A few months ago I wrote a post regarding the use of Chromebooks and iPads at one of my school sites. At that time, the teachers had grown quite frustrated by the technical management pieces of utilizing an iPad cart in their classroom and were a bit envious of their Chromebook-using colleague. However, about six weeks later after smoothing out some of the wrinkles with Apple’s assistance, much of that had changed and continues to be the case.
As of today that first post has been viewed a little over 3400 times. The second post? About 200 times. As I stated in the first post (and the second) we never set out to produce an iPad vs. Chromebook comparison, but that is what organically developed both at this school site and through the comments posted on this blog. Currently, I have about a dozen emails from readers all over the world wanting to know which tool they should purchase. I can’t answer that question, because it really depends on what you hope to accomplish instructionally.
Over the weekend I heard a quote that was both quite simple and quite wise, “The perfect device is the one that does what you want it to do.” Choosing a tool requires thoughtful investigation, research, and evaluation on both the technical and instructional components of the device. It requires sitting down with the teachers and students who will use it and helping them articulate what they hope to accomplish. It also requires recognizing the perfect tool today may change tomorrow and that groups of students may need different devices. Its not as simple as just pressing the purchase button for the brand that we like the most.
Keeping this in mind I thought it might be time to mention four areas of caution I have noticed working with Chromebooks. Once again, this is not meant to infer that another tool should automatically chosen, but should serve as some of the questions you might want to add to your own growing list.
Multimedia Creation – I love Google Docs. I think its an amazing tool and I use it on a daily basis. Since we have a district-wide Google Apps EDU deployment I have seen it in action in multiple classrooms across the district and am regularly impressed with what students are creating with the collaborative tools. However, I have grown concerned with the idea that there are not a ton of great web-based multimedia creation applications and that students using Chromebooks will never leave Google Docs. I want my students engaged in all types of digital writing – recording videos, creating podcasts, developing narrated slideshows, and publishing ebooks in all of their classes. While there are some tools out there which meet these needs, it requires research, discovery, and evaluation to identify the tools that will work well. Additionally, these tools really need to integrate seamlessly with Google Apps EDU. In a perfect world, the Google Apps administrator for your district would be able to turn on these multimedia tools through the Google Apps management console and have them automatically available for all users on the domain. Asking teachers to have students create accounts on a variety of third-party websites is not really a sustainable practice not to mention the possible COPPA and FERPA implications.
Digital Textbooks – As soon as I typed those two words I could already hear some of you groan. I get that textbooks are not the most exciting things to think about. I my own classroom I primarily used them as a secondary or maybe even tertiary resources. However, considering the amount of money school districts spend on instructional materials, digital textbooks may be the avenue through which many students are finally provided individual devices. Should 90% of the textbook publishers release their materials through Apple’s iBookstore, how useful does the Chromebook become? Additionally, iBooks Author is an amazing tool for teachers to use in developing their own instructional materials. However, the file format that provides all of the interactive features will only work on the iPad. Perhaps Google will develop a textbook creation tool that works just as well, but also provides some of the collaborative features of Google Docs and works on any device?
Total Cost of Ownership – Initially, I had assumed that Chromebooks were cheaper than iPads. However, after penciling out the math, I’ve realized the opposite may in fact be true. Chromebooks can be purchased either outright or on a monthly plan over three years. Should you choose the monthly plan you will have a Chromebook, along with three years of management console, warranty, and support for about $720 per device assuming you are purchasing the wifi-only model. If you purchased the same device outright and then added two years of management console you’re looking at about $529, but the warranty and support will only last for the first year.
Repair – A student accidentally broke one of our screens. After multiple attempts over two weeks to contact Samsung for repair information we found out that a new screen will be about $300. The price of the screen plus the time it took to get Samsung to respond is a bit concerning. The turn around time with other vendors has been much quicker. What if we suddenly have 300 devices that need to be repaired?
One of the things I do love about talking to the Google Chromebook team, is that everything is on the table and I know they are listening. Should you be interested in purchasing Chromebooks for your students I encourage you to think about your instructional outcomes and technical infrastructure and ask lots of questions.