Crying out for Chromebooks?

November 2013

 

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With schools well-versed in the tablet vs netbook debate, Google have thrown another option into the mix. Touted as cheap, fast and functional, could Google Chromebooks be just what schools are looking for?

Global trends in educational technology show that the tide is ebbing on PCs. The money once spent by schools predominantly on PCs is now being divided between tablets, netbooks, and more recently, Google Chromebooks.

Apple’s iPad still reigns as the tablet device of choice, but experts believe the majority of the edtech market is still up for grabs, and woe betide the fool who discounts Google from putting up a fight.

So what is a Chromebook? For the uninitiated, they are essentially a new type of computer from Google that looks and feels just like a laptop, except they run Chrome OS, an operating system where virtually everything is built in: cloud storage, Google products for education, security, even speed is all built in. They come in a range of models, including Samsung, HP, and Acer. They are not as pretty as the iPad, but they are a lot cheaper, which is their major selling point, along with being fast, portable, easy-to-use, and with a long battery life.

Google has partnered with both Norrcom and Cyclone to provide Chromebooks to New Zealand schools. Norrcom managing director, Paul Norris, describes the partnership as “a big step”.

Leigh Gibbard, Cyclone’s National Schools Sales Manager, says Chromebooks are increasingly seen as the device of choice for many schools, particularly for those who want to pursue a managed 1:1 computing programme.

“Many schools are already using Google’s cloud-based applications and some have embraced devices running the Google Chrome OS,” says Gibbard.

Google and Cyclone are buddying up to deliver a series of roadshows across New Zealand during September to highlight to teachers the benefits of the Google Chromebook for the education sector. They are offering schools a free Chromebook test drive programme where schools are able to try out both a range of Chromebooks , as well as trial Google’s web-based management console, which allows schools to enrol, configure, and manage fleets of student and school-owned Chromebooks.

Such partnerships are evidence of Google’s shrewdness in identifying how it can take advantage of the move towards 1:1 and BYOD computing programmes in schools. It is touting simple manageability and a low cost of ownership as reasons to pick the Chromebooks over competing devices and systems – both appealing considerations for schools.

According to this year’s US National Survey on Mobile Technology for Education, many schools cited affordability as the reason for selecting Chromebooks over more sleek and powerful alternatives. Others have been impressed how quickly and easily they can be set up for students and for their stamina. Apparently, Chromebooks can be turned on in eight seconds and last eight hours. Those who dismissed netbooks for finicky internet connections and a proneness to freezing, and iPads for lack of a keyboard, found Chromebooks to be the Goldilocks alternative – just right.

Also, because the Chrome OS is not a typical operating system, there is nothing for a virus to attach itself to, and many deem the Chrome browser to be one of the most secure browsers around. Chromebooks have also been given the thumbs up for their ability to automatically update themselves.

Interface recently reported Auckland’s Carmel College’s enthusiasm for Chromebooks. After considering a range of alternatives including Apple iPads, netbooks, and Android tablets to roll out its 1:1 programme, the school eventually opted for the Chromebook based on a successful trial and its low cost. It was also a good fit as the school had already been using Google Apps for Education.

Of course, it is not always such an easy fit, especially if schools use Windows applications or if they may need to access education web applications that require Java, which is not supported by Chromebooks. While some suggest abandoning Windows altogether, others have recommended alternative solutions such as using products like Ericom AccessNow, an HTML5 RDP solution that enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host and run Windows applications or desktops in a browser tab. This allows an Internet Explorer session to be run inside a Chrome browser tab, thereby allowing applications that require Java to be run on the Chromebook.

And so the struggle for market share of the edtech market, with all its promise of BYOD and 1:1, continues, with the big players thrashing it out. For the consumer ─ in this case, the schools ─ it really is a case of deciding what suits their ICT strategies and budgets best. Chromebooks demand consideration, if nothing else.


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