Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

Summary: Chromebooks have gotten mixed reviews by the general tech press, but in schools, these devices make for quite a story.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Google
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I've had the opportunity to speak over the last couple of weeks with some of the early pilot districts using Google Chromebooks in K12 settings. Now that Chromebooks are officially on sale, both commercially and to schools, the real question is whether these will be on your school's or district's summer purchase and hardware refresh list.

If you talk to Rachel Wente-Cheney, CIO for education in Crook County School District in Oregon, there is little doubt that their Chromebook pilot was not only a resounding success but that they will find a way to continue the program with commercially available Chromebooks. In fact, her excitement is so infectious, one can't help but feel the need to drum up donations and apply for grants to make sure that your own kids have Chromebooks in their schools.

As she described an educational IT rollout done right (superb professional development, teacher and student ownership, you name it), it's clear that, with the right support, devices like the Chromebook start coming pretty close to the Holy Grail of Ed Tech and 1:1. Integrated throughout the curricula at a middle and high school in her district, the instant-on, long battery life, and focus on Web-based collaboration and content creation meant that students and teachers felt immediate benefits during the pilot program.

Talking to David Fringer, district CIO for Council Bluffs, Iowa, painted a different, but equally compelling picture of the little devices. Again, extensive professional development eased the machines nicely into Thomas Jefferson High School, but there were too few machines to institute a 1:1 program. Mr. Fringer and the TJHS faculty developed innovative ways for most students to be able to use the computers in powerful ways that simulated 1:1 in particular classes and during especially useful curricular focus areas. Avoiding the use of the machines as mere "lab computers" as often happens when full 1:1 can't be achieved, students were able to work across departments and classes in the sorts of teams that students might not experience until they hit the workforce.

One consideration that Mr. Fringer brought up was ROI. As he noted, he could buy 2 netbooks for every Chromebook at their $20/month subscription cost. Adding those netbooks to their existing investments in netbooks would put them much closer to their ideal of 1:1 computing. He and his faculty and staff were still considering whether the higher cost was outweighed by the very low maintenance costs and incredibly easy management. As he explained, it didn't even matter which Chromebook students used; because they were tied to their Google Apps domain, all of a student's work was immediately available, regardless of what machine he or she used and without any backend work on the part of the IT department.

I've reviewed the Chromebooks extensively and have been universally impressed. The educational possibilities in a school willing to hang its hat on Google's cloud and embrace a collaborative approach to education are quite extraordinary. Add to that Google's Web-based management tools and the ability to dispense with re-imaging and regular upgrades and maintenance to potentially hundreds or thousands of machines and it gets very hard to dismiss Chromebooks in educational applications. In fact, I would argue that education in general (and 1:1 in particular) is the number one use case for Google's latest foray into personal computing.

I'll talk more about the management tools I mentioned above as soon as I can get my hands on them. However, from the discussions I had with Google product managers on the topic, it's going to be very easy to handle everything from security to application management, all from a single free console. We'll see if adoption is widespread enough to make this a real game-changer. However, I think it's safe to say that it should be a game-changer in Ed Tech. This isn't just my Google fanboi nonsense. A light, durable machine with a battery that lasts all day and an Internet connection that is instantly available, all for around $20 a month (they're available on subscription plans) with management and maintenance facilities that exceed anything else out there is nothing to sneeze at, regardless of who designed it.

Topics: Mobility, Google

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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44 comments
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  • My school...

    don't need one such toy.
    We prefer tools like a real PC.
    cym104
    • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

      @cym104 That's what my friends used to call my Mac. Then they saw the light and now they swear by them. I didn't even do the fanboi thing. I just worked away while they fought malware, adware, troyans and all the cohort of malfunctions that their real Windows machines suffered.
      marcomar
    • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

      @cym104
      But apparently they need better English classes that teach subject verb agreement.
      DeusXMachina
    • Windows 'R us!

      @cym104

      What, you mean like a Windows PC so you can play games on it?
      Mah
  • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

    Not at these prices! From '3 feet back' it looks like a normal computer, kids don't respond differently. This is no 'iPad' (and no matter what anyone here thinks - kids respond well to the iPad).

    Does it help that the system is sluggish and more than a bit buggy?

    This seems like a 'game changer' but it needs to be cheap, and it needs to feel less compromised. Maybe in a few revisions time...
    jeremychappell
    • Chromebooks ARE a lot cheaper, more reliable, and faster.

      @jeremychappell
      You have got it completely wrong man. Chromebooks are a hell of a lot cheaper than Windows PC for schools and business because they are stateless zero maintenance devices.

      $425 is cheap for a device unless you are comparing it with netbooks, which are painfully slow with a cramped screen and keyboard. Chromebooks cost about a quarter of the price of Windows PCs overall because of this. The killer cost with Windows in schools and businesses is labour for desktop support and maintenance which is very high in schools. The reliability of Windows PCs in schools is very poor as well - if you go to any school, you will find most Windows PC have been tampered with in terms of configuration, and a large proportion can't be used at any given time. This can't happen with Chromebooks.

      As far as performance is concerned, Chromebooks are faster than netbooks or similar priced laptops because they don't run Windows, which has higher hardware requirements than Chrome OS, so Chrome OS runs faster on the same hardware than Windows - a fact that many Windows columnists fail to grasp. Those who have actually used the Chromebook report that it is similar in performance for web browsing to high end Windows laptops and Mac Airbooks costing twice as much. Of course a web browser is all that Chrome OS will run locally, so there is no point comparing how fast Chromebooks will run Photoshop or video editing software locally is there?
      Mah
  • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

    " I think it?s safe to say that it should be a game-changer in Ed Tech. "

    What a ludicrous nonsense...

