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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tech Trailblazer Elkton HS Implementing Netbooks Now

Shortly after I posted yesterday on the possibility of using netbooks—super-cheap laptops—and other innovations to save big money in school tech budgets, I received an e-mail from Gabriel Pooler, 2008 DSU graduate and now tech director at Elkton School District. Netbooks? Pooler says Elkton HS is already implementing that plan... on Friday!

Here's the press release:

The Elkton School District has begun a self-funded one-to-one netbook pilot for its senior class. They plan to use the pilot program to determine if a laptop program is a feasible option for the high school.

Netbooks are super compact, low cost, energy efficient laptops with Windows XP or Linux. They have enough power to run Windows Office, Internet, Email, and other common applications that don't require huge amounts of processing power. Elkton is using the Acer Aspire One Nebook with Windows XP.

Elkton School District plans to use the Netbooks to supplement the schools current curriculum. The high school will use the free existing email and web hosting resources that are provided by the State’s K-12. Each high school student will have access to the Internet in the classroom to allow them to research topics on demand, participate in online activities with teachers, and email assignments to teachers in a paperless classroom environment.

While state funding of the one-to-one laptop program this year seems unlikely, Elkton hopes that by taking the initiative to test this new technology with their own money, they may rise to the top of the list if any state funding does come through. If funded the state would pay $130 for each netbook, instead of $400 for each tablet. Even without state funding it is likely that Elkton will go forward on its own because of the low cost of deploying this system.

Elkton will save additional money by moving the students into a lighter Web 2.0 environment and equipping them 1GB flash drives that allow students to back up and transport their own data more easily. If a one to one netbook project for the high school happens next year, it is estimated that it will actually reduce the current strain on the school’s existing network and servers. By moving the majority of the students away from a resource intense network model to light Internet orientated model the school won’t need to buy any additional new servers. It would also allow the netbooks to replace its aging high school lab, thus further saving money.

$400 per laptop—that's twice the perhaps overly optimistic $200 per machine that the New York Times and I mentioned yesterday. Pooler says he chose the $400 models to get bigger hard drives and better batteries. Oh darn: so Elkton will only save 70% on what they would have blown on Tablet PCs.

The computers will rely heavily on open source software for more savings. Elkton hopes to fund expanding the program to kids all the way down to grade 7 through tax revenues from the nearby wind farms. Pooler says it best:

If that happens we will be able to say we are using "Green" energy money to pay for "Green" technology (Netbooks are considered green tech) and create paperless "Green" classrooms and save a lot of "Green" aka cash.

Pooler tells me Elkton is the first school in South Dakota and possibly the entire nation to implement a netbook program for an entire grade. Hm: ground-breaking technological innovation at Elkton High School, enrollment 114. Another good idea, brought to you by small schools. Nice work, Elks!


  1. So what happens if the school has decided to use macs?

    What happens when the laptop doesn't have enough horsepower to run advanced software?

    A pencil and piece of paper costs less than all of your computers.

  2. Elkton Public School believes that the netbook is a great alternative to expensive Tablet PC's. Students and parents expect schools to have computers as part of the educational program. It's a lot more cost effective to replace a $400 netwook than a $1,400 Tablet PC. I hope SD schools will give the netbook a serious look. We did and we have been very impressed with these powerful little computers. Mr. Pooler has done an outstanding job of researching and competitively pricing the netbooks. We are excited about the pilot program and the money we are saving.

    Tony Simons
    Elkton Public School

  3. Then the school uses Mac's.... Perhaps Mac will bring out a netbook. The ways they are deployed require no servers.
    Maintain a separate lab specialized lab. Cheaper to buy 20 high end computers for specialized groups, then buy 100+ in case someone need to run higher apps. Also take into consideration licensing factors. AutoCad and Photoshop are 300+ dollar apps per computer.
    Paper and pencils are cheaper, that is why you don't get tablets to replace them. Unfortunately paper does access the Internet very well. The whole point of Netbooks is to "Supplement the Curriculum, not replace it."

  4. Cory, Tony Simons is a former MHS grad, Class of 70's something, who went on to educate students after getting a tremendous base here at MHS. His voice has credibility.

  5. Anon@8:48. Why waste money on good pencils and paper? They could really save money by using limestone to write on slate - as is done in law school.

  6. Hi Cory,

    Just wanted you to know that the netbook idea is gaining some steam. We have had many schools contact us on our decision to use the netbook versus the laptop or tablet computer. Arlington Superintendent Chris Lund recently told me that they were going to implement the netwooks at their school after they visited with our tech director and principal.

    Keep up the conversation,

    Tony Simons - Superintendent
    Elkton Public School


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