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Netbooks Open Linux Window at BETT
Research turns to Generation Z
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2009-01-22 10:33 (KST)   
Samsung Netbooks
©2009 Jo Hannis / Flickr / Creative Commons
Several Netbooks were shown at the British Educational Training and Technology Show (BETT) last week. They are smaller than laptop computers and are suitable for Web browsing, usually with less resources than most desktops. Several offer Linux as an option though Windows XP is surviving. BETT is an exhibition of information technology for schools and education held at Olympia in London. There is an official video on YouTube. Attention has turned to the online culture of young people before and outside formal education. Universities discuss "Generation Y", born before 2001 and with an understanding of the changes around the Web. This definition is discussed and debated in the Wikipedia, as is the use of "Generation Z", "millenials", "digital natives" or other words for people born this century and just reaching the schools.

Microsoft organised a comparison of the Netbooks on show through a panel of teachers. The winner as reported by Techradar was the Samsung NC10. Reviews were worse for the Fizzbook as it reminded some of a Fisher Price toy. However ZD NET considered that the "slightly under-sized keyboard is fine for children's fingers." The design is based on the Intel Classmate PC, once linked to the project for One Laptop per Child. In the UK the Fizzbook is launched with Windows XP but Linux will be available later.

One Laptop per Child
©2009 Mr Ush / Flickr / Creative commons
At the Open Source Precinct an actual example from One Laptop per Child was on display. It clearly has been an influence on most of the other hardware stands. People I spoke to considered it still had a unique role in the situations it was designed for. Hardware is not available in the UK as it is sold in large volumes, mostly through governments.

On the same stand a large screen showed off the design appeal of the latest Ubuntu. This includes multiple windows rotating or rescaling. As this is better understood some Netbook users may return to Linux. Asustek Chairman Jonney Shih has predicted that about 60 percent of Eee PCs to be shipped in 2009 will have Windows XP. Last year the Linux versions were priced around $200 but the models with Windows XP are priced around $400. As reported by Reuters Shih Shih said his company planned to ship 5 million units this year versus 300,000 units shipped in 2007.

Most of the stands at BETT offered a choice of Linux or Windows XP. The Linux option was always cheaper. Elonex also introduced a Websurfer that is Linux only but about half the price of a Sony Reader. Elonex suggest FBReader for e-books on Linux.

Compiz on Ubuntu
©2009 Jo Hannis / Flickr / Creative Commons
This price comparison with dedicated devices for e-books is interesting because the "book" in this "netbook" description of the new devices suggests that students may be using them to read extended texts. The Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle have a better screen for this purpose but are currently either too expensive or not available. There was one Sony Reader on display but no content in ePUB format could be found on any of the publishing stands. People I spoke to suggested that most sales are still though contracts with libraries and schools as organisations. Although students have mobile devices the publishers at BETT are not yet interested in supplying content.

Apple had no stand this year although some Apple dealers joined together for some demonstrations. An industry source who did not wish to be named suggested that while Apple will continue to support desktop computing they no longer see this as the future for research and investment. Mobile phones and devices supported by a cloud of web servers are more likely to be supported by Apple budgets. This could set up a tension with most schools where mobile phones may be banned and the emphasis is on a local learning environment rather than cloud resources. The Open University now has a space on iTunes U.

The "Learning Elsewhere" zone organised by Stephen Hepple showed how iPhones could be used outside schools and how to use videoconferencing to work with schools in other countries. Hepple won an award for outstanding achievement over the years. Searching YouTube often finds some of his contribution. Hepple told the Guardian "I think BETT needs to reach out to the new technologies people are using, including handheld games and iPhones. Kids shouldn't have to switch this stuff off when they walk through the school gates."

Outstanding Achievement
©2009 Mr Ush / Flickr / Creative commons
The Guardian also featured a report by market researchers ChildWise showing that "from the age of seven children are building mutimedia hubs in their rooms, with games consoles, internet access and MP3 players." A quarter of five-year-olds have the internet in their room. This rises to fifty percent for the ages between 13 and 16 when over two hours a day is spent on sites such as Bebo and MySpace.

A review of primary education is expected to suggest that much of what is taught as technology skills in secondary schools could be taught in primaries. Sean Dodson reported that Sir James Rose has suggested that schools need to make the most of computer knowhow that children already possess by the time they reach school. A full Rose Review is expected in the Spring.

Speaking on the BBC Politics Show in December Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children and Schools said:
The really interesting thing which he's saying in his report is that if you look at the quality of computer skills amongst our young people these days, they're actually well-ahead, not only of us, because to be honest we had no computer skills when we were at school, but even probably ahead of where the teachers and parents are understanding it. He's saying we should actually take the curriculum which children currently learn in secondary school, age eleven, twelve and thirteen and start that in primary school so that you can actually get those skills earlier and use that to learn maths and literacy, even better in primary school. It's a very interesting proposal.
The Rose report may offer more definition than is currently available, including a name and description for the generation now reaching primary schools. The Wikipedia includes a number of terms and definitions. On Generation Z for example:
A number of different traits have been ascribed to the generation by a variety of sources. However, since the generation is still very young, theories are still in a state of evolution, and few authoritative works have been produced on the topic. A wide variety of claims have been made by various sources: It is claimed that members of Generation Z are very active consumers, with a high degree of influence over their parents' purchasing decisions. They are highly connected, having had lifelong use of communications and media technologies such as DVDs, the World Wide Web, instant messaging, text messaging, iPods and cellular phones, earning them the nickname "digital natives".

