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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Preparing For College: Laptop, Tablet, or Both?

So your son or daughter is starting college and you know they need a computer.  Laptops have been the common decision, but this year is a bit different as tablets enter the market.  Many are wondering if they could go the tablet (i.e. iPad, Xoom, etc.) route instead.  It's a good thought and good question.  There are several things to keep in mind with this decision.

  1. Check with the campus first.  The college will most likely have "basic requirements" concerning computing needs.  Ask them about tablets and see what their recommendation is.  You may get some shrugs and don't be alarmed by this.  Many many people are still trying to figure out how these fit in and how to best use them.  Some campuses also use specific software for the campus or courses (i.e. Blackboard).  
  2. Keep the course discipline for the student in mind.  It's not always just read books and write a paper.  Some courses require certain levels of web access and software.  Find this out.  The other thing to keep in mind is that students need to store a lot.  Tablets are more designed for web access and not so much storage.  Unless the student is comfortable with and set up for "cloud computing" such as Google Docs or DropBox, they will have issues.  
Could a laptop and a tablet be beneficial?  Yes!  Tablets provide for a great deal of things and can be used in the following way:
    1. Organization - Contacts, calendars, note taking, etc.  Some schools use applications like Blackboard.  This is a great system for organizing classes and student/professor communication.
    2. eBooks - Tablets allow students to easily get ebooks they may need for their courses or personal reading.  Plus they can take notes, add highlights, etc. in the books as they read also.  They can access their ebooks on both devices.  Companies like Barnes and Noble have free applications for both and the libraries and books stay in sync without having to transfer files at all.  
    3. eTextbooks - This publishing area is growing, but the selection isn't stellar just yet.  When it comes to eTextbooks you have a few options.  One option is CourseSmart which provides access to purchase or "rent" (timed access) to eTextbooks and has apps for mobile devices as well.  Barnes and Noble offers NookStudy which is a free laptop application that organizes classes, ties in with one's existing Barnes and Noble ebook library, and will handle eTextbooks.  
    4. Writing papers.  This is where "cloud computing" really comes in handy because storage capacity on a tablet is very limited plus you don't want to have to worry about crashes and losing files.  Using things like Google Docs can be great, but you have to be connected to the internet.  Likewise you'll want to get a keyboard for the tablet.  
The bottom line in my opinion is that a tablet on it's own is not the way to go right now, but a tablet as a supplement can have great advantages for students especially with the ever increasing selection of ebooks and etextbooks which can offer huge savings and convenience.  

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