As students and teachers in developing nations await the arrival of former MIT Media Lab Director Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop later this year, a consortium of educators and technology providers has developed a list of specifications it says are essential to building the ultimate one-to-one computing solution for schools in developed nations.
Known as Project Inkwell, the group has been working for close to three years on a set of industry standards for hardware and software manufacturers to reference when designing personal computing solutions for schools (see story: Project Inkwell drafts specs for school tech). The majority of laptops purchased by schools today are tailored to the needs of the business world, Inkwell says, but schools would do better to invest in one-to-one computing solutions built specifically for the classroom.
Though Negroponte’s One Child Per Laptop foundation recently announced that versions of the long-anticipated low-cost, Linux-based device could begin cropping up in U.S. schools as early as next year, Inkwell believes alternative devices aligned to its specifications will more closely match the needs of students in industrialized nations.
Negroponte’s foundation oversees the production and distribution of the devices to schools. His low-cost machines will begin shipping to officials in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Rwanda, Pakistan, Thailand, and the Palestinian territory later this year.
Project Inkwell, on the other hand, isn’t in the business of building computers, explains Inkwell CEO Bruce Wilcox. Instead, Inkwell provides the technical blueprint from which manufacturers can work.
“Thus, Inkwell’s requirements are brought to market by many companies, some small, others larger, each having an economic incentive to produce high-quality products for schools and who can support, over time, the implementation of these products,” Wilcox said.
It’s quite a market. According to data provided by Inkwell, the market for one-to-one computing technologies in U.S. schools alone exceeds $20 billion. Called “The Inkwell Function for Student Devices 1.0,” the specs, released in November, reflect feedback from more than a dozen member companies, as well as school officials in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Germany.
Inkwell believes it is the first organization of its kind to try to establish a set of commonly accepted standards for one-to-one devices in schools. The organization defines one-to-one learning as an environment “where every learner and educator has always-on, real-time access to personal learning technology.”
Among its many requirements, Inkwell says that one-to-one computing devices used in schools should be as lightweight as possible, preferably under four pounds. The group also recommends that schools not purchase devices unless they are small enough to fit inside a student’s backpack or standard school locker for safe storage.
Protective carrying cases are another point of emphasis. Inkwell says all one-to-one devices should come equipped with carrying cases designed to guard against the uncertainty of daily classroom use and travel.
Battery life also is important to the group. For students to get through the typical school day, Inkwell recommends that all one-to-one devices used in schools come with batteries capable of providing at least four hours of “on time” and that each battery be capable of withstanding at least 300 full discharges and refreshes prior to replacement.
Screen lighting, basic memory, connectivity, and total cost of ownership are just a few of the additional technical issues addressed by Inkwell’s specs. In all, there are 150 items for manufacturers to consider.
The full list of specifications is free to every public K-12 school in the U.S. and also to all Inkwell member organizations. Schools interested in reviewing the specs or joining Inkwell are encouraged to contact the organization. More information is available on the Inkwell web site.
Inkwell consists of “member companies,” educational institutions, and a steering committee, each of which provided input and feedback on its list of specifications.
Member companies include AMD, AlphaSmart, Averatec, CDW-G, Classlink, Clearwire, DataSlide, EduSmart, EKOS International, Fourier Systems (Dell’s CE Platform partner), Gateway, IDEO, Inspiration Software, Library Video Co., Microsoft, National University, Pearson Inc., Promethean, Quality Education Data, Red Hat, Reuters, SimDesk, SMART Technologies, VIA Technologies, and others.
One Laptop Per Child