Laptop vs USB stick for school

Was chatting a while back to a colleague about his kids in high school. One of them ends up carrying an enormous amount of stuff to and from school, including books and sports equipment, but also a notebook (laptop) computer costing a couple of thousand dollars.

Giving students laptops makes no sense to me. Compared to desktops, they’re damaged more easily, they’re more expensive to buy (or less well specified), they depreciate in value much faster, and they’re Yet Another Thing for kids to have to carry around (which means more weight, and risk of theft).

I’m also wary of their portability, and the need to keep computers at home in a “public” area of the house.

My kids get given USB drives instead, so they can easily transfer their work from home to school and back again.

Admittedly you can’t put a laptop through the wash, as happened with one of our USB drives, though the data was recovered without problems.

I’d have thought in general having desktop computers both at home and school was a better solution than lugging laptops around the place.

Unless perhaps the laptop support contract comes with free chiropractor sessions.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

15 replies on “Laptop vs USB stick for school”

Yep… I remember those days in high school when I used to lug around a laptop (I went to a laptop school as well); however, the laptop back in the late 90’s that I carried around was not like what they are today (more compact).

Although, I did carry my laptop in a separate carrying case, which in a way is a more convenient way of getting lost or stolen.

In college/university, I do remember my flash drive going through the laundry a few times (and actually worked afterwards).

I guess the whole schooling technology principle is not a perfect science yet.

You have inadvertently come up with a new twist on “the dog ate my homework” excuse. “The washing machine cleaned by USB stick”.

A couple of thousand of dollars? what about net books? my 4 year old daughter uses one of those and lifts it single handedly

you might be interested in looking at a few Linux distributions designed to run from virtual machine instances which would allow running a VM from the USB stick no matter what host it was attached to – almost the same level of portability as a laptop but not quite … :)

It’s also about having the same level playing field, regardless of the students backgrounds, and having consistent software on all the PCs (not to mention OS.) Some won’t have PCs, some will have 1 shared amongst x people, and some will have more PCs than people in the house hold. But there is no guarantee of the actual age of the PC, and what software it has on it. It could run Mac, Dos, Windows, Linux, or even be just a type writer. :P

Parents can also be reluctant to buy anything at all that isn’t necessary and cry foul play. (Hence it comes out of the debt funded government.)

I see school kids bent over from the weight of what is in their backpacks while walking all the time. I am not sure if there is a laptop in their packs, but even if not, still their packs are too heavy. It can’t be necessary to take the school library home every night.

The idea of having a laptop is to reduce the weight the student carries. The publishers are trying to encourage the idea of leaving the textbook at home by providing a CD ROM with the text book. Unfortunately, the students generally carry the book with the CD still taped inside it. My youngest did exactly that despite enouragement to leave the book at home and the CD in her locker.

I totally agree about the netbooks though, it would be much better.

George, true, but the school my colleague referred to apparently recommends (or even insists upon) particular model Toshiba or Apple laptops.

Suzie, that might be the way it’s going, which would make sense, but only if electronic copies of texts are universal, which they certainly aren’t now.

I’m a high school student, currently in transition between two schools. My old school, which I attended up till the beginning of this school holiday for 2 years was one of the worst IT developed schools.
We were encouraged highly to use ICT according to the plan, but we were disencouraged from bringing laptops, USB access was software blocked, all the CD/DVD drives were unplugged (I was a technician and everytime we got new computers, we had to open them and unplug them) and we had NO access to our files except email. Did they give us nice email? Access to the major providers such as Hotmail was often blocked, leaving us with school mail. Guess how much storage they gave us? 45MB! A couple of PowerPoint slideshows from a Science class, and your inbox is full!
Yet we were consistently spending on getting some of the best computers.
Often, some of us brought our own laptops so we could copy our files off onto it. Luckily, I’ve got a light netbook, 9.5″ screen weighing at just over a kilogram. Some other kids were stuck with large heavy laptops. Most just used the excuse we can’t email to get extensions on their work.

However, all my older primary schools allowed USBs. One of my primary schools, it was small and underfunded with a computer ratio once as high as 1 to 5.33. Computers were still used frequently, way more than we use them now in high school, and our new teacher encouraged us to bring USBs. I had always had a USB from my older schools, but half the class had no idea what a USB was. Eventually, after a short explanation, within a week, everyone in my class had a USB!

I personally think USBs are the way to go! Laptops are just an excuse from schools for students to pay for their own computers, so they have more funding left for whoever knows what (maybe it even goes into some pockets).

Interestingly, I have the same dilemma at work. I don’t want to lug a laptop home every night but without it I don’t have access to my personal email folders-pretty much all my work is email based now. The solution is to keep my email folders on a USB that travels with me. It’s regularly backed up at home and work and to my iPod (in case I leave my USB at work or home).

Re USB drives… Just make sure that they are backed up regularly somewhere secure (apart from the obvious risk of losing the USB drive or going through the wash, they can stop working suddenly). Oh, and make sure your virus protection is up to date everywhere :-)

I, too, cannot understand why education departments do not standardise on netbooks with a license from the publishers to download textbooks in electronic form. A netbook with the entire collection of textbooks required would generally weigh less than one textbook. Netbooks are about half the price of a laptop, and do not have the grunt to play the latest game (probably an advantage in a school situation :-). Production of the electronic forms would be trivial (all textbooks would be produced digitally today, and probably printed from a PDF anyway). Schools could simply download master copies and distribute copies as required to students. I doubt the publishers would like it, but the purchasing power of the education department would soon overcome that!

At the school my children goes to, it is a mandatory requirment that all students from Year 5 have a laptop which is supplied by the school and students are required to take it to and from school each day. Students in each year level must have the same software and model of notebook, notebooks are currently replaced every two years with a newer model. Currently they use a tablet styled notebook, which is pretty useful as it comes with a stylus so students can write their notes on their laptops which converts it to a typed font. :D

> perhaps the laptop support contract comes with free chiropractor sessions.

Let me know if anyone ever shows scientific evidence of a subluxation. Meanwhile, it would be much safer to trust one’s children to evidence-based medicine (in this case, a physiotherapist) over metaphysical woo-woo.

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