Better Gadgets

Last week, Michigan state Democrats faced a firestorm of criticism after proposing a budget that includes $38 million to purchase mp3 players for all school-age students in the state. Presumably, these would be used for “educational purposes,” but there aren’t any details about how such a program would be implemented. The Detroit News immediately attacked the idea in an editorial (An iPod for every kid? Are they !#$!ing idiots?). The Detroit Free Press was a bit less sensational in its coverage of the story, focusing more on the bill, and simply pointing out that this isn’t a major issue for most schools. Given the financial situation in the state of Michigan, along with the myriad problems the state faces as its major industries continue to decline, it’s very unlikely that this proposal will survive the first round of budget debates. But it did get me thinking about a really useful gadget for students.Ipod

Here’s what I’d like to see in a handheld device for students:

  • PDA Functions: Calendar, task list, maybe an address book.
  • Graphing Calculator: If TI made an emulator for the Palm Pilot, our students could take the money they spend on a graphing calculator, purchase a Palm Pilot instead and add on the software. That’s probably why they don’t have one.
  • Audio Functions: Play music, yes. Also play podcasts. Allow voice recording, both with an internal microphone and an optional external mike.
  • E-Book Reader: Our school media center has been heading in the digital direction for years. They focus on electronic resources more than print. For the first time, they’re starting to subscribe to e-book and audio-book services. The kids should be able to use this device to access that content.
  • Wifi: Given them access to instant messaging, email, and the web.
  • Easy data transfer: Sync them with IR, USB, or TCP/IP. Let them store and transfer files easily. Don’t require special software on the host computer.
  • Long battery life: If it has to be recharged more than once a week, the battery isn’t good enough.
  • $100 price tag: We’ll buy 400 of them at a time to get that price if we have to, but we shouldn’t have to.

It’s not necessary for it to be a phone, too. Phone are small, and are well-suited to voice. I know that lots of students use them for gaming, text messaging, and a host of other things, but if you make this multi-function device a phone, too, it’ll be a pretty bad phone. Or it’ll be pretty bad at everything else. A phone that’s also a graphing calculator would be bad at both.

Does something like this exist already? If we’re requiring all of our students to buy graphing calculators, which are fairly sophisticated computers, doesn’t it make sense to get more out of them?

2 thoughts on “Better Gadgets

  1. Sounds like you are looking for the $100 laptop:

    The only function I’m not sure about is the graphing calculator. It will do everything else. The only problem is your quantity. I think you need to order a million at a time.

    The last time I looked at PDAs, the cheapest one was $100 and quite limited. The screen was tiny. I don’t think I could read a whole book using the small display. Memory was also limited. I don’t think it could hold music or video. To get those features, the price jumped to $200.

    It’s just a matter of time. In a few years we will have a lot of computing power available for $100… I hope.

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