Chromebook for Education? Home?

Is Chromebook a worthwhile purchase for schools, parents, and educators? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Last night at PTO, we discussed purchasing a laptop for the group’s use, particularly to store documents centrally and to print from the school instead of using home printers (and not everyone has one).

Then they mentioned that all the seventh graders in our school district had been sent home this year with Chromebooks. I volunteered to research whether the Chromebook would be a good option to purchase for PTO. For fellow educators, I’m also going to review its potential use for education and for home offices.

Teacher in classroom with middle school kids and Chromebooks
Photo source: “Chromebooks Rollout – Gibson” by flickr user Kevin Jarrett

PTO REVIEW

Our criteria were:

  1. Store files in a central location,
  2. Purchase only one version of software (particularly for accounting), and
  3. Print to the school printers instead of home printers.

Chromebook fails all three tests.

First of all, it has very minimal storage. You have to use Google Drive to store files used on Chromebook.

We could either not use Google Drive and use a flash drive, or start using Google Drive to store all files without having to purchase the Chromebook hardware.

The lack of storage also causes its failure on the second point, as you have to run apps, not software. There is not even a disk drive if you wanted to install a CD. That said, accounting software like Quickbooks now often offer web-based versions, and much software is now downloaded from the web. But there are serious security issues with using web-based apps and cloud storage for sensitive data.

Third, Chromebook is notorious for NOT being able to print to what Google calls “classic printers.” In other words, you can’t just plug in a cord or search for a printer on the server and download the driver. Again, Chromebook doesn’t have the storage. You have to use apps like Google Cloud Print or HP ePrint. If your printer isn’t compatible with Cloud Print, too bad.

Then again, printers tend to be just glorified ink cartridge holders, so it doesn’t cost a ton to upgrade the printer itself for home or single office use (says the woman who refused to buy a new printer for five years). But we can’t expect the school to upgrade all its printers to cloud print compatible just for PTO.

So I’m going to report that Chromebook is not a good fit for PTO. However, I will explain the process for converting files to Google Docs so at least everyone can use the same format without purchasing the latest Microsoft Office Suite.

MIDDLE SCHOOL REVIEW

Chromebook seems to be JUST RIGHT for the middle school kids and teachers in our district.

Chromebooks are typically priced under $400 with way more functionality than netbooks a few years ago. It might be an adjustment, especially for teachers, because the app-based system operates similar to tablets.

For schools with tight budgets, most versions of Chromebook are much cheaper than the iPad. Chromebooks actually have a keyboard, which is very important for student writing, and a USB port, unlike iPad. On top of that, apps in Google Play tend to be less expensive or free compared to the Apple App Store.

The trick is to purchase a Chromebook with enough battery life. The cheapest Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer have as little as 3.5 hours battery life to start. You don’t want the computer to shut down in the middle of the lesson, or force all students to sit near an outlet. There is even a high-end Chromebook that comes with significant storage, but in that price range you might as well purchase a laptop.

Chromebook keyboard
Photo source: “Samsung 4G Chromebook by YES 4G 182” by flickr user Vernon Chan

I was very excited for netbooks a few years ago, and then later tablets, but felt neither lived up to their promise. They were too lightweight to use all day in a classroom. I know many programs have had success particularly with iPad, but I’m actually not a big fan of touchscreens (or touchpads, for that matter).

Our students need keyboarding skills. Full QWERTY keyboards have persisted for a reason, and I think the Chromebook signals the marriage of app-based OS to old school five-fingered word processing.

In summary: Chromebook is cheaper than iPad with cheaper apps, and still has a keyboard and USB port. Yay.

If you have experience using either Chromebook or iPad in classrooms, please comment with your thoughts.

WORKING FROM HOME REVIEW

After my research, particularly this review on Living with Chromebook, I am consider purchasing a Chromebook to work from home.

Here’s something you should know about me: I’m both geeky and cheap about new technology. For example, right now I’m doing all my work on a three year old desktop with no plans to upgrade. I had the same smartphone for almost four years. My last printer lasted five years and the only reason I got rid of it was because it wouldn’t work with Windows 8 (worst OS ever!).

I like to know what’s new on the edtech market, but I am very hesitant to purchase. I did splurge on a Nexus 7 tablet a year or two ago, and found it absolutely useless for work. I thought it would be perfect for conferences and meetings, but I haven’t found an external keyboard that works. Okay, actually I only found one that didn’t work, and I refused to buy another one because I’m cheap.

Despite being Android OS, using Google Docs offline and syncing was a total challenge. And when I’ve tried to play Angry Birds or Simpsons Tapped Out, it regularly crashes the system. So I basically use it to browse Facebook or watch YouTube videos and that’s all.

However, I live out of Google Apps and HP ePrint. Because I’m already “in the cloud,” Chromebook would let me get away from my desktop more often without plunking down the full price of a laptop.

I still don’t think purchasing a laptop is worthwhile, as need my heavy-duty desktop to use educational publishing software like the newly-released Articulate Storyline 2. Even though I can theoretically use my tablet for products like Adobe Creative Cloud or to write blog posts here at WordPress.com, I prefer the desktop set up with the big screen, mouse, and detached keyboard for creative projects.

Did I mention touchpads drive me crazy?

I think Chromebook might be a worthwhile purchase, but what about you? Is it worth it for working from home? What about the classroom? Please chime in and let me know your thoughts.


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