There was an interesting exchange in the comments section In Audrey Watters' recent (terrific) review of the new Chromebook over at her Hack Education home.
Responding to one of the comments, Audrey writes that:
"…while I'm not a gadget-head, nobody writes solid reviews of gadgets for schools."
How true. We have a serious gap in tech hardware reviews from an education perspective. This is problematic as:
a. Technologically mediated education always involves hardware, but that hardware is seldom specifically designed for education.
b. The quality of the learning, when mediated by technology, varies widely by the quality of the hardware.
The need for EDU hardware reviews has grown as the non-PC era has emerged. We do not really know how well a learning management system performs on a tablet, and how this performance differs across operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows), form factors, or different specifications. We wonder how the experience of Web based learning applications compares to dedicated apps. We don't know if it is possible to interact with education media platforms or lecture capture files on smart phones or tablets.
The Chromebook might be a great online education platform (I suspect that it is being browser based, having a keyboard, and a constant wifi and cell connection), but who is testing Chromebooks (besides Audrey) for education?
I get asked all the time by students and faculty if such and such cell phone, tablet, or laptop works well for e-learning. Most of my time my answer is "you tell me".
Laptops, smart phones, tablets - these are only the tip of the iceberg. I've started to have to work with a wider range of hardware devices in the blended program that I work in - from webcams to high definition conferencing systems to large screens that can be written on. The reviews for these products almost never cover the use cases that I am interested in.
Hardware reviews almost never replicate the development of education materials for online learning, or the experience students or faculty would have in using these devices with the various education platforms.
How does one go about becoming a hardware reviewer? I get e-mailed all the time by various software companies, publishers, and online service providers asking me to check out what they are doing in the education space. Lots of books show up at my house for possible review. Never have I been asked to review a piece of hardware for e-learning or online education.
This is not a plea to be sent free swag. I have more gadgets than I have time, and I like nothing better than recycling old electronics. Besides, I think the rule is you give the stuff back after you review it. Rather, I agree with Audrey that nobody is reviewing hardware from an education perspective. I'm very happy that she is working to correct this deficiency.