The Chromebook was the fastest-growing part of the mobile PC market in 2013 in North America, according to a recent Gartner report. That growth is largely representative of interest from the education sectors. With adoption of the Common Core State Standards and online testing, interest is likely to continue to grow as K-12 tech decision makers look for a device that can meet students’ everyday computing needs as well as those of state mandated testing including screen size and keyboard inclusion. That, combined with the number of education tools Google has developed in recent years, makes the Chromebook an attractive solution for education.
“It has less to do with the devices themselves and more to do with the Google ecosystem,” says Jeff Liberman, director of Technology and Information Resources, Danvers Public Schools.
Liberman’s district recently switched from MacBooks to Chromebooks, a decision that wasn’t made lightly. Teachers and school staff beta tested several models of the Chromebook before selecting one in the $370 range, a fact that may come as a surprise since there are a number of cheaper models on the market. For Danvers Public Schools, it wasn’t just about cost, but the device’s function, reliability, ease of use and management.
“As a technology director, the Google Admin console is so easy for us to use. It’s easy to put in users, to manage the devices and to put in groups. We can take 500 Chromebooks and add an app to them in 30 seconds,” Liberman says.
That wasn’t the case with the district’s MacBooks, which required Liberman to use Workgroup Manager and have student authentication on the school’s servers. Although the process for managing Apple devices has changed over the years, Liberman still finds the Google console to be easier and more efficient. This sentiment is echoed in the Gartner report in reference to Windows devices.
The report says Chromebook adoption in the education sector was “motivated by government projects since the acquisition cost was lower and Chromebooks offer better manageability than Windows devices.” Cost and manageability are two reasons why large public school districts have invested in Chromebooks in recent years. The New York City Department of Education, for example, recently approved the Chromebook for use in its public school classrooms and put together a guide on implementing the devices as well as using the Google Apps for Education suite.
“Chromebooks integrate the best of the Google features and technologies that students, teachers and schools are already using,” explains Samantha Becker, senior director of Communications for the New Media Consortium.
In many ways, it’s the trend toward total integration of technology that has really given the Chromebook a bit of an edge in the classroom. Schools are looking to adopt tools that promote collaboration and the easier a given technology makes that happen, the more likely it will be adopted. The Google Apps for Education suite combined with the newly released Google Classroom, empowers teachers and students and creates an ecosystem that breeds collaboration.
Like Liberman, Becker is careful to point out that it isn’t necessarily any one device that represents a better choice for mobile learning. It’s about what you can do with that device. “It’s less about the technologies and more about the learning models they support,” Becker says. So in a 1:1 learning environment any tool that provides access to technology and course materials beyond the traditional school day is a huge asset to K-12 students. Chromebooks certainly fit the bill as do a number of other devices, but it’s the easy collaboration factor that has caught the attention of educators.
Using Google Drive, students can work on documents or spreadsheets together and share their work with their teacher who can then give real-time feedback, something that isn’t always possible in the classroom. Students can also track the changes teachers have made to their work. The other advantage of a tool like Drive is that it’s Web-based. Students can access their work from anywhere and from any device by simply signing into their Google account. Teachers can hand out laptops without worrying about which student had what device last.
“With Google, you can use any computer anywhere and sign into your Google account and be able to access all of the documents you worked on at school whether you’re at home, or in a public library, at a friends house or a parent’s office,” Liberman says.
While the Chromebook has a number of advantages for the classroom, it still does not have the number of apps available to Apple devices. Whether or not that is a problem for your school district depends on the applications you want to use. For Danvers, it wasn’t an issue. Students are mainly using the devices for math and English classes and the district feels there are enough pre-made materials and resources available to support those subjects. That may not always be true and may vary on a case-by-case basis. Schools will need to assess their needs and decide if Chromebooks are a good fit, but for districts interested in something like a collaborative ecosystem, the devices are a promising option.
“That whole system of not only the devices, but the management system, the teacher’s ability to share documents with students, too see revisions and manage it in the classroom,” Liberman says, “it’s a total package for us.”