Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I like the Chromebook: Update 12/10/2011

Update 12/10/2011: On Thursday, December 8, The Leyden High School District 212 Board of Education approved 1-1 computing in 2012/2013 with the Chromebook as the primary device. Many thanks to all who collaborated with us on this proposal, and many thanks to the Board. 

This is a game changer for our students, but now the real work begins. 

Backing up a bit, on Monday, December 6 and Tuesday, December 7, Leyden administration held staff meetings at East Leyden and West Leyden, respectively. Our intent was to inform the staff about the content of the 12/8 proposal to the Board and answer as many questions as possible.  The videos below are the recording of the presentation from 12/6. 

Superintendent Dr. Kathryn Robbins

East Leyden Principal Dr. Beth Concannon

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction (ASCI) Mr. Mikkel Storaasli. (That's me)

My Original post is below:

I'm writing this on a Chromebook. I've just gotten one for my own use, and I'm going to use it as my main computer for the foreseeable future. Of course, I'm using it because I want to get used to it, but I also want to be in a position to test stuff out as questions come up.  
Since Dr. Robbins unveiled our interest in this machine, we've received many questions and comments. Before I address some of them, here's a short video from one of the schools that Mr. Markey, Mr. Wagner, and I visited in Iowa:

Yes, those swivel chairs are awesome. So are the folks at Thomas Jefferson HS: teachers, administrators, and especially students. If you guys are reading this, thanks for putting up with us. You're fantastic hosts, and I look forward to collaborating in the future. 

So, why do I like the Chromebook for a student device?  
First and foremost: it gets technology out of the the way

Please don't try this in class. 
I see our netbook teachers struggle with the number of laptops that are working at any one time in a class, with battery life, and with start up time. While the technology that these teachers are using in this setting may have benefits, it can also get in the way of learning.  While "start up time" isn't a particularly sexy selling point on a computer, it is a HUGE issue. If 5 minutes is lopped off of every class period, you've systematically lost 10% of instructional time. That's unacceptable.  

In contrast, when we observed TJHS, the kids walked in, grabbed a Chromebook from a cart, and they were up and running before the period began. It was smooth, seamless, and the teacher was ready to go immediately with no technology management issues. I'm not saying there won't be any management to think about, and I'm sure we will encounter issues along the way. However, from what we heard and what we observed, the technology was generally not getting in the way of learning. 

Some Questions: 

What can you do if you can't install programs? Lots of things. In fact, I would argue you can do most things via web based tools that you can with installed applications. For example, this question came to me from a teacher this week: "Some of us were looking forward to asking students to listen to some assigned podcasts. Without iTunes installed on student machines, how can we have kids listen to podcasts? " 

Answer: I downloaded Podcast Player Plus from the Chrome store for free. I was able to search for podcasts and import lists of podcast subscriptions from an iTunes account. Students could also save specific podcast files on a flash drive.   

Here's how I did it in Chrome, just like I was using a Chromebook (sort of). Actually, using a Chromebook would have made the file saving bit a little easier.  

Frankly, I find this podcast player easier to use than iTunes. Actually, after seeing how easily this tool works, I can't wait to see how our teachers all across the curriculum might use podcasts. 

Look, podcasting isn't specifically the point here. This is just one example of how a web-based tool can replace an installed application, even a program we know (and love) like iTunes. Using strictly web-based tools on student machines may require us to think about things a little differently, but web apps have much much to offer in addition to Google Apps and YouTube. 

However, not everything can be done on a web-based tool. 


In the meantime, I feel confident that we can come up with workarounds for these situations. Remember: teachers would still have a full PC laptop. We know that no one device will fit every curricular situation, but we're pretty smart people.  If it's necessary for student learning, (and  "student learning" is different than "adult convenience") we'll make it work. 

Aren't we doing a disservice to kids by not teaching them Windows? 
I am of the opinion that you can lead a full and happy life without knowing the Windows operating system. 

Actually, I think it's more likely that you will. 

Separate from my hang-up with Windows, I have to disagree with the idea that any particular operating system is an essential skill. This could be Windows, Apple's Desktop OS, iOS (on an iPad), or some other system. There's no way to prepare students for every operating system, not to mention that Windows four years from now won't look like Windows now. Or Apple's OS. Or an iPad. Or Chrome OS.   

Inevitably, students will have to be able to navigate multiple operating systems, and be able to move flexibly from one to another. Separate from any decision we make about technology at Leyden, students will have to be flexible life long learners in this regard. So, to be consistent with our mission statement, it's our job to prepare them for this. Depending on their curricular choices, students will certainly have the opportunity to work with different operating systems. Even if it's Windows. ::Sigh::  

Similarly, I think it's our job to teach word processing, not a particular word processor. There are lots of tools out there for word processing, and the latest and greatest version of Word is just one of them. But again, that particular program has changed, and will continue to change in the future.  If students specifically need to learn MS Word because it's appropriate for a particular curriculum, then we'll address that in a different way. We still have plans to keep dedicated labs for certain applications that we wouldn't put on every student's device, whatever the device: Chromebook, Windows PC, Mac, or other.  

Is "The Cloud" here to stay? Yes. More and more applications are going to the cloud-  in business, college, everywhere. Many operating systems are really going toward a browser-like interface, and storing things in a Cloud-ish way. iCloud is just coming out from Apple, and MS Office Live is continuing to develop. I'm still not a fan of Microsoft's overly complicated and glitchy attempts at cloud computing, but that's probably just my Microsoft issue again. At least they're trying. 

Our Technology Director Mr. Bryan Weinert alerted me to the fact that the U.S. News and World Report released their annual ranking of top higher-education institutions  about a month agoThis report found that 61 of the top 100 are using Google Apps. Furthermore, many companies use Google Apps for Business, which is basically the exact same suite of tools we have, only they pay for them.  

We have students in the district who have begun to use the Chromebook, and the comments have been very positive at this extremely early stage. We still have lots of questions, and I won't pretend to say we have the answers to them yet.That's why we need your input. Please stay informed an involved. 


  1. Sometimes it appears to me that the "medium" is becoming the message. If this is the case, what impact will it have on student learning?

  2. If I'm understanding your comment correctly, I think the point is to get the medium (or the device) as inconspicuous as possible. However, at this point we have to talk about the device. Maybe I'm not interpreting the comment correctly, though.

  3. I think some forget that there are going to be growing pains with any device that we choose. I am impressed with what I have seen so far on the Chromebook.

  4. Testing the comment thread section and nested comments....sorry.

  5. My middle school just put a proposal together for 1:5 with chrome books. 1:1 with byod. Our sixth graders started byod trials this month, and the district tech dept is upgrading our WAPs.
    I look forward to learning from your blog.

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