    Most $500 range laptops released since May 2011 have a battery life of 8 plus hours and is light and durable. These are not selling points anymore

    What actually matter is the what it could do. PC/laptops can chew anything thown into it. What could a Chrome book do ? basically not much.

    The Education industry is not run by idoits, so its a simple guess where these ill-fated product will end up.
    owlnet
    • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

      @owlnet
      That is a bit harsh. For the education sector, where you want to keep things as simple as possible and not let the students mess with the OS or install their own software (and malware), it does make some sense.

      That said, a cheap laptop with Chrome Browser installed offers more for less money.

      From a TCO viewpoint, it might make some sense in education, for a private individual or small business, probably not.
      wright_is
      • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

        @wright_is
        I don't think owlnet's statement is too harsh. The items he pointed out are being listed as selling points.

        Is the Chromebook a game-changer, sort of like the Apple I. It's a wonderful proof of concept.

        The education sector, and I do work in the education sector, states "we want it simple, we want it to work" but they also want Smart software, and accountability software, and so on.

        For our schools, this would be the beginning of a review process. Chromebook doesn't support how we currently do business, so we have to change infrastructure, and business needs to meet this unit's criteria.

        This reminds me of the Terminal Servers of old (and virtual machines of today). The ability to load a virtual machine on them would actually make them a better option. That way I could maintain the OS and access the way I wanted it.

        It is a great idea, I don't think it is fleshed out enough.
        WmTConqror
    • Chromebooks are top on battery life.

      @owlnet
      Most Windows laptops have a battery life of 2.5 hours to 6 hours if they are continuously used. Many quote a battery life of up to 10 hours. If you actually go and read the product reviews, you will find that 10 hours means 10 hours switched on but not running any applications and with the screen dimmed. When you run applications continuously, that drops to 4.5 hours or so. The 8.5 hours quoted for the Samsung Chromebook is 8.5 hours of typical continuous use for applications. The only Windows or Mac laptops that can get close to Chromebooks are the very high end machines that cost twice as much, and even then they only get to about 6.5 hours of real continuous use.

      The reason for this is of course that Windows is much heavier on CPU resources than Chrome OS, requiring both a more powerful CPU for equivalent performance, and utilising the CPU to a greater extent.
      Mah
  • This is a great day Chris

    More choice brought to you by Google and Linux.

    If we didn't have Google, Linux, how little would have changed.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate

      Please stop confusing Google and Linux. Linux is Open Source; by the people, for the people. Google is spyware; spy on the people to make money from their private information.
      jorjitop
      • Please stop confusing yourself

        @jorjitop
        This yet another opportunity for more SKUs of products which have at their core, Linux.

        Google have at their core, Linux and are opening up choice with Android, Chromebook.

        Microsoft had their day. It is now time for change, and the market is responding.

        Linux will prevail. Google will continue to provide choice.

        Hope you understand better.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate
      • You are correct, jorjitop

        @jorjitop
        You must understand that Mr. Schmitz has nothing against limited choice or vendor lock in, as long as it is the platform he supports that you are locked into to, limited to the choices that a company like Google feels you should have.

        Microsoft will still be the major player here as thet have a more robust and expandable platform that that of Google.

        The issue here is that people like Mr. Schmitz have a hard time capitolizing on that system given the competition in that field, so backing a limited and closed system like ChomeOS is more benificial to him then it would be to his end users.

        :|
        Tim Cook
    • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate

      It hasn't changed. It's a mainframe approach with smart terminals with applications of limited functionality and a response time that makes the old mainframes look good.

      Been there, done that.
      tonymcs@...
    • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate Very little has changed, except for Apple. Between the two, Apple and microsoft, they own the consumer use market. Smartphones may change that, but I doubt it. Linux has made great changes in the server markets and gadget. Chromebook is a gadget with no future.
      hayneiii@...
  • It's not a real choice

    Chromebook is a crippled tool that reduces your available toolsets. What university would tell its students to buy a thin client at a greater price than a laptop with an AMD Fusion processor? What university would tell its students to buy the tool that gives you fewer choices?

    Chromebooks are a solution to a problem that does not exist.
    Your Non Advocate
    • " a problem that does not exist"

      @facebook@...

      Windows issues- a short list
      1) Unreliability
      2) Very maintenance intensive and expensive to maintain
      3) Expensive to purchase
      4) Endless forced upgrades
      5) Endless security problems


      These are the reasons Chromebook has such an excellent chance to succeed- there are so many problems and issues with Windows systems- and Chromebook may be able to effectively address many of those very serious, expensive, and aggravating deficiencies.
      dfolk2
      • RE: Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

        @dfolk2 I do not know if you read the news lately, but those are mostly Android issues as *ix after *ix server and open source web servers is attacked by Lulsec.

        Microsoft has developed a rich ecosystem to address these issues. Nothing on your list is relevant or pertinent to modern Windows deployments or mature IT departments.
        Your Non Advocate
        • @Your Non Advocate

          I agree that Android and iPads require significantly more provisioning, maintenance and support staff and costs than Chromebooks, but they still require less than Windows laptops. This is why Google is pushing Chromebooks rather than Android for schools.

          You obviously know nothing about the realities of cost and issues Windows desktop provisioning, maintenance and support in real world businesses and educational institutions. All the points listed are relevant and pertinent in current day business and educational deployments today.

          The schools that deployed completed large scale 1:1 Chromebook deployments and compared them to their previous deployment of Windows laptops found that the TCO for Chromebooks was 30% of that for Windows laptops. They also found that in most cases, lack of sufficient numbers of available IT staff to manage Windows desktops and servers would make 1:1 deployment of Windows laptops non-viable.
          Mah