Arapahoe High School has a wireless network (called PODnet) in place throughout our school that allows students to bring their own wireless devices to school and connect to the Internet. (Learn more about why AHS offers wireless.). As a result, we often get asked which laptop or device to purchase. Though we cannot recommend specific brands or models, we would like to share some general thoughts on the topic.
First, two things you should know.
- The device doesn’t have to be a laptop. Any device that uses 802.11 a/b/g/n protocols will work, including devices like iPhones, Blackberries, and iPod touches.
- Users who access our network via PODnet do have a few restrictions. They have to agree to the user agreement, their access is still filtered by our Internet filter, they can’t access our printers (but they can access their files via Fileway), and the use of the devices in classrooms is at the discretion of the teacher.
If you should decide to purchase a laptop for your student, there are many options and features to think about. Each person’s needs are unique, so this is definitely not one-size-fits-all. Most students do not necessarily need a top-of-the-line laptop at this point in their learning. (Two exceptions to this would be if your student is interested in video editing or other high-end applications, or if you have a senior who is going off to college and you want this to be the computer they take with them. In either case they would probably want a more robust machine.)
Most students will be served just fine by a basic laptop running Windows 7 or 8, Mac OS X, or Linux. Most of the laptops that you see advertised will work fine for what students need to do, although we would recommend at least 2 GB of RAM – which is one area that the “on sale” laptops sometimes skimp on, but you can get by on less. (If you check the Sunday newspaper there are usually advertisements from several stores featuring laptops that are under $400 - these can be very functional, but check the specs and especially the battery life.)
You might also consider a relatively new category of laptop called a netbook. LPS is currently using netbooks as one option to meet our needs for a low-cost, mobile computing solution. Netbooks currently start at around $299, have Windows and Linux versions, and work really well for most high school students. (A key advantage over a traditional laptop is their battery life – many netbooks get six or more hours of battery life compared to perhaps two or three on a laptop - which is really helpful as students often don’t have an opportunity to recharge their computers during the day.)
While a netbook will not meet everyone’s needs, it is a much more affordable option for many folks and does the majority of what students need it to do (video editing and using specific commercial software probably won’t work, but there are open source and web-based solutions). You may also want to look at Amazon's netbook page, or visit any computer store and talk to the sales people there.
We also often get asked about software, specifically whether students must have Microsoft Office. While you are certainly welcome to get Microsoft Office for your student, don’t feel compelled to as there are many alternatives they can use. Specifically, you might consider Open Office and/or Google Docs. Both of these are free and will meet the needs of most students and Google Docs has some nice sharing and collaboration features built in. All LPS students have a Google Apps account through the district and will be using that extensively.
Your student may also wish to consider getting a flash drive in order to transfer documents from their laptop/netbook to our network (in order to print or to turn in electronically). They can also accomplish that via Fileway, Google Docs (now allows up to 1 GB of most types of files to be uploaded in addition to any Google Docs the user has), or a service like Dropbox (2 GB of free storage space, with the ability to synchronize files to multiple computers as well as web-based access).
Finally, your student will want to have some kind of backup routine in place, so that their files are backed up some place other than the laptop. This could be an external hard drive, a flash drive that they use to transfer to another computer (we don’t recommend using the flash drive itself as the backup), or a service like the previously mentioned Dropbox (which has the compelling feature that it’s automatic, and the client works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux).
We want to reiterate that a laptop is not currently required to attend AHS. We do think that it is a very valuable tool for a 21st century student, and we strongly recommend that you consider providing your student with one, so we wanted to share some general information that we thought might be helpful. If you should have any further questions, please contact Karl Fisch, AHS’s Director of Technology, at 303-347-6085 or email@example.com.