DAILY INSIGHT: Stuff I brought to SchoolCIO Summit and ISTE 2012

By Paul Barrette, CIO Advisor

One of the toughest things I find about packing for conferences and events like the SchoolCIO Tech Summit and ISTE 2012 is figuring out what technology tools I need/want to bring. Obviously, some of the deciding factors are:

  • How long will I be away from home and the office?
  • How will I be traveling?
  • Will I be presenting/speaking at the event/conference?
  • What tools and services are available at the hotel and conference facilities?
  • Can I count on ubiquitous and reliable WiFi access?

Since this was a fairly long trip for me, both in time (8 days/2 events) and in distance (RI to CA), here is what I decided to bring and why.

Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook

During this trip, I expect to do lots of communicating with colleagues using Gmail and Twitter, writing a few blog posts, storing and accessing important travel information in Evernote, attending some sessions focused on Google Docs, and making a presentation using Google Docs, I decided that a Chromebook would be the perfect main working device. I am not a huge iPad (or tablet) fan when it comes to writing (the virtual keyboard is just OK) and I think that adding an external keyboard just creates an inferior netbook/notebook.

The Chomebook provides me with a very thin and light notebook that works very well for all the tasks that I listed above, as well as provides battery life that will last all day. My old Cr-48 Chromebook can be frustratingly slow at times, but this new model from Samsung is fast and smooth. I've even been testing the Chrome Remote Desktop Beta and it allows me to easily access a Windows 7 desktop back in my office if I need to respond to an emergency that can't wait until I return. Yes, I could also have brought an Ultrabook or a MacBook Air (I have neither), but I like the fact that if something happens to the Chromebook, I won't lose any important data. It's also much less expensive and I feel more comfortable bringing it than I might with a more expensive notebook.

The only rub is that in order for a ChromeOS device to be useful, it needs to have internet access. Otherwise, it's pretty much a brick. So this leads me to...

Verizon 4G mobile hotspot
I've attended too many workshops, events and conferences that were unable to provide reliable WiFi access. When you think about it, it's an incredibly daunting task, especially if the event is expected to be large AND the attendees will largely be edtech geeks (present company included) who will be carrying multiple devices. So, bringing your own internet access is almost a necessity. While I could use my phone as a hotspot, it's only 3G and that is a sure fire way to drain the battery. The Verizon mobile hotspot is a perfect solution. It's small, light and will provide 4G speeds (if available in the area).

Dell Latitude 2120 netbook
Honestly, the only reason I'm bringing the Dell netbook is because I am scheduled to present a Case Study at the SchoolCIO Tech Summit and I need to connect to a projector (my presentation was created is using Google Docs). The new Chromebook arrived 2 days before I was scheduled to fly out to San Diego and does not have a standard VGA output. It does have a DisplayPort, which would work fine, but I didn't have time to pick up a DisplayPort to VGA adapter. So, the Dell netbook will provide me with a fairly small and light machine that I can connect using VGA. Once I can pickup an adapter for the new Chromebook, I won't need to consider bringing this netbook or a fullsize laptop when I need to present.

Motorola Xoom tablet
While I don't like tablets for general writing, I do like them quite a bit for checking email, keeping up with Twitter, and watching video/Netflix. The flight from the east coast to San Diego is a long one and I know that I'm going to need something to keep me occupied. While I will certainly read and play some games, nothing passes the time like watching a good (or even fair) movie. I can't count on the airline to show a movie at all, never mind one I want to watch, so bringing along an iPad or tablet is a great alternative. I am probably one of the few people on the planet who prefers an Android tablet (if it's running Ice Cream Sandwich) to an iPad, so the Xoom tablet fits the bill. Yes, it is heavier and clunkier than an iPad, but I still prefer the integration with my Google accounts and the flexibility of Android widgets/notifications. Offline movies from the Google Play work very well, provided you can find something you want to watch (the selection is nowhere near as good as iTunes).

Amazon Kindle
I am a voracious reader, so I expect to spend quite a bit of time on the plane reading some of the books I picked up using an Amazon gift card I received as a Father's Day present. I don't like reading on an LCD screen, so using a laptop or tablet is not an option. The e-ink version of the Amazon Kindle (or B&N Nook) is perfect for recreational reading. The device is small, light, and has terrific battery life. It's definitely a lot easier that dragging along 2 or 3 paperbacks (or books from my local public library).

Nintendo 3DS

Again, I'm going to be spending a whole bunch of time traveling by air, so having a variety of things to keep me busy during the long flights is a plus. I don't normally have much time to play video games, but when I do, the Nintendo 3DS is perfect solution. It's small, has games that I enjoy, and I can network and play with/against my 10-year old son. I also really enjoy the StreetPass feature that allows you to virtually "meet" other 3DS users that you pass by. Just leave the device in sleep mode, put it in your bag or pocket, and you will "tag" other people you pass by that also have a 3DS. I'm thinking that at a conference of 18,000+ participants, I should meet a whole bunch of new gaming "friends."

Paul Barrette is the director of technology at Burrillville School Department in Rhode Island. This blog is cross posted at Cogitation of a Head Geek.