Recently we have managed to get a class set of 32 Chromebooks to trial in our school. These were acquired through Ian Nairn at C-Learning (http://c-learning.net/) and are free to schools for a few weeks. We got ours two weeks before Christmas so we’re half-way through so far and I thought it would make sense to give a quick update of what we’ve been doing. This post will attempt to cover an explanation of Chromebooks, how to manage them and then how to use them.
What is a Chromebook?
Firstly, let me explain a bit about the Chromebooks. These are laptop-sized devices that work mainly online. Their sole purpose is to use the tools available on the internet but there are a few that will work offline too. They work using apps and these can be installed in seconds.
So this means that apps have a few different meanings:
Phone – an app is a small piece of software that you install on your phone such as Angry Birds
Chrome/Chromebooks – an app is a small piece of software that you install into your web browser, but these aren’t linked to your phone, even if you have a Google-powered Android phone
Google Apps – This is the name given to the suite of tools comprising of Sites, Docs, Mail etc.
Confused? It does make sense after a while, honest.
In essence, the Chromebook doesn’t have a hard drive to install Windows on and there’s no Microsoft Office, instead it uses Google’s Chrome Operating System (OS) and it boots up in around ten seconds. I was once using one of these in a hotel, it took longer for the hotel TV to switch on then it did for the Chromebook, but anyway…
Managing the devices
Once loaded, you log-in using a Google account and you’re then online. Every child in my school has a Google account because we use Google Apps, but these devices all come with one shared account anyway, so you don’t even need to make a new one. Obviously with a shared account comes shared email and stuff so, so the preference would be for an account per child.
Also if you are using Google Apps, there is a management panel which gives you extra power over the device. One thing that you can set it the homepage when they load. We found it difficult once logged in as we were just given Google.co.uk as the starting page. My children wanted the school website, with their familiar link page, so we added this via the management panel.
So the children can get from powered-off to the school website in around a minute. This is great, as with our netbooks this time was around 5 minutes. Logging-off takes about 5 seconds compared to the 5 minutes with netbooks.
What about actually using them?
The children loved them. We tried loads of different tools straight away such as Bug Club, Purple Mash, BrainPOP and anything else we can think of. We found that Wordle didn’t work as there seems to be an issue with Java, but Flash works fine.
In a normal lesson, the netbooks are brilliant and I love them. I can get them switched on while I am doing the input and then by the time I’ve finished, they are ready to use. But with the Chromebooks, I am now using them in short sessions. For example we have a 25minute Guided Reading slot and the Chromebooks have been used every time for Bug Club or as a writing opportunity using the 100 Word Challenge. The instant-on is great. The battery also lasts for 8 hours and they charge in around 90 minutes too.
What about cost?
The devices we have are the more expensive ones, but I went to PC World and looked and found some for £229 each. Even with £20 for the management per device, this is still under £250 for a great bit of kit. That is also without trying to haggle or ask for discount too. Also, it includes VAT. Note that the cheaper Acer ones are different, they do have a hard-drive, and also less battery time.
That’s the great thing about technology at the moment, instead of being sold some obscure “made-for-schools” laptop or generic Dell/HP PC from a company, we can just pop to PC World and try them for ourselves. When we bought our Blackberry I spent an hour there testing it with everything I could think of and I did the same with the Chromebook, spending around half an hour fiddling and playing.
and the drawbacks?
There are some negatives to using Chromebooks. They are reliant on the web. You need a good wireless with a decent network behind it. We have that so it isn’t an issue. There are some tools that I would miss if I went 100% Chromebooks. We wouldn’t be able to use 2DIY or 2Create a Super Story, you would lose tools such as Scratch (although that is going online soon), Kodu and tools for movie-editing. But think about your curriculum, how much of it could be done on a device like this and how much needs a “proper” laptop/PC? If I bought a set of Chromebooks and they were used solely for research, Google Docs/sites and tools like Prezi and Popplet, I think I would be happy. These are all tools we use already, but the Chromebooks would make it easier.
There isn’t an option to connect them to the network so they won’t be accessing any shared drives or anything, so saving is all done in the cloud. We also haven’t managed to get them connected to a printer, but then I also haven’t tried that hard either.
We also haven’t tried these with Key Stage 1 yet, mainly because we got them in the CRAZY Christmas period…so we will try that next week.
For more on Chromebooks, check @frogphilp’s post here – As he says, they can be a little dull. Everything just works and at the end of the day, isn’t that what you want in school? Technology that works seamlessly and with minimal staff training? I’d rather spend time training staff how to use Google Docs than how to use the equipment in front of them. Here is another post from Guy Shearer.
We still have two weeks of playing to go, but so far? I love them.
(Edit: This article talks about the Chromebook being the biggest selling laptop on Amazon US over Christmas 2012 and some reasons why this has happened.)