ICT in Education Toolkit Version 2.0a
September 2006
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Tool 3.2: Hardware
1 Audio/Radio
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Radio/Audio Devices

Computer Devices, Usages and Configurations

Basic Software Options

Radio Options

Depending on availability of electric power, the following options are available:

  • Electrical radio - The least expensive and most common type of radio, it depends on electricity. In places where the electric power grid is nonexistent or unreliable, alternatives may have to be used;
  • Battery radio - Also easy to find and independent of electric power grid; but batteries can be a relatively expensive and not readily available.
  • Crank Radio - This type of radio does not need electricity or batteries. It winds up and one full crank can last an hour. The crank motion creates tension in a clock-like spring that powers the generator in the radio that, in turn, provides electricity.
  • Solar-Powered crank radio. This radio is solar powered as well as self powered and needs no batteries to work. The solar panel stores the energy for the radio. In direct sunlight, the radio switches to solar power automatically.
    (See Resource 2.7.1)

Audio Player Options

There are two types of audio players:

  • Audio tape cassette player/recorder - which plays audio cassettes and records on them. To be used in a classroom a player must have a good quality loudspeaker. Audio cassette devices are now widely available, fairly inexpensive, and may be electricity or battery operated. Some of their advantages over a radio receiver are that a recording can be played any time, and that and students can record their own programs.
  • CD-player- Audio CDs can be played on CD players or on a computer. If the Institution is acquiring computers anyway, there may not be a need for CD players. CD players are more expensive than cassette players but they have some advantages: first CDs have a tracking system that allows you to go directly into a segment of the CD, and second, CDs can be duplicated more cheaply.

Combination Options

If the Project requires the use of both broadcast radio and recordings, it is worth considering devices that combine both functions:

  • Radio/Cassette Player- It combines a radio receiver with a cassette player/recorder. One of the educational advantages of this device is that a broadcast radio program can be recorded and played back anytime, thus avoiding the rigidity of scheduling of radio broadcasts. Also such a device allows for the application of Interactive Radio Instruction. (See Tool 1 Section
  • Radio/CD Player. This device combines a radio receiver with a CD player. The main draw back is cost.

Usage of devices

Depending on the quality of the radio and the transmission, one radio can transmit to a large audience assembled in an auditorium, or to a group of students in a classroom. The same applies to the other devices. More than one device in a classroom is not recommended due to noise interference.

Should there be one device in each classroom, or should a set of devices be available in a central place to be borrowed for use in classrooms as needed? Here are some considerations:

Modality of Use of Audio/Radio Devices
Location Description Advantages Disadvantages
Available from a central place Device is located in a central place in the school (e.g. teachers' room) and teachers take it to their classes as needed. Few devices are enough Easier to protect the device against robbery or vandalism Requires coordination of schedule;
Available in Classrooms Each classroom has its own device Easier access Requires greater initial investment; Security of device may be an issue


Computer Hardware

There is a wide range of computers, and the question about what is appropriate depends on a number of issues:

  • Selecting a computer involves decisions about technical specifications: speed, memory, monitor, etc.
    • The object of use of a computer (Step 3.1 above) determines to a large extent the level of sophistication required and the type of accessories needed, such as DVD reader or writer. For instance, if the computer will be used for simple Office applications then an investment in high speed, large RAM and hard disk memory may not be cost-effective.
    • On the other hand, if the computer is to be used for multimedia, then an investment in high speed and large memory is justifiable.
    • Not all the computers in a school need to be of the same level of sophistication. There could be one computer per class or lab that has the extra features.
    • Similarly, monitors can be simple and inexpensive except for one large monitor or flat screen in each room where computers are used.
  • Although the price of computers is going down, for many developing countries these costs are prohibitive, if computers are to be provided in large numbers that serve the educational objectives. Depending on the country situation, one option is for the Team to explore the possibility of local production of low-cost computers, if the numbers needed are high. There have been some promising efforts in countries such as BrazilIndia to address this issue and produce a less costly computer with a longer operational life. (See Resource 3.2.1). and
  • Computers are not dying of old age; however, every so many years they need to be replaced because they cannot handle new operating or application software. This creates a major problem for schools and national governments with limited financial resources. In fact, school systems spacing the introduction of computers over a period of time longer than the life of a computer will never be able to cover all of their schools. Some organizations are trying to address the problem by providing software packages that can be run on any computer, from a 286 to the newest Pentiums. (See Resource 3.2.2)

