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Why Chromebooks?

Teacher Helping a Students Use a Laptop

As some might expect, choosing a device for our 1:1 Technology Initiative has been no small task. When making a decision that will cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars, as many factors as possible must be considered. It must be emphasized that when researching devices for our 1:1 program, the focus of our research was on student learning, not necessarily the technology. Supporting student learning is the primary goal and a non-negotiable factor of our 1:1 program. In light of this principle, the following questions were asked in determining what kind of device we wanted at Ballard:

  • How easy and safe is the device to use?
  • What kind of technical staff support will we need for the chosen device?
  • How easy or difficult is it to manage at least 400 of these devices?
  • How long is the battery life?
  • How effective is the device at creating “educational products” such as papers, presentations, videos, and other potential assignments?
  • How effective is the device at empowering students to collaborate both within the same room and out in cyberspace?
  • How easily will the device integrate with current curriculum teacher’s use?
  • How easily will the device integrate with the current teacher technological skill-set?
  • Does the device meet the needs of students in terms of how much computing power it provides?
  • What has the experience been for other schools who use the same device?
  • What kind of software is available for the device?
  • How much will this device, accompanying accessories, and supporting technology cost both now and in the future?

After extensive research, the device of choice for Ballard is the Dell Chromebook 11, which is produced for integration with Google Apps. This decision was out of the following pool of devices: PC laptops, Netbooks, iPads, PC Tablets, the Kindle Fire, and the Microsoft Surface. We found that the traditional laptop would have been cost prohibitive when computer hardware, software, management software and additional staffing needs were considered. The start-up cost of such a program would have ranged from $300,000 to $500,000 (and maybe even more, depending on the hardware and software options). Additionally, most students would not use the “horsepower” that a laptop provides, dramatically calling into question the cost-benefit of such an investment. Yet, with our existing laptop carts and computer labs, we can still meet
the demands of intense computing with less cost. We eliminated the PC Tablets, Kindle Fire, and Microsoft Surface based on the superiority and the more prevalent use of the Chromebook and iPad (and therefore more proven device) in the tablet market. The Chromebook came on the scene later in our research, and offered a number of interesting benefits which are outlined below. The following gives specifics as to why we have chosen the Chromebook.

How easy and safe is the device to use?

The Chromebook is an intuitive device and students will not have a problem with it, especially after our formal training. Other schools who use Chromebooks have not reported students having difficulties using these devices. Since the Chromebook automatically updates and viruses are non-existent, it is a much simpler device to protect from malware than the traditional laptop. Although there is not a way to install filtering software on the Chromebook (as it is a “connected device”) there are filtering options that we already have installed on our network that will ensure the Chromebooks are filtered at Ballard and at home.

What kind of technical staff support will we need for the chosen device?

After talking to other schools and piloting our current Chromebook cart, we have determined that we will need to add at least one personnel to our IT staff to help with Chromebook management. We are looking at adding 1 FTE the next fiscal year, and possibly more as we add additional Chromebooks in year three.

How easy or difficult is it to manage at least 400 of these devices?

After talking to numerous schools who have implemented Chromebooks, it seems that the device is highly
dependable. The defect rate at one school was 0.05%. Five out of 1,000 Chromebooks were defective upon
shipment and only one of them was truly “broken.” Each time I talk to an IT person and ask the question “What are some problems you have had with the Chromebook?” the response has been that there really have not been any problems

If a teacher wants us to add an online service to the Chromebook for class, we can hop onto a computer, click a few buttons, and it is available for students the next time they login. This is a far cry from iPad installation and distribution, which is far more time consuming. This was further confirmed in a recent telephone conversation with a school that just recently deployed 500 Chromebooks. They informed us that they spend more time managing an iPad cart of 30 iPads than they do all of their Chromebooks.

How long is the battery life?

The Chromebook battery life is 7-10 hours which is sufficient for a school day. The student simply logs in and has access to all of his/her cloud-based documents and programs.

How effective is the device at creating “educational products” such as papers, presentations, videos, and other potential assignments?

The Chromebook primarily uses Google tools for productivity. Students can easily create papers, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and drawings on Google Drive and effortlessly submit them to teachers. On top of that there are a numerous educational apps and education websites that allow students to produce everything from movies to graphic design projects. These tools, combined with file management ease and a built-in keyboard (which is still considered by many as the primary input device in our world today), make the Chromebook a better choice in terms of productivity.

How effective is the device at empowering students to collaborate both within the same room and out in cyberspace?

