By Chris Drage
In a world increasingly dominated by a new orthodoxy of netbooks it might appear rather odd that I’ve become a fan of the AlphaSmart NEO 2.
Why? The AlphaSmart NEO 2 is classroom favourite due to its simplicity: a no-frills, rugged and robust word-processing device that works in a straightforward, uncomplicated way. However, if that’s all you think this device can achieve you would be mistaken, for the impressive NEO 2 does quite a bit more.
This lightweight, portable text entry device is specifically designed to keep the pupils 100 per cent focused on their word processing work includes innovative new wireless features, such as a voting system, printing, assessment taking, document transfer and, in my book, the piece-de-resistance: its ability to send text files to Google Docs. Files can be uploaded directly from the notebook to Google Docs via the teacher’s machine and downloaded back to a NEO 2 again if required. Once lodged in Google Docs, work can be accessed from home or elsewhere.
If you use Renaissance Learning’s Renaissance Reading and/or Maths then the NEO 2 will integrate smoothly with the testing and assessments, which are at the heart of these two schemes.
A basic class set of NEO 2s is made up of five notebooks, a Renaissance (WIFI) Receiver, USB cable, two user guides and AlphaSmart software licences which include: AlphaSmart Manager, AccelTest (assessment software) and 2Know! Toolbar for voting and assessment. Other combinations of 10, 20 or 30 notebooks can also be purchased. The AlphaSmart Manager software also has some neat, little applets - KAZ Typing Tutor, Accelerated Reader, MathsFacts in a Flash, Beamer and Calculator.
Undoubtedly, the NEO 2 is an excellent tool for producing electronic texts in all curriculum subjects and is ideal for the school environment, not just in classroom-based lessons but also for outdoor experiments and school trips. However, because it can be used for transfers and in collaborative work it scores heavily over similar devices. For example, with the built-in Beamer, pupils can ‘beam’ text between NEO 2s allowing them to work together on stories, poems, plays and suchlike.
NEO 2 supports collaborative work and instant feedback
If that isn’t enough, connect a number of notebooks via USB cables and a powered USB hub with the teacher’s computer and you can have them taking on the roles of characters and constructing a play together. As each one enters his or her piece in turn, it will appear in the word processor document.
With NEO Share, the simple wireless text transfer software, pupils can write independently then send their finished work wirelessly to the NEO Share folder where it can be dragged out into a word processor or saved on a network. Printing can be done wirelessly (even to network printers) via the AlphaSmart Manager software on the teacher’s machine.
With 2Know! a NEO 2 can be used as a classroom voting system, allowing a teacher to ask Yes/No, True/False, multiple-choice, ‘Pulse’, numeric and short-answer questions. The instant feedback received is graphically represented via the 2Know! toolbar on every teacher’s computer or, on the interactive whiteboard. The NEO 2 allows every pupil to have an equal voice when answering questions.
AccelTest, which comes with a bank of questions, offers a more sophisticated individual assessment. Along with Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader and Maths programs it enables pupils to take part in quizzes from their own desks. Quiz results on up to 30 NEO 2s can be supported with just one online school computer that is set up and connected to a Renaissance Receiver. Results from assessments can be stored and sent to the school’s management information system.
What impresses me most is how smoothly everything works with the NEO 2 system. It is easy to set up, very easy to work with and, above all, it allows learners to share in the process and not just in the technology.
The AlphaSmart NEO 2 does not try to compete head-to-head with netbook computers but it complements them in every way. I do think that all schools could benefit hugely from a set of NEO 2s.
£194.52 ex VAT, class set of five £781 ex VAT
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
January 13-16, Olympia, London
AlphaSmart – Stand C16