Christopher Lawton’s article today in the Wall Street Journal (“The First-Grader’s First PC”) highlights several sub $500 computers designed specifically for children, including some I hadn’t read about previously. The Eee PC, priced at $399 according to Christopher’s article, is marketed for mobility, reliability, ease of use, connectivity, media applications and entertainment. The Eee PC can run Linux or Windows. The Eee PC website indicates its 4G model was released in mid-October, and three additional models are due out this month.

eePC

The Eee PC may be an ongoing alternative for parents interested in purchasing a less expensive laptop for their kids this holiday season. The XO Laptop’s “give one, get one” program starts November 12th but will run for just a limited time.

In addition to the Eee PC and the XO Laptop, Christopher mentioned two kid-oriented desktop computer options sold by an Oklahoma-based company and the LeapFrog “ClickStart” device in the article’s comparative table of “first grader first PC” options for kids. I don’t think the Clickstart device, which is priced at $60 and is literally an interactive toy rather than a computer running an operating system, belongs in an article like this or a comparative table about computers for kids.

The conclusion some readers may reach, since the ClickStart is included as if it’s comparable to the XO laptop (OLPC) or the Eee PC, is that all of these devices are TOYS useful for just gaming and entertainment. Certainly the use of laptops for gaming and fun is something the OLPC project team supports pedagogically, but I’d guess they would also cringe at the prospect of the XO being compared to the ClickStart. Making that comparison is analogous to comparing a real Toyota Prius to HotWheels version. One actually allows you to drive and “get on the road” (the Internet), the other is just a toy. Real laptops in the hands of students (I would say in grades 3 and above in schools) should not be considered an option, but rather a requirement. Laptops are the pencils of the 21st century, but they can do SO much more than just allow us to document our ideas with text and drawings.

More affordable laptop computers (sub $500 US) are not just on the way, they’re available for purchase from at least these two sources (OLPC and ASUS) this month. The tougher challenge, when it comes to leveraging the power of laptop devices for learning, is not affording the laptops– it’s using them effectively and appropriately for teaching and learning. The hardest part is getting TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS TO CHANGE THEIR WAYS. As human beings, we’re naturally resistant to change. The resistance of some educators to “teach differently” can be quite strong, to say the least.

Are the teachers in your school district ready for all the students to arrive with a computer in their backpack? They may not be bringing them tomorrow, but you can bet some will be soon. Cell phones are already computers and becoming increasingly powerful every day. As long as school leaders insist on maintaining 19th century models of instruction, it’s likely all these devices will be banned and prohibited in most of our classrooms.

While I find the availability of these less-expensive and yet powerful computers to be exciting, I continue to think the ability for a computer to permit people to CREATE, rather than merely CONSUME or INTERACT, is the key differentiator when it comes to the device’s potential value for learning. My kids love to use our Macbook laptops at home not only because they can get to Webkinz and Club Penguin (although they are certainly favoring Webkinz these days) but because they can CREATE and INTERACT safely with others there. I am intentionally trying to encourage this CREATIVE use of technology tools to “make stuff. By creating music in Garageband, making an animation in Scratch by creating a simple program, or posting some text thoughts or comments to our family learning blog, I want my own children to EXPERIENCE the value of creating and sharing content rather than simply consuming it or interacting with it. How much better is it for kids to create and modify a dress-up program like this one created in Scratch than simply waste time on a site like stardoll.com?

For more on the value of CREATING with media rather than just interacting with or consuming it, listen to Quyen Arana’s great presentation from Encyclo-Media this summer in Oklahoma City as well as Mitchel Resnick’s BLC 2007 presentation.

Authentic and worthwhile education in the 21st century must be “read/write,” as I noted back on April 16th. That will be a key concept in my keynote address tomorrow here in Austin at the Southwest Techforum. The title of my presentation is, “So the World is Flat – Now What?” If you’d like to preview my main points and share your own comments and feedback, you can do so on this post I’ve shared to my “important questions from workshops” blog. I’ll check to see if there are any comments before the presentation starts tomorrow at 8:15 am US central time.

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