Google has built a significant part of its identity around the idea of collaboration and sharing. Setting up a group project for students within Google is a simple process, again reinforcing the idea of purchasing a Google device. On top of that, the Chromebook can easily take advantage of other web-based collaborative tools such as Prezi. The Chromebook is also Flash-enabled (this plugin also automatically updates, which is currently a huge bonus) allowing students access to more websites than the iPad. Flash is on the way out, but still impacts our school as many teachers still access Flash-enabled websites. As dynamic as the iPad is and although they have made recent improvements, there is no question that it is designed as a highly individualized device, and collaboration is not quite as easy as it is on the Chromebook.

How easily will the device integrate with current curriculum teacher’s use?

For the past two years I have informally surveyed teachers to see how they use technology in the classroom and therefore, how it integrates with their curriculum. At least three quarters of the teachers responded that they use technology primarily for papers, presentations, collaborative projects, and internet research. The
Chromebook easily meets these curriculum requirements. Additionally, the Chrome store has many web-based services that can enhance and support our current curriculum.

How easily will the device integrate with the current teacher technological skill-set?

One of the benefits of the gradual technological integration approach we have used at Ballard over the past five years is that our teachers are fully prepared to take on almost any device that we give the students. Coupled with a few training sessions, the introduction of the Chromebook should be a rather easy process. Although teachers do not have Chromebooks, they all have the Chrome browser, which is almost exactly like having a Chromebook. Therefore, teachers will have time to acclimate to the Chrome browser (if they have not already) in addition to getting to know it during our training sessions.

Does the device meet the needs of students in terms of how much technology it provides?

One reason that the Chromebook is much less expensive than a typical laptop and even an iPad is that it is
mainly an internet browser. There is a limited amount of local storage and it is possible to create documents
and presentations locally on the computer, but most work is done online. The downside to this reality is the
event of not having internet access. However, this is an extremely rare, and the positives of the Chromebook far outweigh the possibility of not having WiFi. There is free WiFi everywhere – coffee shops, restaurants, and local libraries are just a few places a student could go if internet access is unavailable at home.

By having everything on the Cloud, work is automatically saved and rarely lost. If students lose their
Chromebooks, they can log into a new one and everything will be there…links and work will not be lost.
Additionally, having a Chromebook will force students to use Google Apps, which are great tools for the
education world. Also, the collaborative nature of Google supports our desire to hone this 21st century skill.
The Chromebook is not as powerful as a traditional laptop, but provides everything that a student needs to be successful in school. Ballard will continue to have other devices available for high powered computer classes such as Video Production, 3D CAD drawing, Engineering, and Science classes.

What has the experience been for other schools who use the same device?

When I have asked other schools the straightforward question, “What has been the biggest problem with
Chromebooks?” They typically have answered that they have not had any problems with the Chromebooks,
only with their infrastructure, which they quickly remedied. No technology is infallible, and, like any device,
there are limitations and quirks that we will need to work out. But overall Chromebooks are quickly developing a reputation as a very dependable device. Additionally, reports from teachers and students at these schools has been overwhelmingly positive.

What kind of software is available for the device?

The Chromebook is similar to the iPad in that there is an app store (called the Chrome Web Store) which has
thousands of apps and “extensions” available. There is a strong educational app presence that other schools are using. When Gilbert Schools was asked how much they spend on apps per year, they responded, “We don’t spend any money on apps.” Many apps are free and it seems many of the most used educational apps are free. Of course, many free apps have upgradable features for a cost, which we are prepared to pay for if teachers need such features.

How much will this device, accompanying accessories, and supporting technology cost both now and in the future?

The Chromebook provides a number of different purchasing options that puts the price point either at the same level as the cheapest new iPad or well below. There is currently a $280 dollar option for the Dell Chromebook 11. We chose the $280 option, which is by far the cheapest option out of the devices we seriously considered.

An iPad would require a keyboard, durable case, and more expensive app purchases. Chromebooks are
extremely easy to manage and therefore eliminate the need to hire additional help in the IT department. We
estimated that we will save almost $150,000 in startup costs by going with the Chromebook while still meeting our educational needs.

Evolution of eTextbooks

Another advantage of having a 1:1 device is the fact that eTextbooks are becoming more and more available. It is much more attractive for a student to only have to carry around a Chromebook with all of the texts on the device rather than carrying around a bunch of heavy books. Additionally, eTextbooks are becoming more interactive for students (versus a paper textbook) giving them an opportunity to learn the material in a new way. iPads are a more attractive reading device, but the reality is that you can also read these texts on a Chromebook. Additionally, publishers have been producing eTextbooks longer for laptop devices and therefore tend to have more advanced products for laptops (at this point in time.)

A Cornucopia of Technology

Part of our technology philosophy at Ballard is to provide access to all different types of technology since each device has its own strength and use. Even though we would be going to Chromebooks, we will still have at least one hard-wired lab in each buildings. This will allow us to develop the strongest possible computer science curriculum and therefore give students the option to immerse themselves in any kind of technology they want.