The Netbook is Dead

December 30, 2009

Back in the autumn of 2007, Asus launched their Asus EeePC. I managed to get my hands on one in February; a small form factor PC running Xandros (Linux) with a 7″ screen.

There had been small laptops before, but they were usually around £2000, the Asus EeePC was less than £200!

What do you use your computer for?

Photo source.

Before long, lots of other companies had jumped on the bandwagon, Dell, HP, even Sony started offering a cheap netbook. Notably Apple didn’t!

In November 2008 we recorded a podcast on the impact of the Asus EeePC and other netbooks; this was at the height of their popularity.

However it wasn’t long before the honeymoon was over. Only in March I was writing about some of the issues I had had with the very small netbooks.

Though I liked the Asus EeePC the keyboard was rather too small for me and I know others found it difficult to type large amounts of text on it. The HP 2133 was well suited to those who found the smaller micro-laptops too much of a microscopic size.

It was also back then we started to see the feature creep and added functionality with newer netbooks, in the same blog post I wrote.

However no point in recommending the HP 2133 as HP have decided to withdraw that model. Their replacement, the HP 2140 has a similar form factor to the 2133, included the nice keyboard, but now has a10.1″ screen. You have to ask is it a micro-laptop or is really no longer that form factor and more a subnotebook now?

We also started to see rising prices too. But the devices were popular with learners and practitioners. At most e-learning events too they were awash with netbooks.

However here we are two years after the launch of the Asus EeePC and the netbook is effectively dead, or will be dead soon!

The BBC reports that:

Rising prices and better alternatives may mean curtains for netbooks.

The small portable computers were popular in 2009, but some industry watchers are convinced that their popularity is already waning.

“The days of the netbook are over,” said Stuart Miles, founder and editor of technology blog Pocket Lint.

There are now no netbooks with 7″ screens, very few with 8.9″ screens, most are now coming with bigger screens, at least 10.1″ and sometimes larger. The original netbooks came with small flash based drives, often 2, 4 or 8 GB. This was fine for browsing or word processing, but not sufficient for video or audio. So manufacturers started putting in large traditional hard drives. HP pulled Linux from their netbooks back in February, and that was down to consumer demand, consumers wanted Windows and couldn’t handle or like the Linux OS. In my experience, though I did like Xandros, I found the SUSE on the HP netbooks difficult to use and (bizarrely) unreliable. One of the big issues with the netbook was that it was underpowered which meant it was unsuitable for internet video; as a result manufacturers started putting in more memory and more powerful chips.

The netbook as envisgaed by Asus and imitated by others, is now effectively dead. Most netbooks you buy now are effectively normal laptops, maybe a little smaller…

So what does this mean for learners and learning?

A fair few learners did buy netbooks, but many more bought traditional laptops, as they preferred the “better” user experience over the netbook. Netbooks for most users were as a second computer; learners were more likely to have a single computer and needed something more powerful. Netbooks often did not have the power to deal with media-rich learning content. However the death of the netbook means that there is not the choice that learners did have.

Or is there?

Newer technologies can result in more choice. For a lot of people I know the iPhone has replaced their netbook, and with the introduction of a large iPhone-esque Tablet device by both Apple and Microsoft in 2010 we may have a new style of netbook, a tabletnetbook!

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Firefox Mobile Browser

December 22, 2009

Fennec, the mobile version of Firefox, should be with us in a few days.

The BBC reports:

The first mobile phone version of the popular web browser Firefox is “days away” from launch, the head of the project has told the BBC.

The browser, codenamed Fennec, will initially be available for Nokia’s N900 phone, followed by other handsets.

It will later be available for Windows Mobile and Android, however it will be some time before we see it on the iPhone (if at all).

One thing which makes it interesting

The open-source browser will be able to synchronise with the desktop version.

This means you can move from mobile to desktop and back without having to worry about where you were.

As I don’t have the Nokia N900 it will be some time before I get to have a proper look.


“Sony plots death of Amazon Kindle”

December 18, 2009

I enjoyed this article from the The Register on e-Book Readers.

Sony – a company that has struggled to establish itself as a dominant player in the world of ebook readers – is anxious to remind you that the ebook market is still in its infancy and that the Amazon Kindle is far from winning the battle. In fact, Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division, thinks Jeff Bezos and co. have made some critical mistakes.

The e-Book Reader market is interesting to watch, as in education once a consumer product reaches a certain level of market penetration, we then start to see how we can use it to enhance and enrich teaching and learning.


