GoLocal Tech: Back-to-School Buying Guide for Grades K - 12
Friday, August 03, 2012
As always, keep in mind the following:
Hakkarainen’s First Law of Computer Purchases –
You will see the same product for less within a week of your purchase.
Corollary one - Something better will be available for the same price within three months.
Hakkarainen’s Second Law of Computer Purchases –
It is hard to buy a bad computer.
With very rare exceptions, systems are fast, reliable, and capacious. The choices are between good, better, and best, not between bad and good.
Make the best decision you can with the information available to you at the time and enjoy your purchase.
Should you buy an iPad?
The topic getting the most attention these days is that insidious little device that is making billions for one Cupertino-based computer company.
If you are wondering about buying an iPad for more than a few minutes, you will probably buy one eventually. Such is the allure of Apple products.
One morning a week during the school year, I get our 7-year-old granddaughter onto the school bus. I show up with our dog and the iPad. She is excited to see the dog, the iPad, and me.
After breakfast, if we have not dawdled, she plays with both the educational and entertainment apps. Sometimes, we will read a book, such as Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, using the Kindle app. In this admittedly small sample, the iPad is a hit.
She quickly understood the difference between free and paid apps, as well as how to avoid the upsell that usually comes with the free apps.
Access to tablets is as important for her as access to computers was to her older brothers and sisters 10 years ago. It is not likely that she will need one for school this year or next, but they’ll certainly be commonplace by the time she reaches middle school.
Should you buy an iPad®?
For K-12, if you buy a tablet computer, you are better off buying an iPad. Android tablets, even the very popular Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle, are different critters, designed for adults. (We will review the Google tablet in an upcoming column.) The iPad works across all age groups.
The iPad is not cheap, starting at $500. You can still find the older iPad 2 models for $100 less as are some of the refurbished models from Apple.
If you buy one, spring for the extra $29 for Apple Care at the time of purchase. Normally, extended warranties are not a good value. In this case, though, it lets you worry less. (Note: the person who cracked the glass in my iPad was not my granddaughter; it was yours truly.)
There are plenty of recommendations for good educational apps and games for all ages in the iTunes stores.
Some schools offer rental options for iPads. If you decide to rent, make sure that you check on insurance for the device. You want to make sure that you are insured in the case that someone (your child or, ahem, you) drops the thing.
Desktop versus laptop
There is no clear answer here. Your decision depends on your budget as well as the number and ages children using the system. You can add external gadgets such as speakers or game controllers more easily to a desktop system. A laptop can let the student work in the kitchen or in her room, away from the crowd as needed.
Keeping your children safe online is no more or less difficult than keeping them safe at school, outside of school, with friends, or at family gatherings. The topic of online safety is beyond the scope of this article, so I will offer just a few tips:
• Make certain that your anti-virus software is updated and running all day, every day.
• Set up regular accounts for each child and only allow the administrator to install software. If you are not familiar with this process, ask for help from your local computer shop.
• Read what danah boyd is writing about online culture. She is doing the best research on topics related to young people, bullying (cyber- and otherwise), and social networks.
Mac versus Windows, upgrade versus new, and software selections
Last week’s recommendations about operating systems, upgrades, printers, and software apply here as well. Because you are more likely to be using the computer with your younger children, make selections that are comfortable for you. If you use Macs, buy Macs. If you use Windows systems and know the programs, buy Windows.
Price, of course, is a differentiator, but feeling comfortable with your purchase is more important. If you buy a Mac because you think it is a better choice for education, but you do not know how it works, no one will be happy.
• A laser printer
• Software purchased with an educational discount
• Anti-virus software running at all times
• If your main computer is less than 2 years old and your finances allow it, consider an iPad.
Karl Hakkarainen is an IT and social media consultant at Queen Lake Consulting. His grandchildren still ask for his help and advice about computers and related technology.
- Family Matters: Keeping Your Kids’ Tech in Check
- Grants Awarded for Girls in Science + Technology
- High-Tech Scavenger Hunt at WaterFire
- Julia Steiny: Schools Still Struggle with New Technology