Monday, December 2, 2013

Chromebooks or Laptops

We've come to a big crossroads at the Storm Lake Community School District. We've made the committment over the past few years - short of 1:1 - to get as many devices into the hands of students as possible. We've bought into the fact that the Internet really is a source of knowledge far superior to static text or just the knowlege in a teacher's head. This does not mean that textbooks or libraries are useless. It also does not mean that teachers are disposable. Teaching is so much more than rote knowledge afterall. What it means is that students can learn more if they are globally connected, because if we add the online collaborative resources to both books and teachers, we add astronomically to the learning potential of our students.

With that committment, though, comes the dilemma: What is the best device for students? We must weigh many issues - Functionality, battery life, cost, durability, compatibility with what we have, etc. Ultimately, the most important questions we must answer are:

  • What is it that we want students to do with the device?
  • What can students do with the device that they couldn't do without it?
  • How can the device add to the learning experience?

The answer is not simple. Look at any newspaper, and you will see different schools choosing different devices, including schools that are having issues with the device of their choice. However, after much deliberation over the past year, the Storm Lake Community School District is committed at this point in time to Windows based laptops and Chromebooks as the two devices that best suit our student learning needs at a reasonable cost. What's at issue now, though, is that as our laptops start aging out and need replacing, we are faced with new questions:

How many laptops? How many Chromebooks? Do students ever really need a laptop that costs over twice as much as a Chromebook? And if so, why?

Chromebook issues:

  • Microsoft Office: Will Google Apps suffice?
  • Other loaded software: Is there an online alternative?
  • Printing: Can most work be completed and feedback be provided online?
  • Standardized testing: Yes, MAP tests can be given on a Chromebook.
  • Java: How often do students use websites that require Java? Is it necessary or an expendable luxury?

Chromebook advantages:

  • Google based: A definite plus in a Google Apps school like we are
  • Log in time: Seconds rather than minutes
  • Virus protection: Unnecessary
  • Server space: Unnecessary. Store things in the Cloud. Download to device only when you know you'll have no Internet connection.
  • Price: Less than half the price of a laptop
  • Management: Devices can be managed and maintained through the Google domain
  • Operating System: Updates automatically, always up to date
  • Support: Between Google and the very active Chromebooks in education online communities, support is extensive. In addition, several area schools have also chosen Chromebooks as their student device of choice allowing collaborative problem-solving between EdTech Departments.

So, what's the answer? Are Chromebooks sufficient for our students' educational needs? Because if they are, we can buy at least twice as many devices, and that means more students with devices which, as I stated at the outset, is the SLCSD goal.