Two trends in the world of technology are making a big splash in education: web applications and netbooks. There are many tasks that used to require software that you can now do from inside of your Web browser. These sites and services are called web applications. They are sometimes called webware because they are like software but stored on the Internet instead of on a computer's hard drive. Web apps are great for students and teachers because they are usually free and do not require software to be installed. Because they run in a web browser, web apps are cross-platform, so it doesn't matter if you are running Windows, Macintosh, or Linux operating systems. Because Web apps and their data are stored online, students and teachers can access the apps and data from anywhere (this is called cloud computing). Teachers and students can access web apps on any school computer and also their computers at home. Some web apps even give access on mobile devices. Another bonus: web apps tend to facilitate online sharing and collaboration.

Simple Spark, a directory for web applications, has over 20,000 web apps listed. Besides looking there, check out the list of links to the right. These are web applications I've recently bookmarked. Click here to see my complete list.

Since web applications don't require a specific operating system, most all of them work perfectly fine on ultra-compact and inexpensive laptops like ASUS's Eee PC. or Acer Aspire One. These mini-laptops, called netbooks, have 9 inch screens, USB ports, SD card slots, 1 gigahetz processors, Wi-Fi, some hard drive storage, and sufficient amounts of RAM. They also has a VGA port for connecting a monitor or projector (super useful for showing the screen to a group of students).

Netbook technical specifications aren't impressive, but their price tags are, with retail pricing starting at $200. One way netbook manufacturers are able to keep costs down is that some notebooks don't run Microsoft Windows. Instead, they run a version of Linux, a free and open-source operating system. Of course, most netbooks do come with Microsoft Windows, making using a netbook familar to users and compatible with Windows software. One thing you should not expect to find on a netbook: a CD or DVD drive. Netbooks are so small, an optical drive is out of the question. Don't worry, you can connect a USB optical drive if you really need one.

 Photo by Pete Prodoehl on Flickr

See a chart comparing models of netbooks. Anything above $350 has to get you wondering if your money should go to a full-sized laptop. Dell sells 15-inch laptops for less than $500.

Advantages to using netbooks in schools is that they are about the size of a hardcover book, easily fitting into a backpack. Would-be thieves can't tell a netbook is in a bag, unlike when students tote around laptop bags. Because netbooks are so small, they can have a place on a desk along with a textbook. Additionally, netbooks tend to have quick boot-up times, taking just 20 seconds to power on. Also, being relatively inexpensive, schools may be able to charge fines for broken or missing netbooks. Schools or parents may be able to take out insurance policies on netbooks too. Unlike handheld computers, netbooks look familiar to administrators, school board members, and the community. It's easier to convince those who control funds to purchase netbooks for students because they look like laptops.

There are a few disadvantages. Adults and older students may have problems with the smallish keyboard (about 10% smaller than a standard keyboard), but younger users with small hands will not have keyboard issues. Another disadvantage is battery life. I am able to get 2 hrs and 17 minutes of continuous Wi-Fi use out of my Eee PC. Though, more expensive netbooks have better battery life. I see classrooms that use netbooks needing lots of power strips to keep their computers charged. Also note that Netbooks are so small that they don't have CD drives.

A disadvantage that may actually be an advantage is that it may be hard for schools to decide which netbook to buy. The technology is continuously getting better and cheaper. What's important to me is a low price and wireless Internet access because I want to access web apps. When its time to replace or add more netbooks, it really doesn't matter much if the same exact model is available. Focusing on web apps means that any computer with a browser should work the same as what you already have.

Read Learning in Hand Blog posts labeled netbooks and webapps.


Web applications are great sites to visit using a netbook. Information is stored online and you won't have to install software. Here are some of my recently bookmarked web applications: