Are UMPCs Going to Convert Courses from Paper Based to Digital?

Are UMPCs Going to Convert Courses from Paper Based to Digital?

This week I will be doing a series of posts on the use of mobile technology in education.

So being the first post – I decided to start off with probably the most thought provoking… the Ultra-Mobile PC (commonly termed UMPC)… and show you a school in the UK that has set up a wireless network to handle the 245 UMPCs they have purchased for their students.

What is a UMPC?

For those that have never heard of a UMPC they are 7 inch or smaller PC (=similar size to a portable DVD player) with a touch screen that you can write on with a special stylus. Unlike PDAs (i.e. Pocket PCs and Palm Pilots) a UMPC runs standard Windows operating system which means you can run Office applications on them i.e. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (usedUMPC for writing on a touch screen when using a Tablet PC). The first UMPCs were sold in early 2006.

Why the School Choose UMPCs?

Each student at Islay High School in the UK will be provided with a Samsung Q1b UMPC (40 G hard drive), with solid carry case/keyboard, head phones, two batteries and access to webcam [Image by Josh Bancroft].

Check out this photo if you want to see a cool size comparison to a DVD.

Their rationale for this is:

  • They want to shift their perspective from paper with some electronic based material to electronic based material with some paper
  • Instead of paper based handouts – notes will be held on a server where each student can access them when required
  • Using a wireless data projector they are able to wirelessly display what is on 16 student’s UMPCs onto the board at the front of the classroom

They believe the UMPC is simply a conduit which allows a greater range of learning styles to be catered for across the curriculum.

Check out this great video by Andrew Brown where Ian Stuart from Islay High School demonstrates their UMPCs and discusses how they will be used at his school.

Challenges with using UMPCs

When the UMPCs were first released they did not sell well – very expensive, had poor battery life (~3 hrs), slow processing speed and some had issues with crashing from overheating. To decrease the size/weight of a computer – your aim is to make it more mobile – means compromises have to be made.

However the Samsung Q1b UMPC does well with battery life (Ian Stuart says at 70 % screen setting 7 hrs, at 50 % screen setting 9 hrs). Cost wise it sells for $1,650 in Australia.

Check out this great review on the Samsung Q1b UMPC.

What are your thoughts on the use of UMPCs with students?

  • Would cost of each device and possible damage by students be a barrier?
  • Will the operating speed of the Samsung Q1b UMPC be adequate enough for the students?
  • What are you thoughts/concerns on replacing handouts and text books with electronic versions?
  • If you were going to move to wireless network and electronic based material – would you have chosen the UMPC?

18 thoughts on “Are UMPCs Going to Convert Courses from Paper Based to Digital?

  1. Great to see where this is headed. I have often wondered about UMPCs and whether schools have used them in any capacity but after reading your article and watching the video I am left thinking that they are overpriced as an alternative to the laptop. Why would a school roll out $1200+ UMPCs when a low-end laptop can be bought for a similar price and installed with open source alternative apps?

  2. Advantages:

    – It doesn’t waste paper
    – students are not limited to the resources handed to them, but also have the web right there
    – fact checking becomes much easier
    – it’s inevitable, so better for a school go with it sooner than to find themselves forced into rushing out an implementation when they suddenly realise they are lagging behind. At the very least planning out of a detailed implementation strategy would be recommended.
    – Resources can be searched to find what you are looking for instantly. I would imagine that this time benefit alone would be enough reason
    – No more losing your homework if it’s stored online on the school server =D
    – Access to tools which aren’t available through any other methods, such as Google Maps.


    – People fear change and will fight it with all their might, when in order for it to work, they really need to embrace it.

    Possible downside:

    – Students may get distracted and go off to their Myspace page etc. Although personally I’ve always believed that schools operate in a very bad way, forcing kids to learn things instead of encouraging their passions and giving them the knowledge they need to succeed. Kids like learning when it’s something that they are passionate about and in that case there is no chance of them being distracted by other things. But that tends to be to radical an idea.

  3. size – if you’re a small person carrying a full size laptop around is a bit like carrying a desktop in your pocket –

    I’d say that it’s a great idea for kids.

  4. Great start to the conversation. My wife has acquired 6 of these units to use in a Math, Science & Technology lab she instructs. The elementary age students will be using the UMPCs to collect science probe data, analyze that data as well as work collaboratively in demonstrating their knowledge using the UMPCs. The lab will be set up using an interactive whiteboard and synchronizing software so each UMPCs display can be shown on the board. I plan on documenting this at my blog throughout this upcoming school year. Thanks for starting this conversation.

  5. Hi Sue – glad you enjoyed the shakey video!

    for what it’s worth, I hope UMPCs don’t convert courses from paper to digital – there are some things that paper is great for. More so however, there are activities that the UMPC (or any digital device for that matter) would be much better for than paper – what I hope happens over the coming months in Islay is that the staff and students have the confidence and vision to find out which is which.

  6. Hi Sue,
    As someone who has a couple of these on my desk (for business use of course!), I would say they do have a future.

    The first generation aren’t perfect, as they are fairly slow and have only ordinary battery life. That said, they are incredibly convenient to carry around compared to a laptop and a lot less weight as well. Every teacher I have shown them to, can see a future for them, once the issues I have outlined have been fixed.

    The fact they can run standard Windows software is a huge benefit for educaton too, as you don’t need applications especially written for them, like you do for a PDA or Mobile Phone for example.

    For me…. I have no plans to get rid of them. In fact I want a tablet now as well. 🙂


  7. Thanks everyone for your thoughts and I will put my responses in this one comment. Ian was also nice enough to pop past and say he would be interested in people’s comments.

    Jason I can totally understand where you are coming from – cost, slower processing speed, small size then maybe a laptop is a better solution. However Harriet makes a good point – laptops are really heavy. But for a compromise there is always the ultra portable laptops (but then cost again).

    Thanks Gerry for your very thoughtful comments. I personally like the concept that they will be able to access the Internet for information, not just rely on the content on the server.

    Brian I am looking forward to reading your posts on how the UMPCs go – we could always exchange one UMPC for one spyglass 🙂

    I am like Andrew, I will be interested in seeing all the other uses that the school could do with them.

    Daniel – I thought you only had one UMPC? Would be interested in your thoughts is the UMPC a better option for the workplace assessor database than a PDA? Yes, I gave up my tablet PC but now want one – wondering how many computers you can work on at the same time – but really there is never enough 🙂

    Thanks again everyone

  8. Sue,
    In answer to your question about using a UMPC for the workplace assessor database, I would have to say that its not the ideal choice. Personally I would go for a small tablet which has better hand recognition, faster response and better battery life.

    The next generation of UMPC might be a different story however.


  9. Hi Dan

    What size tablet are you suggestion (or do you have particular make/model in mind). Also bearing in mind that the assessor has to hold and record while watching the student complete the task – isn’t size an issue? A tablet is less mobile than a UMPC.

    Isn’t your Asus and the Samsung Q1b already the next generation?


  10. Thanks for all this.

    I’m someone looking in from the outside of the UMPC world and as such Gerry’s thoughts resonate the most with me. They look like a fantastic tool and should be amazing once the processing speed and battery life issues are overcome.

    The biggest problem of all is not the technology but the human response to it. People are frightened of change. They won’t admit it. They simply come up with all sorts of excuses. it’s so damn frustrating for us disruptive innovators.

    Another point is that Mac seems to be lagging behind here. The iPhone and the new iPods are not UMPCs. They are niche tools. I want a Mac UMPC that is as good as a 2.4Ghz Mac book 🙂

    Looking forward to hearing how Brian’s wife’s work unfolds.


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