I have been testing a Chromebook as my main device now for about 4 months. Just to clear the air, this isn’t the first time that I have tried an experiment like this before. About 6 years ago, when the first Chromebooks were starting to arrive on the scenes in education, I walked around the middle school that I was the tech coach for in New Hampshire armed with a Chromebook and an iPad to see which device might be the best choice for what the teachers were asking of the students. I literally shadowed a group of students going through 6th, 7th and 8th grades for two weeks to see what was required of them in class so that the tech department could choose the best tool to meet the students’ and teachers’ needs for the following year. Back then, it ended up that the Chromebook could perform about 85% of the work being asked of students and the iPad could enhance the other 15% of the work, specifically longer term projects especially those on the more creative end such as public service announcements and multimedia presentations. Therefore at that time we chose to suggest to provide students with a Samsung Chromebook in a 1:1 environment and have a cart of iPads available for sign out for those specific use cases where digital multimedia presentations were required.
I still believe in providing staff and students with the best device possible to meet the ever changing needs within schools. As some background information though, here in Maine we have a Statewide 1:1 program that offers high speed Internet for $1 per student and laptops for all of our staff and students in the 7th and 8th grades. This program has been in place now for 16 years, so it had made sense for many schools in Maine to also provide staff in grades K-6 and 9-12 with similar devices. Of course this came at a local cost and for much of the 16 year program Apple products were the device of choice throughout the state. That made it difficult for many districts to keep coming up with the money to provide a 1:1 program anywhere else other than in 7th and 8th grade based upon the local costs of these expensive Mac devices.
Once again the argument from many of the teachers that I have spoken with is that a Chromebook is good for student devices, as they can handle close to 85% – 90% of the educational requirements now, however, teachers feel that they need a more robust machine to accomplish all that they do throughout the course of the day. That got me to thinking. I need to recreate my experiment again, but this time shadow a group of teachers using only my Chromebook to see just how much a Chromebook cannot handle.
What I found after 3 weeks of observing teacher lessons, as well as using a Chromebook as my primary device in my job for 4 solid months was that 95% of everything that needed to be accomplished, could be in some fashion on a Chromebook for little to no money added on to the device itself. In some cases, the Chromebook actually could out perform the Mac as well.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certain high school curricula that requires a more powerful device such as AutoCAD, Robotics, Digital Arts, Music & Media and our World Languages Software. But for this reason we have computer labs/digital learning spaces already in place at our high school to accommodate the students’ and course needs. In a true 1:1 atmosphere I wanted to test what students needed as a device to be able to go throughout their day in all of their classes.
I witnessed most of the classes at our high school required word processing, research skills on the web, and some form of presentation tool that could easily be accomplished by the G Suite for Edu apps as well as a few add ons or extensions to make it easier on the students. At our middle school there was a lot of the same skills being used with a few movie creations thrown in as well. We did purchase the creative suite of apps for our Chromebook deployment at our middle school which includes; WeVideo, SoundTrap and Explain Everything which is very affordable and offers some great ways for students to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts throughout their learning. At our elementary schools, students were often asked to visit websites to practice skills in math, language and check facts for social studies content. A few science sites were used to enhance virtual labs when a real lab could not be setup within the timeframe of the lesson as well. Most of the time students were asked to conduct research, word process, and create some form of presentation. Again the Chromebook seemed like the device of choice.
I was pretty convinced that the Chromebook, especially at its price point (we chose the Lenovo N23 convertible Chromebooks this year for $200 a piece for our elementary schools) was the recommendation of choice for students, but what about our staff? I had to be really convincing to find a Chromebook that staff would be willing to try and give up their fancy Mac Air laptops for to really pull this off. So now you can understand why I wanted to observe what teachers were performing in-and-out of class, as well as try to use a Chromebook as my primary device.
Around November my Network Technician, Tom Rup , and I purchased the Acer R13 Chromebook convertible for $340 each to test out. We knew that Android app implementation was very close with this particular model Chromebook so we jumped at the chance to see if this was truly going to be one of those game changers in education. Especially since we had played around with the creation apps already, but were hoping to get a white board type of application that we could use in tablet mode to replicate much of what teachers did on their fancier interactive whiteboards. This was something I knew I’d have to find a solution for before we abandoned Macs along with the SMART and Promethean software packages that so many teachers in our district were used to having on them. Luckily, Jamboard became part of the core suite of apps for G Suite at the start of this calendar year. Although the actual equipment is pretty pricey, the software itself is free to G Suite for Education. This allows us to use our Chromebook convertibles in tablet mode to use the software and at the same time display it on a large screen TV at the front of the room using Chromecast.
This does change the workflow a bit, and certainly the mindset from a teaching standpoint as well. Students no longer come up to the board to interact with the media, but rather do it from a tablet or a Chromebook convertible from their seats. I have seen a teacher be able to walk around their classroom with their Chromebook convertible in hand, drop it on a student’s desk while continuing to discuss the concept, and then turn to the student where the Chromebook was left to ask the student to demonstrate how they solved the problem. The student then explained this using an app on the Chromebook while the rest of the class followed along by watching on the TV at the front of the room.
This changes the price point for classrooms quite a bit. We are purchasing 65″ TV’s at BJs or Walmart for roughly $600 each. Add a Cheetah TV mount from Amazon for $25 which comes with an HDMI cable, a Chromecast for $35 and a Chromebook Convertible for $340 and you have a relatively inexpensive work around for a typical interactive white board solution around a total of $1,000.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that apps like Jamboard aren’t as fully equipped as SMART Notebook, Promethean’s ActiveInspire or ClassFlow yet, but it is getting closer and closer each rollout. The best part about Jamboard is that it does integrate with the other Google Apps in the G Suite software and is adding more bells and whistles every update. So with this little victory, the conversation now shifts from what can the Chromebook not achieve for education, to how can it enhance my teaching style that my other devices now cannot?
For instance, we use Google Expeditions quite regularly here in York and it is very convenient to walk into a classroom with my Acer R13 Chromebook Convertible and while chatting with teachers, just flip it around into tablet or tent mode and pull up the Google Expeditions android app to show them what it would look like on the fly. This makes the Chromebook device much more handy than my Mac for these types of conversations.
It will be exciting to see what will come out next from Google in the near future. I for one am excited for the possibilities and am continuing to love my Chromebook as a primary device. I am still waiting for a good stylus for my Chromebook Convertible as the best one seems to only pair with the Pixel Book 2 which has a much higher price point around $1,000. The debate for teacher device of choice certainly isn’t over yet, but the comparable options, workflows and apps are getting closer and closer to being device agnostic.