Google Chromebooks

When I visit classrooms that are using Naiku, one of the most frustrating downsides of laptops and netbooks is the length of time it takes to get the class started.  The machines can take 5-7 disruptive minutes to boot up, find a network, sign in, and open a browser.  This takes precious time away the class period, effectively making them “special event” devices.

Mobile devices are a fantastic counter-point to this problem. When students use their own devices (iPad, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Droid, etc.), most of those students are ready to go in about 30 seconds – a radically different situation.  Google seems to have solved this critical problem with their new “Chromebook.”

I was recently asked what I thought of these devices, and what kind of impact I thought it might have on “devices in the classroom.” [More about Chromebooks in the classroom.] First, I think the 8-second start-up time is a huge win. Also, the price-point (and subscription option) is attractive enough for them to be part of a purchasing discussion.

Not to be overlooked is the other dark-side of devices in the classroom: device administration.  There is an enormous administrative burden of managing 500-1500 laptops. Particularly at a school, where the IT staff (person) might be skilled, but not dedicated. Being able to deploy devices at this magnitude, and centrally manage them all is another win.

I have a few unanswered concerns: is the hardware durable enough?  is the software robust enough?   These computers will get used (!), and they will need to be just as reliable and interactive in year 2 as they were in year 1.  Will there be enough apps?  Convincing a school to move away from a Windows or Mac platform can be made easier if there are compelling application available.

While I think the end-game for devices in the classroom is going to be student’s bringing their own, some schools will find Chromebooks to be a great intermediate step over the next 2-3 years, and a great way to provide equitable access to computing devices for years to come.


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