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Was asked recently by a friend’s daughter who is going off the college this fall what might be a good recommendation for a laptop intone $500-700 range fher starting studies. Not a bad question, I asked her to send to me what the college recommends as basic system requirements for student’s machines. Now, I am taking a look and wondering, why should there even be a baseline?

I mean this seriously. Many students are coming in with smartphones (family plan),high end feature phones, tablets, and sometimes even media players like an iPod Touch/Galaxy Player/PSP. If these kids have such computing power in their hands, why should specs of a laptop matter (unless they are high-end creatives/CS majors literally using every CPU cycle)? If they are able to access the web-based educational content management/dashboard systems, receive notifications via email/SMS/MMS, and even leverage commercial social networks for events and such, outside of writing a paper, why does this larger PC frame of mind – you need “X” specs to continue – matter?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I used a PDA during my last 2.5yrs of college as a primary PC. In that time I went from writing in Grfatti to getting hardware keyboard accessory for longer papers. I also synced to a desktop PC, then a laptop, then nothing at all. I found that largely, the needs of my professors weren’t grounded in so much as leveraging the tech *and* making their jobs easier, but in keeping with a frame of behavior and layout that never got reproduced outside of the classroom. It vexed me then, and in looking at the school’s specs against my friend’s budget, it gets to me now.

What I could see, give the budget, is for he friend to get a Chromebook (laptop running Google’s ChromeOS) or an iPad (32GB WiFi with keyboard, and Pages software). I don’t see a reason why college students should be dealing with much more than that.

Having worked as a (near) instructional designer, I know that systems like WebCT and Blackboard are largely used, and these now work very well across simplified and lower-than baseline system requirements. Of course, I also see Flash still in use at some schools as a distribution method for course materials.

It would seem to me that the baseline for computing in the college sect needs to be on the part of a person who can utilize a series of context situations, rather than hardware specs that will change at least 2x before they graduate. If anything, kids need a screen, keyboard, and storage. Beyond that, just type, image, grade, and go. Shouldn’t it be this simple?

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