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The Universal Learning Machine: Ideas for the Ultimate Electronic Learning Tool

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We are speeding toward the day when students will bring an electronic learning device with them to school. The MIT $100 laptops are about to ship, and I believe it is inevitable that similar devices will soon be available for American students. This future brings up the question of what would happen if teachers were allowed to design these things. Let me start with a list of features and then see what the Spiral Notebook community thinks.

The device should be small but not too small. It is important that the display be large enough to clearly show the contents of a Web page. Something between a portable game player and a laptop in size should work. A good bright color display will be essential.

The memory, for durability and to conserve power, should be based on flash memory. Some type of wireless battery-charging system would be ideal. Solar power would be best, but we might have to settle for one of those wireless pads for charging the battery during lunch or recess. Wireless capability must be included, and a couple USB ports would add flexibility.

If we could make it durable enough, I would like to see a touch screen, which eliminates the necessity of using a separate mouse. The touch screen might be able to double as a keyboard, or we could include a fold-away keyboard that could be stowed out of the way when we are using the touch screen.

What about software? Necessities would include a browser, a word processor, and photo-editing, video-editing, and multimedia-presentation tools. I would also include a spreadsheet with graphing capabilities for math and some type of graphic-organizer building tool for abstracting and note taking. Some of these tools might be Web based, making it unnecessary to maintain them on the machine.

This device needs to be in the $100-$300 range to make it affordable for families to buy or for school districts to provide. What have I missed, or what have I included that should be modified or eliminated? Please let me know.

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Comments (24) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

R Scroggins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Don't forget capability to talk easily to a printer.

Theresa Pierce's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Not to add a negative note, but until the battery issue is resolved in an affordable/cost-effective way - laptops or any type of electronic learning device can create problems. I currently work with several schools that have wireless laptops in a cart. As an example, you have laptops where the batteries are 3 years old. They laptops are charged overnight and when used the next day - you are lucky if you can get 30 minutes from them. And classrooms are not equipped to plug in 15 devices so students can continue to work. We have demo'ed a rechargeable unit that will work for an entire school day - but at $300 a piece it is not an affordable choice for some school. And definitely not for most families. I would love to hear from someone who has dealt with this issue and has some type of solution in place. Until there is a way to effectively and efficiently run an electronic learning device - they are only useful for short period of time.

Mitchell Jorgensen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would say an enhanced eReader. Microsoft already provides a good one, but if it included graphics, photos, tables, and charts it would be terrific. I would also love to see an enhanced ability for students to create links of their own both to other relevant text in an eBook they may be working with as well as to relevant sites. We are truly no longer teaching kids information we are teaching them how to access information and to assimilate iit (No BORG reference intended)

Carmen Fiallo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

LINUX... ubuntu... would help... no cost... and there is a software used with the SMART Board that can be downloaded free to use, and already they have linux!

Tim Lavery's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Most if not all your requirements for new breed of notebook is already in place, check out the Nova 5000 from Fourier Systems, here in the European Learning Laboratory based in ireland have field tested this machine it is brilliant, teachers, students everyone has nothing but parise for the machine.

Mimi Gilman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been teaching a course titled Emerging Technology for Lesley University and have been talking about the $100 dollar laptop since Dr. Negraponte first introduced the idea at MIT.
The posting certainly gives me hope and look forward to having my university be the first to purchase several of these laptops the minute the hit the market so that I and other colleagues that teach this course are able to introduce to our students. As it is the course focuses on PDAs. I can see this laptop being just as useful as the PDAs.
Let's keep hounding manufacturers to bring to the US what is being used already somewhere else.

Mimi Gilman, Adjunct Professor, Lesley University
Faculty Associate George Lucas Educational Foundation and

Becki Teague's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I echo the concern from Teresa Pierce. When laptop batteries are 3 years old and no longer hold a charge, it is very costly to replace them. The new device should have a viable, affordable source of power.

Lynn Marentette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

By now, you probably heard of Microsoft Surface, an interactive touch table. Something like Microsoft Surface, or Philip's Entertaible, would be great for co-operative group projects in educational settings and in libraries/media centers.

Microsoft will be marketing the tables to businesses such as casinos and restaurants first, and from what I've read, they are quite expensive.

Last semester, I had to work on projects for a class in Human-Computer Interaction, as well as a Ubiquitous Computing class. I had no idea that Microsoft was working on a touchtable.

I spent good portion of the last few months working on prototypes for use on large-touch screen displays, and I didn't have access to a table. I was thinking about rigging a touch table up myself, using something like the Next Window Human Touch display and mounting it to an adjustable drafting table surface.

I'm sure readers of the Edutopia blogs will have some great ideas of how touch tables could be used for education! Think about the old story-book and flannel board activities of the past. Those might translate well to touch-table activities.

Le Thanh Ruby's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I work at a school where each classroom is supposed to have 2 computers per class in the primary grades. Upper grades have about 4-6 computers. Honestly, I think everything should be equitable, but that's just not the way the world works. Primary grade kids need the foundation to help them become technologically informed just like the upper grade kids do. We have a computer lab that is way behind in everything. This device seems interesting, but of course, is it affordable is always the question when it comes to education. Pretty sad, when it comes down to us educating future, doctors, leaders, and educators of America.

3768's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i think e learning will be the future for education, you can make w website, arrange articles to be sent as daily subjects to study, with videos & live support if the students have any questions in mind
website laten maken

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