!

From there it was on to Hershey, PA to visit a high school friend and then home to get ready to travel to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts to present at the Southern Berkshire Educational Collaborative where I presented to a great group of principals and educators. David Warlick and I tag-teamed throughout the two days, and we seem to complement each other-- his down-home, southern charm is in direct contrast to my rapid-fire New Jersey style, but it seemed to work well!

In between, I have had time to try out all the new tech things that have been introduced. Google+ was released and I had the luxury of time to try to wrap my head around it and to attend and host lots of hangouts with friends and edtech colleagues. It takes some getting used to, but there are plenty of instructional videos available to help you out. And, there was the new Skype-in-Facebook to try out, too-- a one-to-one video conferencing option built into Facebook. It is smooth and easy to use!

I have signed agreements with McGraw-Hill, Follett, and eGenio, all to provide some form or another of professional development over the next year or so. (Watch for announcements of all kinds of Webinars if you are interested!) I continue, of course, to take care of my Discovery Education site, Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators and will continue with that as long as they will have me!

If you are interested in learning more about the use of infographics as a classroom assessment tool, I am teaching a 9-week, online graduate course this fall through our state ISTE affiliate, MassCUE. And, I continue to teach the Web 2.0 course in the Wilkes/Discovery Education Instructional Media program. You do not have to be in the program to take a course, and the courses are all practical and would support any level and any curriculum.

In addition, since I now have the time, I will be presenting at lots of places during the school year. The list thus far looks like this. It is exciting to be able to have the chance to provide professional development to educators around the country!

People tell me I will miss "school" once September comes. However, as I think about my previous job, which included taking care of the infrastructure, participating in data projects, Web publishing, doing the tech purchasing, meeting DOE requirements and filing reports, monitoring tech support for 1200 computers spread across 8 sites, and providing professional development when it fit into all of that, I realize that I will not miss most of it. I will miss the teachers and students who were the reason I did what I did, but now I can concentrate on what I love the best-- helping teachers with strategies, tips, tricks, and information to embed technology meaningfully into their curriculum to best support teaching and learning!