Tips for back-to-school technology shopping

The back-to-school season is in full swing, and technology has found its way to the top of many shopping lists.  From iPads to desktops and everything in between, technology has become a must for most students, especially those returning to or heading off to college.

This year, the back-to-school shopping crowd has a new potential purchase to mull over -- the iPad.  Many students are taking a long hard look at the iPad as a possible way to improve their college experience, and a number of schools have already committed to jumping on the bandwagon.

Oklahoma State University's School of Media and Strategic Communication and Spears School of Business will both be rolling out iPad pilot programs during the 2010-2011 school year.  The schools are looking to determine if iPads will enhance the educational process and increase graduates preparedness for the work force.

Reed College in Oregon will also be running an iPad pilot.  Reed's program will be a repeat of an experiment the school ran in 2009 with Amazon's Kindle DX.  That experiment failed to produce a switch to the newer electronic medium, though the iPad's more advanced multimedia functionality and multi-tasking capability may produce better results.    

iPads aren't the only hot sellers among portable tech devices.  Netbooks remain popular as well.  Infoweek reported last month that 60 million netbooks will ship this year, worldwide, a staggering number for a device that has only been in existence for less than three years.

Netbooks are especially popular with college students because of their portability.  Smaller and lighter than traditional laptops, netbooks make it easier for students to carry a device from class to class. 

With all the choices available this year, back to school technology shopping has never been more exciting or more confusing.  How do you know what to get?

Some tips for making the right technology purchasing decisions this back to school season:

  • Check with the school: Some schools provide students with a computer as a feature of their enrollment. George Fox University, for example, has provided students with a MacBook. This year, the school will give students a choice between a MacBook and an iPad. Not all schools provide actual hardware, but many do provide students with discounted purchasing options, potentially allowing you to purchase a computer for far less than you would in traditional retail outlets.
  • Know the requirements: Many colleges are similar to small cities - they have their own networks and online systems. As such, they have specific requirements for student computers. Some schools, such as Duke University, help students by providing access to dealers that sell computers specifically designed to work with the school's network. At the very least, most schools provide students and parents with a list of minimum system requirements.
  • Review support options: Many colleges now offer far more extensive computer support than ever before. Some schools, such as Boise State University, offer computer repair services right on campus. Other schools provide students with a connection to local computer repair services that are authorized by and work in conjunction with the school.
  • Consider the courses: Some technology works better in specific courses. Netbooks are fine for taking notes in heavy lecture courses, but not as well in courses that require working out complex mathematical or scientific equations. The specific needs of each course on a student's schedule should be considered in order to maximize the effectiveness and cost efficiency of a new tech purchase.
  • Durability and warranties: College is a unique environment, filled with potential dangers to computers and tech devices. Before investing significant money into a tech purchase, make sure you consider the durability of the product in question as well as the length and coverage of any warranties. It is possible - but not likely - that your tech device will make it through the semester unscathed. But a little preparation in the form of a durable device only increases your chances of making it through safely.

It used to be that a few books, some pens and pencils, and a bunch of notebooks were all the school supplies anyone needed.  Now, technology in all its many forms has jumped to the top of most back to school shopping lists.  Following these simple tips can help you make the most out of your technology purchases this semester.  

David A. Milman, Founder and CEO of Rescuecom

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