I am the father of two children that are in the second and third grades. When the governor declared a stay at home order due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a scramble from both the school and I on how to switch to a more home-centric learning platform. The schools had one day to prepare a lesson plan for the last two weeks of March, and for that time period I was able to re-purpose an old laptop to fit the needs of my children. While one was completing assignments online, the other was working from a packet of papers distributed by the school and they would switch off as required. It was a tedious few weeks, but we made it through it. However, the situation worsened when the stay at home order was extended for another month. The teachers started using the online learning platform exclusively, and the time of sharing an old laptop was coming to an end. This led to a challenging situation – I needed to provide a learning environment for both children, but at the same time these are temporary circumstances, so I did not want to break the bank setting this up. This is where the Raspberry Pi came into play.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the system, a Raspberry Pi is a computer that is about the size of a credit card. This compact size leads to a significantly smaller price point than a standard PC/laptop – about $70 on Amazon for the complete kit of the latest version (Click here to be directed to the kit).
The Raspberry Pi is a very robust machine for little investment. With its variety of inputs and outputs, the Raspberry Pi can support more than one monitor (using mini HDMI to standard outputs), headphones/microphones as well as external webcams and other peripherals that use USB ports. Also, the Raspberry Pi comes with built in Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port for connecting to the internet.
Setting up the Raspberry Pi is very simple. In addition to the base Raspberry Pi kit, you will also need a microSD card, a monitor with an HDMI input, a USB mouse, and a USB keyboard (all of which can be found on Amazon) to complete the system (I was able to build my system for about $170, which is FAR less than any laptop/desktop/tablet on the market). To install and configure the operating system, all you need to do is follow the steps found HERE (I used the Raspbian Buster with desktop and recommended software). After that, just plug in your monitor, mouse, and keyboard and you are ready to go. Getting the Raspberry Pi connected to the internet is no different than connecting a phone or tablet to your Wi-Fi network. The operating system comes with the Chromium web browser, a compatible version of Google Chrome. Using the free, web-based Google Apps (Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, etc.), you can replicate the functionality of programs from the Microsoft Office suite. The operating system is not Windows-based, but it is easy enough to understand that there will not be a large learning curve.
Creating an additional workstation out of a Raspberry Pi is a cost-effective way to meet remote work and learning technology needs. And, learning a new computer environment will help in understanding how to navigate other operating systems in the future. Good luck building your extra workstation!