A Chrome Notebook is on the way - and so is a new approach to 1:1

Christmas is coming early to the Dawson household - A Chrome notebook is on its way and my number 1 task is to evaluate just how well (or how poorly) it meets educational needs.

Well apparently that old adage about "ask and ye shall have" is right. At least when it comes to bloggers getting Chrome notebooks. Larry Dignan already got his, but it looks like mine will be coming in the mail later this week. Unfortunately, I don't get to be in the pilot program, but that was a crapshoot anyway. Now I just get to blog to my heart's content about the notebook and its position in all of the markets it can touch.

Google is especially bullish about the notebooks in the enterprise and education. The latter is where my real interest lies. As I wrote last night over on the Google blog,

My first thought? This is how 1:1 student computing is going to look for schools that don’t decide to go the tablet route. Combined with Google Apps for Education (a free version of Google Apps for educational institutions), the notebooks stand to be priced and featured in ways that scream for schools to adopt this as a platform.

Tablets are great and I'm all about finding ways to co-opt kids' phones. Thin clients work well and save money using any number of underlying technologies. However, a computer with a full-sized keyboard, a decent-sized screen, no access to the inner workings of the computer, and complete leveraging of the cloud to ensure that dogs can never again eat homework sounds like a machine made for schools.

Just think: No more reimaging. No more backups or disaster recovery. No more Office licensing. No more, "Sorry the Internet's down - put away your computers" (100MB a month of Verizon 3G is included for emergencies or times when Wifi isn't available. And all those great sites for collaboration, social learning, and student-teacher interaction? Just post links to them on a Google Site and kids are right there.

Of course, this also means that schools won't be installing Photoshop or Autocad on these machines. Desktop applications, whether Windows, Mac, or Linux won't be happening. There will always be places where more flexibility is needed and specialized computer labs or standard notebooks aren't going away.

However, as I discussed with a reader tonight, hardware and software applications are becoming far less important in educational technology, while the "platform" becomes critical. Whether that platform is Google Apps, a great LMS, a well-designed wiki farm, or a fully integrated SIS (or some combination thereof), all you really need is the Web.

Chrome delivers that.

What remains to be seen is how these machines will be managed (at least in terms of what little management needs to be done), how users will respond to a new interface (both physical and on-screen), and whether critical skills for students can be fully addressed in only a web browser. Do students need to know how to use a word processor? What if their college or future place of business isn't running business applications in the cloud?

It looks like Citrix will be stepping up and providing Windows application virtualization compatible with Chrome OS, so some of these questions might be moot. I'm inclined to believe that all our students need to know how to do is think, seek out information, synthesize and process it, and then use it, preferably with their peers.

A long-term test of the Chrome Notebook (fingers crossed that it will be here tomorrow), working its way through my kids and their teachers, librarians, techs, and other edu-geeks, will give us a clearer picture of what, if anything, students might be missing by relying on 1:1 devices for the cloud. Where will specialized labs need to fill in gaps? How strong is the value proposition and how do web apps evolve for use in the classroom? We'll find out over the next several months.

And any schools/teachers who manage to make it into the pilot, make sure to share your experiences!

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