Computer Usage [1]

Where and how should computers be distributed, connected, and used in schools? Different educational and institutional objectives are served by different configuration options: computers in classrooms, on wheels, in computer rooms or labs, or in libraries and teachers' rooms. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of the different options:

1. Computers in Classrooms

One of the greatest potential benefits of distributing computers to individual classrooms is to provide teachers and students with easier access to these educational tools. Unfortunately, not all schools can afford enough computers to enable effective student access and use. As a result, some schools may decide to install only one or two computers per classroom, which likely will have little or no impact on learning. Experience also shows that when there is only a single computer in a classroom, it often becomes the "teacher's" computer and is rarely used by students. It is therefore recommended to have a student/computer ratio of 2 or 3.


  • Makes it easier for teachers to integrate computer and Internet use into routine educational programs
  • Allows for spontaneous use of these tools during instructional activities
  • Permits teachers to organize students into a variety of learning activities, some using computers and others not
  • Makes it easier to individualize instruction and strategically integrate computer and Internet technologies into project-based learning.


  • High start up costs (more hardware and software; potential repairs in electrical wiring and safety devices)
  • All teachers must be trained in computer skills and pedagogical use of computers
  • All rooms must be equipped and secure
  • More expensive to provide technical support

2. Computer Rooms or labs

Establishing one or more computer rooms or labs is a popular way to provide equitable access to computers for the greatest number of users at the lowest possible cost. Computer labs enable schools to concentrate expensive resources in a common space that can be used for student educational activities, teacher professional development events, and community groups. When using computer labs, it is important to arrange computers along the walls of the room rather than in rows facing the front of the room so teachers can view all the students' work from a common point and move quickly and easily from student to student, providing feedback, support, and guidance. This arrangement also can make it easier and less costly to provide electricity and network access for the computers.

  • Establishing computers in a lab or dedicated room only requires schools to install quality electricity, network cabling and servers, Internet access, effective security, climate control systems, good lighting, and specialized furniture in one or two rooms in a school rather than in many different rooms.
  • Computer labs can be maintained by one or two staff members who also can provide technical and pedagogical support to teachers.
  • Equipment and software can cost less for computer labs used by all classes than for classroom-based systems.
  • Computer labs can optimize return on technology investments if their use is scheduled effectively.
  • It can be easier and less costly to provide access to the Internet via computer labs than with classroom systems since many computers can use a common connection to the Internet.
  • Computer labs can make it easier to encourage collaborative interdisciplinary projects among groups of teachers and students.
  • Computer labs make it easier to provide community access to computer systems for good public relations, and to generate revenue to cover the costs of consumables, Internet connectivity and replacement of old equipment.
  • Computer labs can become oversubscribed quickly, and competition for use may make it difficult for teachers to engage their students in longer-term projects and activities.
  • Scheduling conflicts can frustrate teachers and inhibit their use of computer labs.
  • Once the novelty of using computers wears off, encouraging teachers to move their students to the lab may become more difficult.
  • Spontaneous need to use computers for research, reference, word processing, etc., can be difficult or impossible to accommodate.
  • In some schools, principals or lab coordinators may implement policies designed to keep the computers safe at the expense of using them.

Schools can overcome many of the challenges of using school computer labs by devising and implementing effective policies governing the use of the labs. A computer lab coordinator is a critical asset and can continue to promote use of the lab and help teachers deal with scheduling conflicts. Labs also can include one or two open- or free-access computers that can be used by students and teachers without scheduling.

3. Computers-on-Wheels -COWs

Computers-on-Wheels (or COWs) systems are essentially rolling carts that hold one or more computer (often 10 to 20), usually laptops, often with a printer, and with the possibility to connect the cart to the school LAN via a single classroom network connection. COWs can be brought into a classroom, often by an educational technology specialist, when the teacher wants to use computers for a specific activity.