Adobe stand
©2009 Jo Hannis / Flickr / Creative Commons
A definition will only become clear as the people born this century speak for themselves. This may take the form of a video on TrueTube, online video with enough curating to reassure most schools. The significance of such changes was shown in a presentation on the Adobe stand by Kathryn Macaulay. She has taught Acrobat and other graphics software for several years now. At one point she said "I have taught Photoshop to six year olds. The challenge is bringing the staff on." Photos of some of her slides are available on Flickr.

One slide quotes Nicholas Carr from his book the Big Switch:
The full power and consequence of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become adults and begin to push their outdated parents to the margins.
Although a definition for Generation Z is still vague, there is more research on Generation Y and the students starting at universities. The Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience is expected to report next month on Higher Education and "use of social networking and other new learning practices". Emerging findings on their website include:
Young people's disposition in synergy with the technology is to share. They have an extremely strong sense of communal identity and also of web spaces e.g. personal, group and public, and of who and what properly belongs where.
The connection with open source and open content has been complicated by the site licences with Microsoft and courses linked to the European Computer Driving Licence that often assume Microsoft Office. However the Open Source Precinct included a guide on how to teach with Open Office and on Saturday there was a meeting of the Open Source Schools Project, organised mainly around their website, "a community of practice involving teachers, senior managers and local authority educational personnel with an interest in exploring innovative software solutions to enhance learning and teaching experiences and the effective use of technology within schools and between schools and their communities." The project is supported by BECTA, an agency who also report on other software options.

Michelle, Jose, Doug at Open source Schools meeting
©2009 Mr Ush / Flickr / Creative commons
The Open Source Schools project links to a Futurelab report from 2006 - The potential of open source approaches for education - and quotes:
"The bottom up organization, where distributed, self-motivated individuals creatively collaborate and work together on shared problems, has relevance both in terms of the creation of digital technologies we use for education and as an approach that could be adopted as part of the teaching and learning process" (Bacon & Dillon 2006)
Mimio Studio will be available for Linux later this year. This represents the first major appearance of Linux on the ground floor; both the Open Source Precinct and Moodle are on the balconies. I was told that there is pressure in Spain and Venezuela to offer an open source option. This may explain the Mimio decision. The UK pressure may not be as significant.

According to the ZD Net community blog there is a proposal for every child in Portugal to have a Classmate PC, running both Windows XP and Caixa Magica, a local version of Linux. The target number is 500,000 with 3G access to the Web. Cost 249 Euros though some will be available for 50 Euros. In Venezuela the project is for a million Classmates and the Linux version is called Canaima, based on Debian. Comments point out that English speaking countries seem to be closer to Microsoft. The British Educational Communications and Technology Association (BECTA) have made a study on possible cost savings but there are issues around a switch to open source.

Fortunately BETT is now established as a European and arguably international show. So the limits of UK government policy do not prevent access to a wider picture. BECTA are also concerned with Web access in the UK but the relative decline of UK broadband is a more general problem. A report about "digital Britain" is expected soon. A sample of one person I spoke to on the French stand is not very valid as a survey but they have 40 meg living near Versailles. I get about 2 meg in Exeter,UK.

The European Parliament had a stand but not much information on projects such as Europeana. This is a free archive that is so far best known for crashing when first launched. There is so much content available that demand could be unlimited. The current version advertises that "the number of users will be limited in peak times".

The BBC did not have a stand this year so it was not possible to enquire about the Creative Archive, promoted by Greg Dyke before he was sacked after the Hutton Report. The site was last updated in 2006. The BBC Jam project for educational content was cancelled after protests from other educational publishers. Recently local newspapers objected to BBC plans for local video. Perhaps the Creative Archive has been forgotten to make space for other archives. The British Film Institute was part of the Creative Archive project and was also part of a stand at BETT promoting a new website - Unlocking Archives. This is impressive and includes an online video editor. But in my opinion there is still a role for the BBC and the discussion started around the Creative Archive could be continued.

Without the BBC or Apple the area around the main entrance seemed on a lower energy level than in previous years. Companies such as Sony and Lenovo are in comparatively obscure spots but are still worth a visit. Last year Lenovo were on a balcony, a sign of how full Olympia can be. This year on the balcony the Learning and Skills Information Service (LSIS) had a small stand to give away DVDs sampling their Leadership Toolkits. They won a BETT Award for Work Based Learning. LSIS may be closer to the BECTA stand next year if they can find a space.

Barry Kruger, Director of Knowledge and Intelligence
©2009 Jo Hannis / Flickr / Creative Commons
BETT is now the only UK computer show with a range of companies. As well as a meeting place for education, it is a chance to look at industry trends. Netbooks have prolonged the life of Windows XP. Most people I spoke to thought that Microsoft would have ended support for XP if the Netbooks had not been so successful with Linux. On whatever scale, Linux is now an option for the browser, not just the server.

The slow advance of Vista may explain why Silverlight was not promoted as strongly as a couple of years ago. Silverlight is seen as a competitor for Flash and two years ago there was an announcement about Grava, tools for creating Silverlight content. I could not find anything about Grava on the stand although emails established that software was recently released for developers.

My impression is that the fairly low spec Netbooks could be better suited to text than animation. Both Adobe and Microsoft may have to wait till multimedia bandwidth arrives in UK schools or most other places. The Stanza e-reader is still being downloaded for the iPhone and iPod so there is interest in texts. The Adobe Digital Editions Reader is not as well promoted as Flash but is effective in making a Netbook suitable for reading ePUB or PDF. What will be regarded as a suitable platform for a "digital book" is still complicated to follow. The "book" may just be an aspect of hardware to varying degrees.

Whatever happens at a future BETT, the Netbook in 2009 has created a chance for open software and open content.

More photos on Flickr:
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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