Tweetnoting at Ascilite 2009

December 12, 2009

So it was day three of Ascilite 2009 and this was a big day for me as I was delivering the final Keynote.

I checked that everything worked. Though I have given keynotes before, this was the first time I was going to tweet as I delivered my keynote. Using KeynoteTweet, an Applescript which in conjunction with Keynote will automatically send tweets as slides appear.

In the auditorium there were two projectors, one would have my slides upon them, whilst the other would have Twitterfall showing all the #ascilite09 tweets.

My slides were “new” but like other presentations I have delivered have either usually a single word or an image on them.

Twitterfall worked well, with a fair few people in the UK and elsewhere following the tweets from my keynote. Of course it can be “dangerous” having a live Twitter feed in your presentation, especially when it is behind you. However looking over the stream of Tweets it would appear everything went fine.

Gráinne Conole was very kind to live blog my keynote on Cloudworks and you can see the results here.

I enjoyed delivering the keynote and all the stuff worked from a technical perspective, bar one. So what didn’t work? I was hoping to use the Remote App on the iPhone, however I have found that this is unreliable when a lot of people are using the wireless network. In future I think I may create my own wireless network specifically for the presentation (I have a spare Airport Express I can use).

When I have better (upload) bandwidth I will upload the presentation to Slideshare and a recording of the keynote itself.

So what did others think? Well I have had some very positive feedback from people at the conference.


It’s about the conversation…

December 9, 2009

So it was day three of Ascilite 2009 and this was a big day for me as I was delivering the final Keynote.

As I was still doing some final preparation I missed out on the first morning session. After that I attended the Thinking about a new LMS: Comparing different institutional models and approaches symposium

Selecting a new Learning Management System (LMS) is a strategic decision. The LMS is a key part of your institutional culture and shapes not only the student experience but also the future direction of your institution. This symposium describes the experience from the initial selection phase to early implementation of Moodle in four case studies: University of Waikato, University of Canberra, University of Canterbury and Massey University. The central question explored is: how do you successfully implement a new LMS within a large institution? In answering this question, the symposium compares and contrasts different models and approaches to successfully implementing such an important educational innovation and large-scale institutional change. The symposium shares lessons learnt from each university and offers participants an excellent opportunity to hear first hand about the benefits and challenges of adopting an open source LMS in the university sector.

This was an interesting presentation with some useful experiences that were passed on.The experiences by the four institutions had valuable lessons to pass onto any other institution contemplating changing their LMS or VLE.

However I do feel that it shouldn’t have been labelled as a symposium. Now though a symposium originally referred to a Greek drinking party, it is now used to describe an openly discursive format, rather than a lecture and question–answer format.

The LMS symposium was a series of four presentations with a few questions at the end. That is not a symposium, that is a series of four presentations with a few questions at the end…

It would appear that I am not alone in thinking that the symposium format needs to be rethought for academic conferences.

Sebastian Fiedler on his symposium said in his blog:

Altogether, our slightly eclectic individual statements/presentations apparently worked as a conversation opener. There was clearly interest in the over-arching theme and present ASCILITErs were eager to chime in an voice their opinions. However, when things just started to get somewhat interesting we already had to wrap up the session and disperse the convention. I found this extremely unfortunate.

He goes onto suggest:

I can easily imagine to simply start with a conversation among a group of informed peers on stage… that gradually draws in more and more participants. It would provide a hyperlink-cloud around the individual contributors to get an idea of where they are coming from, and possible end with recommendations on further readings… plus some form of mediated conversation and exchange beyond the event. No presentations, no lecture halls, no 60 min time-slots.

When I was planning the original VLE is Dead symposium at ALT-C 2009 one of the key issues for me was to ensure that the delegates attending the debate had ample time and opportunity for discussion.

So how did we do this?

Well the first thing we did was get the discussion going well before the conference. The speakers were posting to their blogs with their views. One result of this was that lots of people responded to those blog posts, which continued the debate.

At the symposium itself, we restricted the amount of time to each presenter to just five minutes; Josie in the chair was under strict instructions to stop us after five minutes. I also wanted the presenters not to use PowerPoint, though in the end some presenters did use them.

As a result we had a wonderful debate looking at a range of issues, allowing delegates an opportunity to ask questions, voice their opinions and join in.

Well our symposium worked very well, with a room for 80, we had 150 delegates in the room, and about 200 online. I recorded the debate and that video has now been seen (at the time of writing) by over 1500 people!

So what can we learn from this, especially those that are thinking of putting in symposium submissions and conference organisers.

