Chromebooks and education: A perfect match

Summary:Chromebooks are perfect for students of all ages. They're lightweight, sturdy, inexpensive, secure, and fun. What's not to love?

I just finished my review of the Dell Chromebook 11 that Dell targets toward the education market, namely teachers and students. I think that Chromebooks, in general, are good choices for schools. They're lightweight, durable, inexpensive, secure, and fun to use. If you've never used a Chromebook, you need to try one.

Why a Chromebook?

Chromebooks are inexpensive (usually under $400, many under $300, and a few under $250) laptop-type computers that weigh approximately three pounds (3lbs or 1.36kg) and have a limited, browser-based operating system.

But Chromebooks are also very secure. In fact, it's the most secure operating system, according to security expert and the world's most famous hacker, Kevin Mitnick. The security alone is, or should be, its best selling point. (But there are others, which I've outlined in the "What makes Chromebooks attractive to the Education market?" section below.)

How Chromebooks work

To use a Chromebook, you have to have a Google Account. If you don't have one, get one, it's free and easy. Log in to your, or into anyone else's, Chromebook with your Google Account username and password and enjoy your personalized environment. In other words, if you install an app on your Chromebook such as the Dropbox app and then log in to a friend's Chromebook, your apps will appear on that desktop or in the list of apps, just as they do on your Chromebook.

What makes Chromebooks attractive to the Education market?

There are many features and factors that make Chromebooks especially attractive to teachers and students:

  • Price
  • Security
  • Light weight and small form factor
  • Instant On
  • Ease of use
  • Web only applications
  • Personalization
  • Use of peripherals (mice, keyboards, monitors, SD cards, USB devices)
  • Wireless networking
  • Large number of quality applications
  • Multimedia capability
  • Video conferencing
  • Management applications

You might think that those attributes are fairly common with any laptop platform. However, the differences will surprise you.

Price: Chromebooks are inexpensive devices by design.

Security: This is uncommon with other operating systems and mobile platforms unless they're equipped with active firewalls, anti-virus software, anti-malware software, and filesystem encryption. None of those are needed with Chromebooks. The underlying operating system is virus-resistant by design, needing no firewall because there's no network-available attack surface. Filesystem encryption isn't needed because no other user can look at your files. As an added bonus, you can save your files to an external USB disk, SD card, or a cloud-based service. 

Light weight and small size: Chromebooks are generally 11 or 12 inches and weigh about three pounds. Their size and weight makes them perfect for students because they can carry one small lightweight device to and from school and between classes, ruling out the need for standard textbooks.

Instant on: Chromebooks power on as you open them and boot to a login prompt, giving the student more time to work and less time waiting on a system's boot process. Less time booting, means more time learning.

Ease of use: Using a Chromebook is exactly the same as using a browser on any other computer. If you're a web browser user, you're already a Chromebook expert. There are no new buttons to learn, no applications to update, and no viruses to worry about. You never have to worry about losing your settings when you buy a new Chromebook—Just log in and you'll never know that you changed computers.

Web-only applications: Students can't install software onto their Chromebooks. Everything is web-based, which makes the Chromebook agile and safer to use. It's also less frustrating to use for students and teachers. Imagine trying to install an application on 30 computers in a classroom. It's much easier to click an app or type in a URL.

Personalization: When a student logs into a Chromebook—any Chromebook—his personal apps are delivered to the student for a consistent work environment. So no more excuses like the dog ate his homework or if he left it at home. He just has to borrow a Chromebook, log in, and it looks just like his own Chromebook.

Peripherals: Sure, you can use peripherals that make your life easier with laptops but not with tablet computers. You have to use the onscreen keyboard or use a separate keyboard attached via bluetooth. The Chromebook allows you to attach a variety of peripherals including monitors, mice, keyboards, USB disks, SD cards, cameras, printers, and more.

Yes, printers. You can add what Google calls "classic printers" or cloud-ready printers. Plug in a USB printer and your system automatically steps you through the process of setting up a classic printer.

You must setup printers through your network as a cloud-based printer. It's easy to do but you can't print directly to an attached USB printer.

Wireless networking: All Chromebooks come standard with wireless networking. You can attach your system to just about any secured or non-secured wireless network with a few simple clicks. Some Chromebooks also ship with built-in wired networking ports as well, which increases network reliability and bandwidth. You can add a USB-based network adapter to Chromebooks that don't have a built-in wired Ethernet port.

Applications (Apps): Google and third-party vendors offer a variety of web-based apps that duplicate almost every desktop application available today. Word processing, spreadsheets, email, image editing, VPN, cloud storage, remote connectivity, educational apps, games, movies, and more.

Multimedia: Every Chromebook comes equipped with speakers, a camera, and ports for headsets/earbuds/speakers, as well as USB ports for USB multimedia devices.

Video conferencing: Every Google user can take advantage of Google Hangouts, which is a video conferencing service that works very well on the Chromebook. If you'd like to see Google's video conferencing using Chromebooks in action, check out the Practical Chrome Podcast. You can use the service with the built-in speaker and camera or you can add your own peripherals to enhance your experience.

Management applications: Dell has developed a simple, web-based management suite that is especially designed for managing Chromebooks in an educational setting. (Watch for a future post on this.)

Chromebooks for education make sense—economically, physically, securitywise, and in usability. They really marry the best of all worlds for the student and teacher.

Hey, look, I made it through an entire post without any subscripts*.

*Rats!

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Topics: Dell, Cloud, Hardware, Software

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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