Today, I got the opportunity to spend the day at Google Austin. My school was given the opportunity to learn more about Chromebooks and their potential in the classroom. Such an amazing opportunity. First and foremost, it was exciting to visit Google. We’ve all heard about it – it’s a magical place of rainbows and unicorns, dogs wander the halls, hipsters wander the halls, and the food is amazing. Finally getting into the halls of the famed charmed company some myths were dispelled – others reaffirmed. I didn’t see any rainbows or unicorns – perhaps they hide them from visitors in the ‘special room.’ No dogs either – a little disappointing as I was hoping to get my puppy fix. However, the food story is in fact true – we were fed in the Google dining room. Ohh… my… gosh… the food was organic, lean, fresh veggies and fruit abounded – and I got my caffeine fix. I was also given a bag of schwag – a chrome colored lanyard with my name on it proves that I did in fact attend. Ironically, I was also given a paper notebook and a ball point pen.
The purpose of our visit was to check out Chromebooks as well as to network with educators employing Google Apps (and Chromebooks) in their classroom. If you are unfamiliar with Chromebooks, they are a new hardware platform being marketed by Google. They are a hardware platform solely dedicated to accessing web apps – specifically, Google’s online suite of applications. They are very new, inexpensive, and promote the idea that applications are moving to entirely online.
There is no doubt that was Google is doing is impressive. I use a lot of Google Applications (and have written about their educational applications). There are definitely some plus and minuses about the Chromebook platform.
- Very fast start up (8 seconds)
- Same experience regardless of machine – student just needs to be able to access Chrome
- Ready access to a suite of free and practice applications – word processing, presentation, video, graphing calculators, and more
- Storage of all materials on the web – fewer excuses for ‘forgetting homework at home’)
- Access to the internet via WiFi and 3G
- No licensing fees
- Readily applicable to schools with limited or no IT services – managed by Google
- Phone support
- Less initial investment
- Management platform
- Secure start-up
- Overal financial investment comparable to a other hardware purchase
- Limited off-line capabilities – a particular concern in Texas as we have a lot of 3G black-out areas
- Limited ‘heavy duty’ computing – video or audio editing seems limited
- Limited multi-tasking (same issue with iPads or other tablets)
- Management platform and education pricing dependent on three year purchase agreement and does not permit individual ownership.
- Apple-addicts like myself are left in the cold – no iTunes!!
My overall perception of Chromebooks is that they have a lot of potential and can work effectively in the right context. It does seem to require a universal roll-out to be effective in an educational environment and I am not quite comfortable with the all-online platform. However, if your staff largely uses computer technology for traditional projects (Word Processing, Presentations, email, online research, etc) then it can be a cost-effective and flexible option. It is definitely worth a look.