Now that the information about Chromebooks has been out for a few days and I have had the chance to read (and re-read) the details, I have some conclusions about what I believe is good about Chromebooks for education, and (unfortunately) what is bad. We will start with the good news first, and then the bad news in the next article
Certainly there are many positives that Chromebooks can provide to business and consumers. However, for this post I will focus on the unique benefits that schools should find the most attractive, from my perspective as a previous teacher and a current technology director.
- Cloud computing - Hands down the best advantage of Chromebooks is to help move our users completely into cloud-based computing. Many schools have adopted Google Apps, but as long as there are traditional options to use installed software and save files locally or even to a file server, then chances are we will gravitate to what we are used to and will not embrace the cloud and its benefits as quickly. A main technology goal for our district is not one-to-one computing, but one-to-many computing. We want students to be able to learn, communicate, collaborate, and create no matter where they are (in school, at home, at the public library, on vacation) and no matter what device they use (school computers, personal devices, desktops, laptops, tablets, smart phones, Windows systems, Mac systems, other systems) with no concern about versions, compatibility, and functionality. For this to happen we have to move entirely to web-based programs and cloud-based services. Chromebooks are built to do just that, and help provide that needed push to get both feet in the pool.
- Fast boot time - Chromebooks boot up in 8 seconds and then resume instantly from sleep. That may sound like a trivial perk for some people, but it is critical for schools. Most of our class periods are around 45 minutes in length. With the current crop of traditional laptops we have in our schools, we can easily lose five minutes of class time booting up and logging in, or at least a few minutes logging off and back on for another user. With everything else teachers and students are trying to accomplish in their limited time, five minutes lost really does add up and makes a negative impact.
- Long battery life - According to the specs, the Acer Chromebook battery is good for 6 hours of continuous use, while the Samsung model can go for 8.5 hours. Either option will easily make it through a normal school day, especially since there will be some downtime here and there when the device is in sleep mode. As it is now, our traditional laptops are lucky to last 3 hours. Most of the time we simply keep them plugged in to make sure they will keep working. This seriously limits the mobility and reliability of our laptops.
- Portability - The vast majority of our computers are still desktops, and I would venture to say this is still true for many schools across the country. Desktops are less expensive, tend to be more powerful for the price, and (most importantly for us) we can pop them open to replace and repair broken parts when needed. The biggest drawback is lack of portability. With Chromebooks the devices can easily move around to accommodate the changing needs of a school from day to day. Today one teacher could borrow the Chromebooks from her grade-level colleagues to set up a lab in her room. Tomorrow the Chromebooks can go out into the courtyard for the creative writing exercise. The next day they go back into individual rooms to serve as computer centers that students rotate through for their portion of a research project.
- Screen size and resolution - I currently have a 10-inch netbook and have used it extensively for the past couple of years. I love the portability, but have always found the screen resolution just a little too low. At a 10-inch screen my resolution is 1024 by 600. This is just wide enough to fit most websites from side to side, but still requires a lot of vertical scrolling, and feels cramped since very little can display at once on the screen. The Chromebooks have screens from 11.6 inches to 12.1 inches with a resolution of 1280 by 800. This is really the sweet spot between portable size and functional screen real estate. Since everything you will be doing is on the web, it is great that Chromebooks provide an appropriate resolution to do it all.
- Centralized management - Summer is soon approaching which means fun in the sun and shade (for students) and reimaging, repairs, and relocating technology (for us techies). Yes, reimaging saves a load of time compared to updating individual computers, and we always find a way to get it done, but it still does requires touching every PC and losing time that could be spent preparing PD classes for the new school year. With Google’s web-based Management Console schools will be able to make a change in one place and have that change automatically roll out to all registered Chromebooks. This could include configuring printers, setting homepages, pre-installing apps and extensions, and saving time.
Again, I am sure there are many other benefits of Chromebooks, and they will vary based on who you are. But for schools the six features above are particularly helpful to our unique needs.
I wish the story stopped here, but unfortunately there are also negatives concerning Chromebooks in schools, some minor and some potentially significant. I will details these in the next article.