Chromebooks-a new paradigm shift in schools?


Next year, we have decided to buy chromebooks as the new 1:1 computing device for Grades 3-5. It was a difficult decision but I feel it was the right one now for a few reasons.

Let’s face it, chromebooks are not that new anymore. However, they have been quickly overtaking iPad 1:1 programs and other laptop programs, especially in the US as reported here and here. As an educator (and Apple Distinguished Educator), I believe its the right device for schools in the future. I’ve worked in 1:1 programs with iPads, Macbooks, Samsung tablet computers, Samsung tablets and soon, Chromebooks. While I’ve enjoyed some of the creativity Apple has given us, I’ve had to deal with the nightmare of managing these devices through iTunes (not friendly outside North America). I’ve also had to deal with the hardware and syncing issues of Windows 8 on Samsung devices…also a nightmare. Both of these options seem to require an enormous amount of technical support and infrastructure.

I honestly feel the software model in schools will be behind us. Most schools are now cloud-based in storage (ala Google Apps or O365) and there are a plethora of online tools that you really don’t need most software. The software model requires an enormous amount of time and money to support (imaging, updates, etc) and it can really detract from student learning. If a teacher finds an amazing software tool to use in the classroom, it needs to get budget approval then requires a technician (or if you are blessed with a proper MDM) installation, updates, etc. By the time this tool makes its way into the hands of kids, the just-in-time learning moment has passed. Mobile apps were supposed to be an answer for this problem but ipads and other tablets also present their own unique set of problems. Navigating through Apple’s legalities with volume purchasing programs and being forced into updating iOS is not easy. I’ve been there and it seems to be even more difficult lately. How often are you forced to update iTunes so it’s compatible with your OS and that in turn is compatible with the iOS you have installed? Times this by hundreds when dealing with student devices. Don’t even get me started with Windows…

So now I’m forced to look into another solution. Chromebooks. Take away the need for software, updates, expensive MDMs, tech support and imaging, and this is what you are left with. The other nice bonus is your get Google Apps for Education (which I’ll admit, I’m a fan) as well as Chrome apps (there are some great ones out there). Throw in the fact that they are 1/4 of the price of any decent laptop on the market and you have me sold. Let’s face it, most software companies have online versions now or you can pretty much find an online tool that does what traditional software does (PicMonkey for online editing, Prezi, WeVideo for video editing, etc). I’ll admit, it was a budgetary decision initially but the more I research and think about this, it really is the right tool for the job.

I’m in no way saying this is no way a golden ticket and not without its share of challenges (yes I know there is no real equivalent of Adobe Photoshop, Minecraft Edu, Final Cut pro or Lego Robotics software…yet). I honestly feel that the pros far outweigh any cons. I also feel its the right tool for kids in Elementary school. In my experience, 95% of what kids do with technology, can be done online. Let’s cut the tether on the educational software model collectively forcing companies to innovate and come up with creative cloud solutions if they haven’t already done so.

Time will tell and ask me in a year how I like them. For now, onwards and upwards!




Using Google Docs with Students

Collaboration and communication are 2 buzzwords that are thrown around all too often in Faculty meetings and educational journals. The theory makes sense right? Students should be collaborating with each other and communicating their ideas effectively for a genuine purpose. However, in practice I would wager that only 25% of teachers and administrators truly put it in place on a regular basis. Quite often, collaboration is too contrived or not set for a real purpose and a real audience. How often do students write stories only to rarely be able to share them with their peers and they are handed in to the teacher directly? I think this is beginning to change but technology can help this process speed up.

Our school has fully adopted Google Educational Apps which allows all the regular features of Google Apps, 7498MB (and counting) storage for emails and docs. Best of all it is free. We are using it with Grade 5-12 at the moment and hope to use some of the features with Grade 4s as well. All teachers, parents and administrators are also using it for email, docs and calendars.

Working with Grade 5s, I am beginning to see the sheer collaborative power of it. Think about it. How often are students writing, where you have to have individual writing conferences with them and have them complete the whole writing process on paper? Occasionally, students do peer editing and rarely, do students get to read everyone’s writing. We have had students do their writing on Google Docs and share them with myself, their classroom teacher and several of their peers. I can quickly read their work, insert comments or chat with them while they are working on it. Students are engaged more because they are using technology and seeing their writing have a genuine audience. They then insert it into their digital portfolio (Google Site) as a Google Doc and changes are immediately updated. The parents can email updates whenever they update their site and can respond with comments. How amazing is this?

Not only that but students are giving feedback to each other naturally. I happened to take a screenshot of this intereaction between students on their writing (see image). Notice the dialogue in the chat box?

Screen shot 2010-09-24 at 10.31.31 AM

So to recap, this is what Google Docs does that traditional media or paper and pencil cannot:

  • Instantly share with peers, teachers and parents
  • Allows for comments and real time editing (multiple people)
  • Can upload and convert Word documents to Google docs
  • Chat window
  • Captures “learning conversations”
  • Integrates into Google Sites for digital portfolio sharing
  • Practically unlimited storage

It is amazing how social we naturally are and how we can really collaborate when all the teacher roadblocks are taken away.

Google Apps in Education

This week has been one of the smoothest starts to the year technology-wise that I have ever had. It’s really hard to believe considering all the changes that have happened over the last few months too. For starters, we switched over to Snow Leopard Server, had 30 SMARTboards installed in teacher classrooms (with very little teacher training), brand new Macbooks for all teachers, switched our entire communication system over to Google Apps and now a class set of iPod Touches on the way. And we’ve barely heard a peep from the normal parade of complaints coming from teachers and students during the time. The Tech Gods must be smiling down on us from cyberspace.

One of the most important changes that has happened is the move over from First Class (Boo!) to Google Apps (Yay!). When I first arrived at this school 2 years ago, I can’t tell you how frustrated I was. I was coming from a leading IT school where we were 1:1 and had cutting edge learning for students. Taking a few steps backwards, I was so frustrated at how difficult it was to communicate with my colleagues and find information. I had to go through a minimum of 14 sub folders to even find the curriculum! Now, with Google Apps, it just oozes collaboration and efficiency. Now, and if you use gmail you will know that emails are threaded conversations and much easier to follow. Google Docs allows for everyone to work off one document and efficiently collaborate together. Students now have Google Sites as their digital porfolios and the learning never stops just because the school bell has rung.

If you are at a school and frustrated with archaic communication systems, I highly recommend that you take a look into Google Apps. Of course, there are plenty of other worthwhile options but Google Apps is free and you have (almost) unlimited storage!

Here’s a quick video of Google Docs for those of you that aren’t familiar: