By Chris Drage
The 'marriage' of RM and Inclusive Technology could be one made in heaven if the new RM One Touch is anything to go by. Between them they have produced a responsive touch-screen, all-in-one PC (left) designed specifically for the needs of learners.
Thanks to Windows 7, touch-screen technology is becoming more common on PCs and its simplicity will make it popular with all age groups. Its appeal includes young learners and those with special education needs, who instinctively explore with their hands to interact directly with the computer. And the RM One Touch package, originally aimed at SEN pupils, is finding just as big an appeal in early learning departments.
Developed over five years of use in education, the ubiquitous RM One ecoquiet PC is arguably the pinnacle of PC design for education use. It is robust and saves space, offering keyboard stowage, front-facing connections for easy use of add-ons like headphones or sensors, integrated height-adjustable screen, webcam and microphone. And then there are all the built-in security features and all its environmental attributes (including using some recycled materials).
The RM One Touch takes all this a stage further in combining a tough, accurate, responsive screen that uses the latest capacitive technology. The entry-level machine features an AMD Athlon 2650e single core processor, 1GB memory, 160GB S-ATA hard drive, a 19" height-adjustable LCD/DVI monitor with single-touch functionality. There's also the integrated carry-handle to help you move the machine easily from A to B.
In this configuration the machine might be considered a bit sluggish by some, but schools are able to preconfigure machines to include higher specs to suit their needs and pockets. Each machine sports the new Windows 7 Professional operating system which can be downgraded to Windows XP Pro should a school require it. Add to this impressive hardware the My Zone software from Inclusive Technology’s and you have a superb SEN/early years workhorse.
MyZone helps children and adults with learning difficulties to find things on the computer. It features large buttons and simple navigation that are ideal for a touch-screen computer. MyZone comes preinstalled on the RM One Touch. With MyZone both teachers and pupils can create personal workspaces.
Teachers can provide individual ‘zones’ for each learner to give them easy access to their programs, activities and games. Many youngsters struggle with accessing programs and files on the Windows XP desktop. MyZone gives them easy access to programs, files, photographs and webpages.
Although a natural mode of interaction with the RM One Touch is via the touch-screen, MyZone can also be accessed with mouse, trackerball, touch-screen or switches. I particularly like the way a user’s zone can be identified by a folder which can have a child’s photo on. Other zones can also be set up to contain, for example, photos of a recent trip and/or links to favourite websites. Navigation between screens is a doddle.
MyZone’s success is due in no small part to the fact that each zone can be configured specifically for the individual. There’s a choice of between 1 and 12 icons displayed on the screen and on-screen navigation arrows enable users to move between screens. Another vital aspect of the software is the ability to restrict learners to the files and programs the teacher wants them to access. When learners close a program or website they return to MyZone – they are unable to access areas of the computer the teacher doesn’t want them to, or get lost! The software comes with 12 simple games, represented by a large icon: Big Bus; Colouring In; Keyboard; Tops, Middles and Bottoms; Mosaic; Making Music; Sandcastle Builder; Pizza Maker; Train Tracker.
I have to confess that my favourite is Train Tracker, but then I was always a sucker for steam railways! The teacher’s setup tool is very easy to use, giving complete control over the settings and links in a user’s zone. The completely configurable desktop means that although many titles are automatically picked up and assigned an icon, new links are easily created. Another aspect of the software I particularly like is the link to the Helpkidzlearn free games website where a plethora of rich content is readily available for access via MyZone.
The RM One Touch comes with a standard keyboard and mouse but can also be used with other mice, keyboards or switches, making MyZone accessible to all. There is so much that is good about MyZone from the automatic software updates to its total configurability. It offers younger children and those with disability a secure, simple and enjoyable interface to what they need for their learning.
Other aspects of the package worth mentioning are the one-year return-to-base warranty and the not so obvious little touches which probably only network managers discover. Like, for example, that the BIOS has a number useful control features, such as the ability to turn off selected USB ports, securing the RM ONE Touch against viruses etc that tend to frequent USB flash memory sticks. There's also an optional media card reader.
I can see how a number of schools might initially regard the RM One Touch, with its £840 starting price, as expensive. But this machine is carefully tailored for specific learners, and it's probably worth reiterating an important point about ICT spending: that it is not the initial capital outlay which is important but the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the hardware. With the RM One Touch I am certain that this is likely to be low, and particularly for the learners it has been designed for.
Without labouring the point, I purchased an HP 4050 LaserJet printer in 2000 for the network I was running for the huge sum (then) of £860. Everyone thought I was mad. Ten years later it was scrapped only because a change was required Over its working lifetime it received a hammering from both students and staff, producing tens of thousands of printouts with only one service required – total cost of ownership...low!
Over the years RM has noted its customers’ comments concerning what does and doesn't work in class, and clearly the company has responded, making the new RM One Touch the right tool for the job: a sensibly-designed, tough PC for the education sector that ticks enough boxes to keep everyone in its target market happy.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 4
RM One Touch
All-in-one PC with touch-screen, designed for learners with special educational needs and for early learners. Entry-level model is £840 for an RM One Touch ecoquiet 200 with a single core processor, Windows 7 Professional (downgradable to Windows XP Pro SP2), 19-inch widescreen capacitive touchscreen, 160Gb hard drive, 1Gb memory, standard keyboard and mouse, one year return-to-base warranty.
Purchasers can specify their own system, for example it costs £1,036 for an RM One Touch ecoquiet 200 with a dual-core processor, 4Gb memory, 320Gb hard drive, DVD burner, media card reader, Windows 7 Professional (downgradable to Windows XP Pro SP2) and three-year warranty.