In one stroke they’ve got a solution that solves all of those irritating problems, fiscal, technical and pedagogic, that plagues tablet projects. Chromebooks have quick start-up times, are robust, secure, use a cloud based approach that makes delivery of services and content easy and provides good analytics. At last a country that understands procurement and puts learning needs above shiny objects. I fly there this week, so hope to report back in more detail, but here’s a starting primer.
Chromebooks are thin, lightweight devices with physical keyboard. This is important in terms of learning productivity, as one can type 20% faster than touchscreen, with less errors, and do far more sophisticated work on essays, coding, pixel accurate graphics tools etc. than tablet devices allow. (see end of post)
The advantage of a low-cost Chromebook is that it boots quickly, connects immediately, is browser-based using the internet and cloud, rather than difficult to manage local storage and apps. This gets both students and teachers into productive learning quickly and life is a lot easier in terms of delivery, tracking, assessment, data and security (virus protection is built in). Remember that this is cloud storage, avoiding local data on the devices, making them much easier to manage and maintain.
Cloud-based design means access anywhere, anytime from any device and with Google Apps, you’re not buying licenses for Microsoft and other software. Students and teachers use Google Apps for email, calendar, documents, data, and much more. As all docs and data are in the cloud, you don’t have to worry about storage and backups, and OS updates happen automatically every time you switch it on. Your school does NOT need servers! Even of a Chromebook is lost, stolen or broken, no learning data is lost. Focus on WIFI and you have your comms sorted (note that Chromebooks can also have 3G add-ons for mobile network access).
IDC comparative research showed that Chromebooks would save $1135 for each device, as they take 69% less time to deploy and 92% less time to manage. The per-device costs come out at $7.75 per month over three years. This gives considerable costs savings when compared to tablets, desktop PCs and laptops. You can, of course, expect these costs to fall, making it easier to move to one device per teacher and student.
The good thing about this research is that it really did look at productivity in terms of real teacher and administration salary costs in relation to support and classroom downtime. None of the woolly ‘survey-monkey’ qualitative stuff we get from UK tablet trials.
Importantly, the research showed that the devices were highly reliable and reduced expensive teaching and administration time by 82%. This was important as there were often zero help-desk calls and minimal calls on support across the projects. Above all, there was no need to worry about redesign and realignment of existing systems and no problems with losing files. All of this leads to more time on learning and less on dealing with and fire-fighting IT issues.
The downside is that Chromebooks do not run Windows, so if you have Windows apps, you may think you’re in trouble. Fear not, Google provide Windows virtualisation. Internet dependent devices need adequate and robust wifi, as the applications need to be run online. This can be a problem if the network is interrupted or fails. Fear not, Chromebooks cache work so that you can continue until the connection comes back. You do, however, have to invest in wifi to match use.
The advantages for teachers are that the devices start up quickly, are easy to use and require little support allowing teachers to teach and learners to learn. In one UK school, James Wilding explains that they rolled out an enlightened, cloud-based solution as follows:
Teachers first - 3 months to bed down the tech and allow the teachers to adjust
Students next – 3 months
Curriculum provision – 6 months to build –up expertise, habits, processes and effect change management
I say ‘enlightened, as this seems like a sensible approach based on change management, not device dumps. The excellent Ian Nairn, of c-learning. tells me of a school who have ditched their expensive tablets for Chromebooks and the cloud.
This is big news. I also think it is good news. A procurement based on a strong fiscal case, a real detailed analysis of the technology and long-term support, as well as the idea that pedagogy should be in the driving seat. Free and low cost solutions on any device is what cloud-based learning offers. Google Search, Google Docs, Wikipedia, Khan Academy, email, calendars, blogger – the list goes on and on. I’ll report back from Malaysia next week.
Other posts on tablets: