Envision Schools has been working closely with Google since the summer of 2011. Google was gracious enough to provide us with the Chromebooks we needed to start our pilot project with Khan Academy, and they have continued to provide us with this resource and the support that is needed to manage and maintain them. Because of this long standing relationship, and the learning that has accrued as a result, I will focus my review on the Chromebook.
There are many reasons why this device is such a well-designed tool for schools specifically. To start with, they are inexpensive and can come with a lease agreement that means they can be replaced at anytime with no extra cost. Because kids are not always the most careful, this can save schools and IT departments both time and money. The Chromebook starts up in about 5 seconds and can hold its charge for almost 8 hours. What this means is that no class time is lost and there is never an issue with kids having to move their seat to sit near a plug. For my readers who are in the classroom I can hear your excitement as I write this. It truly is amazing and makes using the technology actually about content instead of logistics.
So that trade off for the wonder mentioned above is that the Chromebook is not a computer. It really only does one thing, it connects the student with their web. I say “their” because once they log in they have access to their bookmarks, mail, docs, drive, anything that is personalized to them on the web.
This can be a challenge for teachers who are used to using specific software programs and do not know if there is a web-based equivalent. As my readers from last year may remember, when we were working on the Upside Down Academy project we spent a long time trying to find online video editing tools, and setting up the Chromebooks so that they could records video. For more detail on the project read this post. In the end we found adequate work arounds and were able to produce the products that we wanted.
Now I know it does not sound encouraging, “oh they found a work around,” sounds like a lot of time and confusion. In some cases it can be, but I also see this as a new form of 21st century lesson planning. As teachers, we must constantly stay abreast of the new tools that are being created in our domain areas because the reality is that everyday there is something new. I personally have encountered so many interesting new tools, such as Desmos, Educreations, Manga High, noredink, and talktyper just to name a few, while looking for solutions to other problems. These tools are now part of my ansenal.
There have been a few limitations. For example, I have yet to find a science based web-site that can compete with Phet. The unfortunate thing about the Chromebooks is that they can not run simulations such as Phet which require any downloads. However, I know that it is only a matter of time and it may even already exist. I trust that any readers who know of such a tools will do us all the huge favor of posting it in the comments so that we all may benefit from your amazing find. In fact that goes for any web-based tools that I have not mentioned.
Last week I went to Google to meet with some of the other district leaders who are contemplating, and in some cases have already started, using Chromebooks in the classroom. We talked a lot about implementation, teacher professional development, technical jargon, and how Google apps compare to others. The quote of the day was “we aren’t going one-to-one, we are going one-to-web” (a Google original) and this resonated and reverberates still in my brain. In education we talk a lot about equity, and especially when it comes to technology the divide can seem dramatic. But if all students have personalized web spaces, and tools for learning are web-based, their sense of access and ownership is not connected to a specific device (and potential lack thereof) but is ubiquitous and untethered.