  • COWs make it possible to provide teachers access to computers in their classroom without having to remodel the room significantly, provide special furniture, or reserve space for dedicated computers.
  • Working in small groups at their desks enables all students to have access to computers even in crowded classrooms.
  • Using battery-powered laptops makes it possible to avoid providing special electrical power or installing additional power outlets.
  • Using infrared printing and wireless networking cards enables the students to print their work and connect to each other and the school network for e-mail, electronic communication, and, possibly, Internet access without cables.
  • COWs allow schools to optimize the use of expensive equipment by enabling teachers to request a cart of computers.
  • COWs may be more affordable than remodeling classrooms, building special computer labs, providing special electrical supplies, installing cabling to network all the computers, and buying special furniture.
  • Since software only needs to be purchased for the computers on the carts, and not for dozens of computers in each classroom, the total cost for software can be much less with COWs than with classroom-based computer installations.
  • COWs can be stored in secure rooms when not in use.
  • COWs can provide classroom access to computers in situations where students have classes in different rooms.
  • COWs can be customized to include expensive specialized equipment that normally would not be part of a classroom system.
  • COWs often are brought to classrooms by an educational technology specialist who can help teachers to make effective use of the computers in teaching and provide immediate technical support.
  • COWs can be used in teacher professional development programs.
  • COWs can be used to support school-community computer programs because they can be brought to the room in the school used by community members.
  • The cost per computer to create a COW system with laptops and wireless networking capabilities is higher than for conventional desktop computer systems.
  • There is a greater risk of equipment damage from accidents, hard use, or dropping.
  • Dedicated staff is often needed to maintain COW systems, deliver them to teachers, and help teachers set up and use the equipment.
  • Schools with multiple floors and no elevators have to have COWs for every floor or restrict their use to specific floors. The same is true for schools made up of different buildings.
  • The difficulty of scheduling the use of a limited number of COWs may frustrate teachers and deter them from using these systems.
  • COWs can perpetuate the belief that computer use in education should be limited to "special" computer-aided activities.
  • COWs, especially when used in secondary schools, can limit opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching and learning, since it can be more difficult to bring a mix of teachers and students together in a one-teacher classroom than in a common space.

4. Computers in Libraries and Teachers' Rooms

When funding and staff resources are scarce, schools can optimize investments in computers and Internet access by installing a few computers in public spaces, such as the library or teachers' room. Giving teachers private access to computers and the Internet can encourage them to learn to use these technologies and integrate them into their daily routines. The biggest drawback however, is that computers in this case cannot be integrated into the teaching/learning process.

5. Combination of Options

Wherever possible, the greatest educational returns on technology investments can result by using combinations of the above configuration options.

  • For schools with sufficient room, suitable infrastructure, and adequate funds and technical resources, distributing some computers to classrooms either as stationary systems or via COWs can be an effective means of easy and spontaneous access.
  • Computer labs then can be used for whole class access and interdisciplinary use of these resources.
  • Library computers can be used to focus on research activities, while special classrooms can be outfitted with computers, especially for special-needs students, to enable and enhance benefits that are difficult to achieve from computer labs.

The combination of these different options can create an ideal solution to providing students and teachers with access to these rich and powerful educational tools.

Networking of Computers

Should computers be stand-alone or connected to form a network? If the latter, which network option is the most cost-effective: peer-to-peer, client/server, or thin-client/server?

Connecting computers together to form a local area network (LAN) can multiply the educational value and impact of computers in schools. Below are some options and respective considerations:

1. Peer-to-Peer Networking (P2P)

Users can share files and resources located on computers in the network, but there is no file server or central computer to manage network activity (see Figure 5.2.1). One or more of the computers can provide centralized services such as printing and access to the Internet. Most desktop operating systems come with software to enable peer-to-peer networking once the computers are connected by some cable or wireless networking infrastructure.

Figure 5.2.1. Peer-to-Peer Network

From An Educators' Guide to School Networks (1997-1999). Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. Available at: http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/network/.


Peer-to-peer networking is good for small networks where a centralized file server is not needed and network security is not a major issue.

It is less expensive to set up since the only additional expense is in the cables and networking hardware (one or two hubs).

Also most common computer operating systems (Mac OS and Windows 95/92/Me/2000/XP) come with software to establish a peer-to-peer network.

2. Client/Server Networking

In these networks, as seen in Figure 5.2.2, one computer centralizes such functions as storing common files, operating network e-mail delivery, and providing access to applications and peripherals such as printers.

Figure 5.5.2. Client/Server Network [3]

From An Educators' Guide to School Networks (1997-1999). Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. Available at: http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/network/.


  • They are scalable: more clients and servers can be added to the system without changing the network significantly.
  • They are easier to manage, administer, and secure than peer-to-peer networks.


  • Because of the need to have a central "dedicated" server, initial costs are higher.
  • They are more complex to set up and maintain than stand-alone computers and peer-to-peer networks.
  • They often require a technician to oversee the network.
  • If the server fails, all network functions fail.

3. Thin-Client/Server Networking

A thin-client/server network is similar to a traditional client/server network except that the client is not a freestanding computer capable of operating on its own. In contrast, thin clients are desktop appliances or network devices that link the keyboard, monitor, and mouse to a server where all applications and data are stored, maintained, and processed. The server, often called an application server, is built to provide all networking services and computer calculations. Since all network and computer services are centralized, all maintenance and upgrading is done at the server; there is no need to service the clients.


  • Proponents of thin-client/server networks emphasize that even though initial purchase costs are usually higher than with traditional PC/server networks, lifetime costs or total cost of ownership can be significantly less.
  • Since client appliances have few moving parts and limited functions, thin-client/server networks are more reliable and stable than traditional network systems
  • Thin-client/server networks are easier to install than traditional client/server networks.
  • Since the client appliances cannot function without the server, there is little risk of theft.
  • Thin-client systems are very efficient at providing access to the Internet.


  • There is little educational software written to run on thin-client servers.
  • Most of these servers come with special emulation software, but this is usually an incomplete solution: software often runs slower and some applications fail to function.
  • Since many thin-client/server networks are based on a type of UNIX operating system, skills with UNIX are needed to set up and administer. However, if schools have no staff with these skills, but do have access to the Internet, it is possible to have a technician at some remote site administer and maintain the network. This enables a school district to have one highly skilled technician manage thin-client/server networks in several schools, thus reducing management costs further.

Connecting Computers

Finally, should computers be connected by wiring the classroom or school, or should they be wireless? There are essentially three ways to connect computers together to form LANs: cables, wireless, and power line systems.

1. Cabled LANs

Cabled networks provide reliable, high-speed-up to 100 Mb per second-transmission of network traffic. Because cable systems are more common than the other two options, it is usually possible to find firms and technicians with the skills needed to install quality cable LAN systems. However, installing cabling in older buildings or in schools with thick walls built of brick and cement can be expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. To provide a sufficient number of individual connections for each computer, and to allow for flexible arrangement of computers in a room, many ports and cables must be installed.

2. Wireless LANs

An increasingly popular alternative to cabled LANs is wireless networks. This type of system does not require cables to connect computers to each other and to the server and shared peripherals. Instead, wireless network adapters (receivers) are installed in all computers that will be part of the network (either as an internal network card or as a device that plugs into the computer's universal serial bus [USB] port). One or more wireless network hubs/transmitters are connected to the server, usually by a cable (several wireless network hubs can be connected to each other in a daisy chain). Network traffic is then transmitted by the hub to each computer and to and from the server.


  • They can be installed and configured in a very short period of time, since limited or no construction is needed.
  • They allow for a high degree of flexibility. Computers, especially laptops, can be moved around a room or building, within the range of the network signal, without losing their connection to the LAN.
  • They can be less costly to install and use than conventional cabled systems.
  • They allow schools to create customized LAN systems covering single rooms or whole sections of the school.
  • They can be mixed with cabled systems to create greater flexibility.


