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KPBS Midday Edition

Technology Picks For Back-To-School

Back to School Technology Gadgets
We look at new gadgets out - just in time for the new school year and how they're changing the learning experience.
GUESTS:Jim Barry, Tech Expert, Consumer Electronics Association Emil Ahangarzadeh, San Diego County, Office of Education

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Going into an electronic store with a school-age child this month is like going to a plug-in wonder land. There are so many smart phones e-readers and other gadgets. What items stand out from the rest? My guests, Jim Barry is a tech expert with the nonprofit consumer electronics association, welcome back. BARRY: Nice to be back. CAVANAUGH: Emil Ahangarzadeh. AHANGARZADEH: Nicely done! CAVANAUGH: Thank you. I need that support. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: Welcome to the show. Jim, what do you consider some of the must-have gadget this is school year? BARRY: Well, you mentioned a few of them in the opening. And it really is interesting. I was asked in another program a while back about what's hot in electronics. And the things that are really driving this industry in the U.S. the last couple of years are e-book read ares, tablet computers, smart phones, and laptops. Portal devices if you will. This is really where this industry is going. Those are the things that young folks are using as well. Students in particular. If you're going off to college, you really need a laptop computer. And I get asked a lot, should I give my child a tablet? An iPAD or one of the other tablets? You can, but I think for real schoolwork, the memory, are the power, the keyboard, the connections, you really need a laptop computer. The good news is there, and I'm a guy who sent one off to college four years ago, she just graduated. CAVANAUGH: Congratulations! BARRY: And my other one, Fiona, is going to college in a couple of weeks. I've seen in four years a real change in the devices they're using, how many of them you're using. And the good news, the prices are lower now. CAVANAUGH: That's great. A change from when I used to go to school, it's that backpack that they're selling that is also a charger? BARRY: It's a charger. It's the power bag. I have one right here. There are some, this is not a solar charger, but there are some with a solar plate on the back so you can gather the solar energy. This one you plug in beforehand, and it adds about a pound to the weight of the pack. So it gives you backup power for all of the devices you're carrying around in that backpack. They also sell briefcases. It's pretty cool. CAVANAUGH: Pretty amazing. BARRY: And a really good idea. These devices really are changing learning and teaching in the classroom, aren't they? AHANGARZADEH: They sure are. I agree with Jim completely. That's been the major trend we've seen, mobile devices in the classrooms, particularly with tablets. But other devices as well. Like more and more schools are using telephones and cellphones in the classroom because they are just as powerful in many cases as some of those tablets are. So the way it's affecting learning is in essence, it's extending the learning experience beyond the 9:00 to 3:00 learning period. So the classroom in essence becomes anywhere you are. As long as you have a connectivity to the Internet, you can develop with your teacher, the lessons they're developing and putting on the web of the it's a paradigm shift for a lot of educators. CAVANAUGH: When would you say kids need to start using these gadgets?. AHANGARZADEH: Right away. I think there is a threshold, a particular point where a tablet might not necessarily be the best thing for your learning suspicious. But I've seen children as young as 1-year-old just playing with those tablets and punching screens so much so that they expect everything to basically be a push-button experience, even when you have something on paper in front of them. They try to tap it to make it come alive. And it's really a literacy for many of us. For the kids who are coming up, it's a part of their life. CAVANAUGH: Will you be able to find kids' versions of the devices we know? Like a junior smart phone or something like that? BARRY: Well, yes, you will, but those of us with children know that's not always the one that the child wants. Tablets in particular, I found with my friends who have infants and as Emile mentioned, real little kid, that the tablets they're so intuitive and so easy to use and the touch screens, the big challenge is to keep them from touchingly the TV screen because they think they can move things around on there. One of the things for me, when my kids were smaller, I wasn't going to be giving them a $500 tablet to play with. So there are versions, companies like Leapfrog, and many other who is have a $60 version, that are educational, they have games on them, all the things that you typically would find on a regular tablet but they're $50 or $60. That's something you want to look at as well. But this generation tech as we call them now, they are familiar with this stuff from when they're little, and they're familiar with it in some cases more than their teachers in school. So that's another challenge. CAVANAUGH: Does the county board of education have any deadlines about students' high-tech devices in the classrooms? AHANGARZADEH: We provide plenty of training opportunities and consult with various districts. These decisions are more local decisions. Sethe boards of the various districts need to make the decisions. But we consult with them to discuss a practice that would meet their individual needs. Some districts won't allow cellphones at all. There are regulations, federal