Chromebooks and education: A perfect match

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*.


Related Stories:

Topics: Dell, Cloud, Hardware, Software


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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • STILL didn't have any subscripts.

    A superscript though... you did use.
    • Can't beat an obsessive stalker ...

      ... specially when they're off their meds, eh?
      • CBs are not sexy nuf

        ... to attract gals or guys, which is what nowadays (spoiled) kids want from their devices.
  • Thorough article.

    Chromebooks are just what the education market needs.

    Problem for 'the others', is that having used a Chromebook, what student will ever want to go back to a clunky 'ole windows laptop?

    Can't see it myself.
    • The long game

      That has to be the long term plan for Google.
      Whilst it may get numbers of the current working generation onto Chromebooks, think in a generations time when people are coming out of education having used CBs.
    • Problem for Chromebooks...

      The problem for Chromebooks is that parents want the best for their kids and Chromebook ain't it.
      • Didn't you read the article?

        You have failed to address any of the points raised in the article, which is describing the benefits of using Chromebooks as school equipment. More specifically, Chromebooks as a *means* to an end. Do you realise that schools are commoditizing IT now?
  • Calling Owllllnet? I just don't know what to think here.

    Awaiting your insightful thought(s) please.
  • Ok as a thin client

    able to rdp to a terminal server

    Is the vpn as transparent as directaccess is? you can't give a kid a porn machine or expect kids to setup vpn.

    But lets be real, k12 is basically just daycare, so whatever keeps the kids entertained is fine.

    Education is just an afterthought way after the staff and unions get paid/yearly raises, test scores clearly prove this.
  • Chromebooks and education: A perfect match

    Not really. Too many issues with the chromebook since its an internet only device and only runs Google's software. Students will have Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office loaded on their home PCs. These are students and if you want them to learn its going to require a variety of software which cannot be installed. Too many negatives and no positives to using a chromebook when they can get a Microsoft Windows based notebook for just a little bit more but offered much more flexibility on what they can do.
    • Open up your mind

      In Zen Buddhism the concept of Shoshin, or "Beginner’s Mind," teaches us to approach learning with openness and a lack of preconceptions.
    • @Loverock

      Well, when I went to on my Chromebook, I had Outlook, Excel, Word, etc. as web-based tools. And there are a lot of positives. Give me some of the negatives.
      • Negative?

        Well if you are an Engineering or Architecture and etc. student that needs software that only available to PC or Mac..that's one.
      • khess: "Give me some of the negatives"

        Anything Java, including applications and applets via the web browser (Chrome) as Chrome OS does not include Java.

        Java applications aren't exactly unusual. And there are still web sites that require the Java web browser plug-in, including even some banks for online banking.

        Anyone that requires Java should have a desktop/laptop PC running Windows, OS X, GNU/Linux or BSD, all which support Java.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Blackboard requires java

          and most universities run on Blackboard.
          Jason Joyner
    • Hear that, Mr. Davidson ... that is the sound of inevitability

      MS's monopoly lock on office and other functions is fast fading. Your trite arguments should watch this video:

      Simplicity often wins out over flexibility.
  • I like the Acer C720 $199 so much I would have got the touchscreen version

    (the Acer 720P), which I noticed when visiting best buy, in the growing and bustling chromebook section that now has like 5 models. Someone here, L.D. I think said there were "tumbleweeds" in the chromebook section, but I saw just the opposite.

    While the chromebook UI is not specifically designed for touch input (like Metro is) the touchscreen is actually a nice input option to have - games for example, along with the great gesture pad.

    This has replaced an iPad, and I'm finding much more useful, while having the advantage of speed and simplicity over a bloated/"full featured" regular laptop. I also loaded up a SD card with ripped DVDs (that I own, using Handbrake) and it plays those great, something the iPad couldn't do.
  • Dear Ken Hess,

    Why are not Chromeboxes also not a perfect match for education? Especially for schools where the students families cannot afford to provide PCs for their kids. And where the school districts cannot afford to provide PCs for each student.

    Try to imagine a classroom or, perhaps, a few classrooms in a school with Chromeboxes on the desks where students spend a hour or two a day on instruction and projects.

    Chromeboxes get no respect at ZDNet. :)
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Chromeboxes in Libraries

      A pilot project:

      Appears to be quite promising ...
      Rabid Howler Monkey
  • chromebooks for stupid students

    Lets reply on some points :
    1. Price :get a windows notebook for almost the same price or a cheap laptop. It will do whatever almost anything that a laptop can do. Chromebooks looks cheap, but in reality they are very expensive because sooner or later you will need a laptop and you will discover that you spent 200$ for nothing. Its a con
    2. Security : a feature phone is also more secure. A Nokia 3310 is the most secure. A calculator is the most secured chip in the world! its secure because,it do nothing.
    3. Weight : get a tablet then, or be a man dear student and carry 2 pounds more.

    dear student, don't listen to zdnet, a chromebook cant do the following :
    you cant run real office, google docs is not a real office alternative. Even the simple wordpad in windows is better than this.
    you can't run a torrent and download movies and watch them. Youre stacked with stupid youtube funny videos about dogs failing into water
    you cant run 3d games, no gta, no need for speed, only candy crush!
    dear student, don't fall into this con.