Update: Can I Trade the iPads for Chromebooks

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As many of you know, back in November I wrote a post about the simultaneous implementation of Chromebooks and iPads at one of our school sites.  Just as I mentioned in that post, there was never an intent for a comparison to develop between these two tools.  In my district we recognize that one size does not fit all and provide opportunities for school sites to utilize the tools that make most sense for their instructional goals. Quite by accident the year began with these simultaneous projects and initially the iPad teachers, very frustrated by the setup and management of their hardware, were ready to trade in their iPads for Chromebooks. It’s been a few months and I have spent time working with and talking to both the teachers and their students.  I thought it was time for an update

Trading In?

Let’s start with the most obvious question – do they still want to trade in the iPads?  No, they don’t.  Actually, they’ve grown to quite love them.  Similar to what many other teachers and school districts have discovered, iPads are great tools for both differentiating instruction and producing content.  At our last collaboration meeting each of the iPad teachers shared powerful stories of students using the devices in new and powerful ways to review content and demonstrate their thinking. Second and third graders created narrated photo shows using SonicPics Lite and a group of EL students wrote interactive ebooks using Creative Book Builder that they shared with their families. All of us (the teachers and me) keep hoping that one day Google Apps, as a powerful collaboration tool, will work successfully on the iPads.

Set Up & Deployment

Since we provided the iPads to this particular school site, we’ve learned a few things about deploying iPads so that they roll out ready for success thanks to a brilliant local Apple engineer and the greater iPad education community (especially Canby School District in Oregon).  First of all, through the use of iPhone Configuration Utility and XCode we now deploy all iPads and iPod Touches completely set up and updated with the latest operating system (iOS 5.0.1).  We also now use XCode to help our classrooms running iOS 4.3.5 update to 5.0.1  XCode’s biggest advantage is that you can update a cart of iPads in about two hours, compared with the  8-10 hours it could easily take through iTunes.  During that 2 hours, the computer is doing all of the work without any input from a human being. Secondly, we’re learning that our iPads really need to deploy with a core set of apps.  We’re still working on the exact list, but in the future a cart of iPads will not show up at a school site until it has been completely set up and has a few applications preinstalled.  We also recently discovered a mechanism for pushing out all future apps directly to the devices through JAMF’s Casper Suite.

Management through iTunes

I’ll admit it.  If you want all of your iPads to look exactly the same, management is a bit of pain.  There are some strategies for configuring the iPads ahead of time, but often you end up “touching” each iPad through iTunes to ensure they have all received the correct apps, video content, or photos.  However, as I’ve come to better understand iTunes and iPads I’m realizing that this is only a pain because we’re trying to make all the iPads look identical…and actually that’s a pretty old-school idea.  The power in iOS devices (iPads/iPod Touches) is that you can easily set them up through iTunes to be different.  Why does Jose’s iPad need to look just like Ivan’s? Granted, a teacher may want his students to have all of the same productivity apps, but the video, audio, and ebook content should customized to meet each student’s needs. As educators we’ve never really had that power before…and now through iTunes we do.  I also realize that part of why we insist on making iPads all look the same is that they are put on a cart and shared by numerous students throughout the school day.  But let’s remember, that has never been the intention of an iOS device.  When was the last time you shared your iPhone with multiple other users?

What about the Chromebooks?  

I’ve spent nearly this entire post writing only about the iPads, but you might also be wondering about the Chromebooks.  Well, the biggest surprise about the Chromebooks is how little technical support they need.  Our Support Desk still has not had a call.  I’ve had the opportunity to spend a few days in the classroom and every time I’m impressed by how little this technology seems to get in the way of instruction.  The class, 7th grade ELA and history, makes heavy use of Google Docs and online research tools.  Currently, they are in progress on their first multimedia project that will incorporate an online video editor, Glogster, and Wikispaces. Last week I actually interviewed the teacher and six students from the Chromebook classroom as part of our hardware evaluation plan.  Throughout the conversations three themes appeared very clearly – ease of use, simplicity, and personalization.  Each of the students talked about how much they appreciated the fact the Chromebook booted up quickly and provided them access to their own personalized interface.  They never had to worry about losing documents or “working on someone else’s messy Desktop.”  Also, since they were working through the Chrome OS, this interface could travel with them to any computer at home, school, or the library as long as it had the Chrome browser and internet access.

Access

As a final thought, there is one item to note.  Due to these two different (and never intendend for comparison) implementations, the iPads are being shared between students in different classes, while the Chromebook cart is in the classroom and available for use on a daily basis.  As one student during our interviews aptly stated, “What I love most is that I can count on it (the Chromebook) being there to help me learn every single day.”  And to me that is the biggest take away from working with this school site.  We can’t let ourselves be sidetracked by iPad vs. Chromebook,  iPad vs. Android, iPad vs. laptop debates.  Instead, we need to recognize that there is a place for all of these devices depending upon the instructional goals for the classroom or school site.   Our role is to help teachers use them effectively.

Joe

 

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