Buying netbooks for schools

“When we chose netbooks, we decided it was absolutely vital to have a wireless network that worked when pupils and staff log on,” said Chris Hobson, headteacher of Whybridge Junior School in Havering, Essex. “We can’t afford to take a risk that the devices won’t log on in a short period of time, as this could detrimentally affect teaching and learning.

Buying netbooks for schools

“We’re confident that having considered this we won’t have to worry about [the wireless network], with the emphasis placed on embedding of ICT in lessons and not staff being concerned by wireless networking that could fail during lessons,” he added.

It’s essential to consider an extended warranty with your netbook purchase

What happens if you drop them?

If you’re looking for a netbook specifically designed for durability, you might want to look at the Fizzbook range. It was designed to pass a 50cm drop test, and has a water-resistant keyboard, surfaces resistant to reasonable damage and improved dust resistance. Its rubberised case also makes it stand out from some of the other devices on the market.

It’s essential to consider an extended warranty with your netbook purchase. Go for three years and, if it’s not too expensive, choose the on-site, next-day repair option. Imagine what it would be like to be without the devices for more than a day or two. If your budget allows, it’s worth having two or three spare pre-configured netbooks ready to step in if your front-line netbooks fail.

A family affair

Parents may also like to buy individual netbooks for their children, so that ratios of devices to pupils can be improved. It’s worth explaining to parents what devices are being bought, and why.

To help reduce costs and encourage parental engagement, you could also consider starting an e-Learning Foundation. These bodies aim to help schools extend access to ICT beyond the school gate, in particular ensuring that home access is universally available.

If you’re considering sending devices home with pupils, make sure you have an acceptable usage policy outlining how the device should be used and the sanctions if the netbook and broadband is used inappropriately. Keep a record in school to check who has the netbook and when, and check the device’s internet history on its return to school.

Provide a broadband solution that provides pre-set parental controls to help keep children safer online. This means unsuitable content is blocked from the first time you turn it on, with antivirus software a prerequisite.

It’s also worth looking around for pre-paid mobile broadband solutions, available for around £180, allowing the netbook to be sent home to pupils with home access. O2, for example, offers packages tailored for schools.

Six top tips for school netbook buyers

1. Choose a device with a long battery life, and make sure you account for degradation over time.

2. What do you intend using the netbooks for? If you’re looking to install an extensive range of programs then a netbook is probably not the right device for your needs. However, web- or server-based applications will be fine on a netbook.

3. Do you really need a charging trolley or could you distribute devices to classes stored in smaller cabinets? Or should you invest in a portable charging unit to allow devices to be moved between classes or taken on educational visits?

4. Is your wireless infrastructure capable of managing the number of netbooks that you’re intending to install?

5. Have you got sufficient technical warranty support for the devices?

6. Consider starting an e-learning foundation as a way to encourage parents/carers to buy netbooks for their child’s use in school, helping to extend equipment provision and reduce the overall cost to the school.

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