regulations, there's the sippa regulation, which is children's Internet protection act that have some requirements for students not being able to access certain content on the Internet, and with more -- as we see these bring your own device initiatives coming into more and more school systems, these devices become quite a nightmare to manage because they're considered to be rogue devices. Right? Which are not going through a filtering process that the school district has established so the kids can't access the inappropriate content that's out there. But the county does consult with all the different districts. We have a specialist and an architect that goes out and helps them develop their policies. CAVANAUGH: You were talking about this backpack and the charging device that might add some weight. But something that might take some weight off is the E-books, the e-readers. BARRY: Oh, yeah. And the nooks and the kindles primarily, you can put literally thousands of books in something that weighs less than a pound, and more schools and colleges now are working with E-books, and more books are being -- either E-books or tablets and able to access all of that information that way. That is a real good thing. Especially those of us who remember our kids going off with these backpacks and saying, boy, there's got to be a better way. CAVANAUGH: They're so heavy! BARRY: This is the biggest transition really in the history of the world in the way we access information, the way we communicate with one another. Over the last 25 years. Will but real at warp speed for the last 10 or 15 years. So we're really moving ahead. And education is only one part of it, of this digital time that we're living in. But it's moving so quickly, that's one of the big challenges. In school departments, because they don't typically move that quickly. AHANGARZADEH: It's one thing to have the technology, it's another to have the content of the so publishers are scrambling to either migrate their current content or upcoming content into a digital format so it's not just a PDF that's pulled up on a reader, but it's actually interactive and provides children with an opportunity to play with all of the robustness of these technologies. CAVANAUGH: Jim was telling us the prices are coming down, which is good news, but what about kids and families who really can't afford to stock up on any electronic devices? Does the county of office of education, individual school districts, have any resources for kids in low-income family who is can't go into an electronic store and just take their pick? AHANGARZADEH: Certainly. There's a really interesting pilot program that just ended up -- just finished about a month ago, and it's about to roll out across the country. It's called the connect to compete program that came about as a result of some mergers that occurred at the federal level with Cox and NBC. The deal is that the parents can direct their browsers to connect to Compete, and they enter in their Zip Code, and if it turns out that their area is eligible, they can take advantage of all of the fruits of this program, which are fascinating. It's $9.99 a month for Internet access, which is well below the threshold of what most people would pay for. In addition to that, there's an organization called ReDemp-tech that works to provide families that qualify for the project with $150 refurbished computers that come with all the software you conceive of. And we're working toward something broadband across the entire state as well. Is it free? No. But when you take into consideration how these programs like connect to compete, like the San Diego futures organization, or the San Diego computers to kids organization are really helping the kids in the school systems out there, I think we're going to be able to meet the needs of the families that are in need. CAVANAUGH: We're almost out of time. I'm wondering if you are offering advice for parents for back to school, what would you tell them to look for in high-tech gadgets? BARRY: Well, if you're going to college, you definitely need a laptop computer. Good news there is that you can get a perfectly serviceable one these days for well over $500. Your child probably already has a smart phone. If they have an iPhone, they probably don't need an iPAD. You can do a lot of those same things with that. If you have a different phone, you can get the iTouch, it's just a couple hundred dollars. And probably an e-reader. More schools are using the e-readers now, and you can download the content, and they now start at about $80 or so. So you're talking about $700, you can be really well-equipped with the electronic devices that you need. And then you get one of these power bags to help charge them up. CAVANAUGH: Thank you both so much.

Innovation Day

2012 San Diego County Office of Education Innovation Day

Going into an electronics store with a school-age child this month could be like going into a plug-in wonderland. There are so many smartphones, tablets, e-readers and assorted other gadgets to choose.

Jim Barry, a tech expert with the Consumer Electronics Association, said his top picks for students are a laptop computer and an e-book reader.


Devices like these have created "a remarkable change in the classroom," said Emil Ahangarzadeh with the San Diego County Office of Education.

"What it's done is broken down the walls of the classroom," he said. "Now learning can happen anywhere at any time."

If students can't afford these devices or Internet connectivity, a program called Connect2Compete can help, Ahangarzadeh said.

Barry added that some laptops now cost a few hundred dollars.

Corrected: July 14, 2024 at 7:21 AM PDT
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.