I knew that it might be sometime before I got to write the next part of the Life of (Raspberry) Pi but didn’t think it would be quite this long.
I’ve hit a few problems although we live in a technology rich house (three laptops, two (working) Risc OS machines a mac mini and more printers and monitors than you could shake a stick at) what we don’t seem to have is a monitor which can connect to the Raspberry Pi.
The Pi has two ways of connecting to a display – HDMI (which can go into a modern TV) or video output (can go into an older TV). Our main TV downstairs has HDMI but I don’t want to use this as a) it will stop others using the TV and b) our lounge is currently full of the new log burner and associated paraphernalia and not a good working environment.
The spare monitors we have are VGA connections only. You can get around this problem by getting a VGA to HDMI connector but my research into whether this works successfully or not offered no clear results. Some posters in Pi forums say it works perfectly, others say you need to play around with the boot file to get it working a level of ‘tinkering’ I’m not sure I’m up for just yet (as said previously its been years since I’ve done any programming).
The simplest option would be to buy a portable TV and use that- but for personal financial reasons this isn’t going to happen this month!
While these issues might be a minor inconvenience for many I think they support my argument as to why the Raspberry Pi will not work as a boost to programming and computing within Education. Firstly schools are unlikely to have a spare set of HDMI ready TV’s to use. Secondly, even if the school had a collection of VGA monitors when you add the cost of keyboards, HDMI to VGA connectors, mice and other peripherals the cost if pushing towards the cost of a new net book or laptop without all the connection fuss.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is the programming environment itself. The main tool used on the Raspberry Pi to teach programming is called Scratch. Scratch is a visual ‘drag and drop’ programming environment where you can build programmes by dragging blocks into the correct place. This has many advantages when teaching programming- not least of which is the ability to visualise what the end programme will look like and check/test the programme as you go rather than having to wait for it to compile first. However the big problem, for the Pi, is that Scratch is already available as a free download for any computer running windows. You don’t need a Pi to run Scratch so why, if you were in charge of the IT in school, would you spend time and effort in sourcing equipment to connect enough Raspberry Pis’ (pies? pi’s?) when you could just download Scratch to your existing laptops or desktop computers?
I still think the Raspberry Pi is a good computer and will undoubtedly prove a commercial success for the Pi Foundation but I still don’t see it making much impact on computing education and anecdotal evidence, like that found here, would seem to support that view.