  • Wireless LANs are not a perfect solution for all environments. The speed of network traffic depends on how many computers are using the hub's bandwidth simultaneously. Distance from the hub and thickness and character of walls between the transmitter and receiver can affect the speed and quality of the network signal significantly.

3. Power Line LANs

Another alternative to installing special network cables that recently has become a reliable technology for some situations is to use the existing power lines in the school to carry the network traffic. Power line networking (PLN) currently is capable of providing reliable network communication speeds between 250Kbps and 500Kbps for six to 20 network access points. Higher-speed systems, ranging from two to 12 Mbps, are also available. Equipment costs are higher than conventional and wireless networking technologies, but these are expected to fall as technical improvements are made and larger-scale systems become available. In some situations, the costs of using PLN can be less than installing cable or wireless systems.

1. This Section and the next one are excerpted from Eric Rusten and Heather Hudson. 2002). "Infrastructure: Hardware, Networking, and Connectivity." In Wadi D. Haddad and Alexandra Draxler (Eds.) Technologies for Education: Potential, Parameters, and Prospects. Paris: UNESCO, and Washington, DC: Academy for Educational Development
2. From An Educators' Guide to School Networks (1997-1999). Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. Available at: http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/network/.
3. Ibid






Basic Software Options

Client and End-User Computers

Decisions about what operating system software to use on client or end-user computers are usually based on the type of hardware purchased.

  • If Apple computers are purchased, then Apple's OS, which comes with the computer, will likely be used on client computers.
  • If computers with Intel or Intel-compatible CPUs are purchased, the computers likely will come with a version of the Microsoft Windows OS.

Networked Computers

  • Basic Apple and Windows operating system software comes with the capability to enable computers to be connected together to manage small networks.
  • Larger and more robust networks that may need to be managed securely will require special network operating system software installed on the network's server to manage the functions of the network, including links to printers and other peripherals, e-mail, file sharing, security functions, and communication among linked computers.
    • For Apple computer systems, two main options are available: Apple's own network operating system and Linux. [5]
    • For Intel-based computers, the three main options are Microsoft NT, Novel Netware, and Linux.

Basic Computer Application Software

All computers in schools require a basic set of software applications to be useful for computer literacy programs and to be integrated effectively into routine education programs. These applications generally include software for word processing and manipulating numeric data such as spreadsheets, presentation software, and graphics software, communication, web surfing, and the increasingly important software to create Websites and HTML documents. As with operating system software, commercial and public domain options are available.

Open Source Software versus Proprietary Software

One of the most hotly debated topics in educational technology today deals with the question of whether it is better for school systems to use open source software (OSS) or commercial software products for client and server operating systems and applications. There are no simple answers to this question since they involve policy, commercial, technical, and educational concerns. For education systems, the education functions that need to be supported and the needs of students and teachers are the most important factors in making technology decisions. If the software and hardware solutions do not ultimately serve the teaching and learning process, then even "inexpensive" or "free" options can be very costly educationally. If key educational software programs cannot be used on computer systems with "free" OSS, then the "free" solution could become very expensive. Similarly, educational uses and needs for computers are often quite different from corporate needs-and decision making about technology choices for schools needs to reflect these differences. Below are some issues to be considered when comparing OSS option with proprietary software option:

  • Total Cost Consideration. OSS is free and commercial software is not. However, initial investment in acquiring an operating system is only a fraction of the total cost of hardware, maintenance and integration into the educational system. It is, therefore, more important to consider the total cost of ownership carefully when evaluating the real costs of using different types of operating or network operating system software.
  • Usability considerations. It is essential to assess how different software decisions will affect how teachers and students use technology and how easy or difficult it may be for them to integrate it into routine teaching and learning. If computer literacy is an objective, it is important to take into consideration the prevalent operating systems and applications used in the marketplace.
  • Technical support considerations: Technical support to keep school computer systems running, and to help teachers implement their learning projects with technology, is essential. Is technical support available for the option considered, and at what cost?
  • Educational software applications: The lack of educational software applications that can operate on OSS, and the loss of current investment in Windows applications that could not be used on OSS, without using emulation software [6] , would need to be considered.


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