Lesson 1: Less is more

If you can’t get your viewpoint across in five minutes then you just need to try harder. Likewise I wouldn’t have more than four presenters for an hour debate and no more than six for a ninety minute session. Don’t try and cover “everything” try to keep to a single or simple viewpoint.

Lesson 2: Early start

Start the debate early well before the conference. Get the presenters to blog their viewpoints. Encourage others to debate the issue using their blogs. Use Twitter to get the debate going.

Lesson 3: Amplify

If you can stream your symposium over the internet, use a service such as Ustream. Use Twitter to cover the debate and if possible have a Twitterfall type service showing during the debate.

So ask yourself the next time you consider running a symposium, are you interested in the debate or are you only interested in presenting your point of view.


Effecting change

December 8, 2009

So it’s day two of Ascilite 2009.

I walked slightly late into the opening session, which was a presentation from Blackboard (who are the Premier Sponsor of Ascilite 2009). Despite chuckling at a few things that the presenter said (there is no way whatsoever that Blackboard can be described as an open platform). There were some interesting developments from Blackboard on how they are integrating Web 2.0 services into Blackboard. Those of you who have read my recent posts on the VLE is Dead debate will know that I wrote then that the VLE can be a tool to enhance and enrich learning and be a portal to a world of Web 2.0 tools and services. Now when I wrote this I was in the main referring to Moodle, the open source VLE. It would appear that either customers have been asking, or that Blackboard is fearful of the open VLE or Web 2.0 and are now making their product more open to plugging in services and tools that are available on the Web.

After that we had the ever excellent Professor Gráinne Conole, who delivered her keynote, entitled: Pushing the boundaries into the unknown, trajectories of user behaviour in new frontiers.

I enjoyed her presentation, and I was also attempting to live blog her keynote on Cloudworks; not sure if I made a success of that. Live blogging is an art, and not one I think I have mastered yet. Maybe it’s because I am more of a reflective person. This blog article for example is been written at 6.30pm, quite a few hours after Gráinne delivered her keynote.

Cloudworks is really starting to grow on me as a collective tool. The resources on the VLE is Dead debate for example have made it much easier to direct people to the superb collection of blog articles on the subject. Gráinne’s overview of the site and the ways in which it can be used was very illuminating.

After Gráinne came Peter Mellow who very cleverly used the two projectors to deliver two linked presentations. Though first we were all made to stand up.

He made some really interesting points on how we have been doing exactly the same thing for the last two thousand years in education…

Over the rest of the day I attended a variety of sessions, some good, some excellent and some, well some not so good.

Tonight is the conference dinner in the SkyTower, should be fun and a great chance to discuss and continue the conversation.


Small interventions, fundamental shifts

December 7, 2009

This morning I was at one of the Symposia at Ascilite 2009, Cascading Change: The role of social software and social media in educational intervention and transformation.

In recent years social media and social software tools and practices have been applied in numerous implementation and pilot studies in higher. Some have been driven by explicit educational goals, while others seem to have been inspired by the attractive, technical flexibility of an emerging decentralized landscape of loosely-coupled, networked tools and services and its alleged potential for changing the dominant patterns of institutional provision of ICT in education. This symposium brings together a diverse and international group of researchers to explore the problems and limitations of using social media as a leverage point for second-order change in higher education. It aims to engage contributors and the audience in theoretical and empirical reflection on possible directions for further conceptual and methodological development in that area.

This was an interesting debate and as is usually the case there wasn’t sufficient time for a lot of discussion. I was hoping with the Twitterfall screen up that we could have an online debate, however Twitter decided to have a big fail. Ah well.

One of the questions that came up was why with all these “interventions” why is change so slow or not happening.

My opinion is that these changes or interventions we make that we report at these conferences are always small and tiny and therefore can’t make a huge differences. We need to make major interventions at a institutional or even at a societal level if we are to effect fundamental change.

I also wonder if the culture of how we work is also a barrier to systematic change. In HE especially with a focus on research and publication, there is less incentive to effect change and more incentive to carry on researching and attending conferences and getting papers published.

People with the power to effect change do not (in the main) attend such conferences and therefore such changes do not happen at an institutional level.

Of course change does happen at an institutional level, but often with administrative systems rather than teaching and learning. For example does your institution use e-mail or MIS ?

As with the MIT OpenCourseWare and other similar initiatives in this area we can see that sometimes there can be fundamental shifts in the ways institutions work.

So how do we move things along…