Google devices at school in the post-tablet era


(Image: Asus Chromebox with the new Google Drive)

I rarely blog about hardware, as the Google ecosystem is mostly about software and I strongly favour a BYOD (Bring your own device) approach when it comes to devices in the classroom. Copy a portable version of the Chrome browser on a flash drive and you will feel at home wherever you go (at least that’s what I do in the classrooms I teach in) if you use the Google ecosystem extensively. However, many schools urgently need to overhaul their IT equipment and financial resources are often rather scarce.

A few months ago a student of mine asked me if she should buy a Chromebook as she knew that I was using one myself at school as my primary working device. I advised her against buying one as she - like pretty much most of my students - wasn't using Google Drive and wanted a device to use Microsoft Office applications with, which was rather cumbersome on a chromebook at that time.

Fast forward a few months and  not only can you natively edit Office documents now but many other features have been added to Google devices which make them ideal for use at school. By “Google devices” I mean Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, Chromecast dongles and Nexus tablets with no particular preference for a specific hardware manufacturer. I’ve been “dogfooding” all of these devices to myself for a couple of years now using a Chromebook and a Nexus 7 at school as well as a Chromebox as my primary computer (unless I need to use multimedia applications), a Nexus 7 and a Chromecast at home. My school(s) uses almost exclusively Windows PCs.

Here are some ideas where I can see Google devices meaningfully (and economically) deployed at schools:

1:1 Chromebook classrooms: not much needs to be said about this case. Schools from all over the world are deploying chromebooks to modernize and save costs at the same time. In 2013 chromebooks managed to conquer about 20% of the US K12 market, up from only 1% in 2012.

Classroom set of android tablets: 1:1 android tablet classrooms have proven less popular than both iPad classrooms and Chromebook classrooms. For older students (upper secondary) I would definitely advise against a 1:1 tablet setting as the students can do most of the learning activities (research, learning vocabulary, etc.) on their smartphones anyway. However, one classroom sized set of 7 inch tablets could be brought in for some additional activities, such as reading longer texts or taking tests.

Chromeboxes as library PCs: libraries often get the oldest computers (ours have XP on them) at school. Sometimes they are so incredibly slow to boot up that nobody wants to use them anyway. Chromboxes (with guest login) would be more than enough for library (research) purposes and would be easily fast enough not to discourage students to use them.

Chromeboxes for open workspaces: Similarly to computers in the library a lot of schools provide computer corners or other spaces for students to work on in free lessons or in open learning settings. Our Windows computers take a terribly long time to log on and take a lot of maintenance from the staff as so many different students use them. A chromebox only takes seconds (seven in the case of mine) to boot up and provides enough functionality for doing homework, research, preparing presentations, etc.) and needs almost zero maintenance.

Chromecast for "yet unconnected” classrooms: Recently chromecast received mirroring functionality (so far only with android 4.4 devices) which makes it a cheap competitor for a connected PC in a classroom. Using a tablet or chromebook you can project videos, presentations, app demos, websites, Google Drive content, etc. in a classroom. Any teacher who teaches in a class that has to go to the computer room for watching a three minute video on YouTube (and I am one of them) would highly appreciate the additional investment for a chromecast dongle ($35) and a projector or a large screen if the school provides Wi-Fi.  

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