Acer Aspire One and the ESL student

Acer Aspire One Unboxing 3 by wstryder
Photo Credit: wstryder

Most schools in our neck of the woods are trying out iPods with their ESL students. We started to do the same. Our teachers worked through the process of learning what they needed to know about them and how to utilize them with kids. Then, the Acer Aspire One came on the scene. We bought a few to try out for our elementary students thinking they might be a nice low cost alternative for our small handed friends in K-5.

While reviewing one of them, I noticed it had an SD card slot on both sides of the machine. Hmmm. Then I noticed one was a card reader and the other a storage bay. Double Hmmmmmm. I got to thinking about how we use Deep Freeze to protect our machines from viruses and vandalism in general and how a USB flash drive can be cumbersome for a kid to carry and pop in and out all the time when changing classes. So, we slid a 4GB SD card into the storage bay, redirected My Documents to the card (which in turn moved the iTunes preferred storage folders with it), and loaded our software of choice (OpenOffice, Skype, Firefox, all of the required web plug-ins, and Deep Freeze), and we had a nice little machine.

The big advantage of the SD card is that if we have a hardware malfunction with the Acer, we pop out the SD card, give the students a new machine, and they are back in business.

One thing we did specific for our ESL students was to use the web based version of Rosetta Stone. We have open wireless throughout our school district (read that as no active directory or other log in needed), so they now have the chance to work independently anytime throughout the school day with the given USB headsets. We are also waiting on Higher Ground’s new case for the 9″ laptops so we can begin sending the machines home with the kids. We know the family will begin to use it which will only serve to improve their fluency as well. It seems to be a win-win.

So as it stands, our secondary ESL students have a netbook to use freely throughout the day to do the following:

  • notes in the wordprocessor
  • presentations if asked using either OpenOffice or web-based tools
  • podcasts in iTunes
  • Rosetta Stone
  • online language translators for communication
  • calculator
  • Skype/video conferences
  • MovieMaker with built-in webcam & mic to record notes, lectures, or whatever
  • Firefox with Scribefire for blogging (when they get to that)
  • Firefox for email with Gaggle (with built-in translator)
  • Firefox for Internet-based research and web 2.0 tools

Something I still want to find out is how the Deep Freeze and/or swapping of SD cards will effect the subscribed podcasts. There is probably a workaround in backing up the account to the card, but we will know more as we move into the project a bit. I am not concerned about the rest of the project. The kids jumped right into OpenOffice and have not even asked how to do a thing with it. It is just intuitive, which backs up our belief that we do NOT have to have Microsoft Office for them anymore. They just need the productivity suite practice regardless of flavor. We really like OpenOffice 3, and the price is right.

I am sure I am leaving off some of the things they do with that great little computer. It is actually my Windows machine of choice (if there is such a thing). Now I just need to get me an MSI Wind so I can convert it into a Hackintosh to make my life semi-tech complete (for now). 😉

9 thoughts on “Acer Aspire One and the ESL student

  1. excellent model for use in a multi-user environment Scott. I love how you utilize the SD slots. This light and inexpensive model really opens up some new doors. Thanks for sharing this out.


  2. Thanks, Matt. We have a lot of faith in this program. We are looking to expand it to our elementary later this spring. So far, it is working as planned. I appreciate you posting that student review of the Aspire. It reminded me I needed to blog about this.

    What do you think is going to happen when word gets out that we are giving all of our ESL students laptops? Oh boy.

  3. Hi, Scott–A couple of questions, since my primary job is finding ways to integrate technology with ESL/ELL students:

    Did you choose 4GB SD cards because of cost, or is there a size limit to the Aspire’s capability to read the cards? (I know 4GB is the limit for many electronics, but I’m seeing larger SDs on the market now.

    We have been discussing having ESL/ELL students at the advanced/advanced-high proficiency level create digital stories that would be converted to iPod format to share, whether as podcasts, or just with their fellow students for peer assessment. If I understand your post correctly, the use of Deep Freeze means the larger hard drive capacity on the Acer will not be a feature the students are using to store video. Is that assumption correct? If so, do you foresee video storage becoming an issue if limited to 4GB?

    I love the idea of the netbook as opposed to the iPod…I’m just trying to get my head around what issues we might run into with video.


  4. Good questions, Heather.

    As for the 4GB card, I tried to find someone who knew that answer. The Acer site never said and the vendor was unclear as to the answer. I do not think I have any cards bigger than 4GB to try that out, but one would think a newer machines could handle the bigger card. So, we went with the biggest card we knew all the machines could handle. The 4GB.

    As for the video, you have some options with the new Deep Freeze that was not available with the older. The new version allows you to “thaw” or leave unfrozen any folder and any size you of space you want. You can always take advantage of that feature to make more space for your video storage. As of now, we are not utilizing a lot of our hard drive space. What I expect to happen as we go along is our teachers to realize new uses for the machines. We will make changes at that point to fit their needs.

    I did test MovieMaker with the built-in camera, and it worked just fine. We have had other new machines that would not connect from MovieMaker for some reason. I would sya that a good video converter would be a nice addition to the Acer if I can find one that will go from WMV to MOV or M4V. If you have any ideas, please let me know. We have an Apple podcast server, so we would have to convert to get the files uploaded, or else they could use our WordPress MU server to showcase their work.

    If I do find out the SD storage bay will handle a larger card, I will update this post and let you know via email.

  5. Great info, Scott. Thanks.

    As for the converter, the most reliable I’ve personally been able to find is Quicktime Pro. It’s not open source, and the retail price I paid for my personal home computer could get pretty pricey for a large quantity of computers. I don’t know what the education price would be.

    The Jodix free video converter has worked well for me when using Windows. I’m sure you’ve seen Miguel’s posts that it is no longer available for Mac, but that wouldn’t be an issue with the Aspire. However, he recommends a program called Format Factory for Mac, but it looks like there is a PC version as well at site I’ve linked here. I haven’t used it, but I’ve downloaded it this evening to my Mac at home to give it a try.

    I hope one of these works for you…let me know.

  6. Oops…misread Miguel’s post. Format Factory is not for Mac, but PC. Won’t matter with your Acers, but will matter to Mac users who read this comment. Sorry!

  7. Thanks for the links, Heather. I will give those a shot. Let me know what your findings are on your end if you decide to try the Acers out with the ESL/ELL students.

  8. Awesome resource, David. Thanks for sharing it. I will be sharing it with my ESL teachers. Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope to read your comments again in the future.

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