EdSurge: So Many Machines For Education–So Little Money Or Time

How can schools–desperate to increase technology in the classroom–decide which tablets they should invest in?


All the new tablets are an opportunity and a nail-biter for schools: Do you go with the oh-so-sleek iPad? The enigmatic Google Chromebook? Amazon’s Kindle Fire? Another Android-based tablet? All of the major players realize that they are selling more than just the fancy hardware in this technology tornado. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos emphasized that Amazon thinks of [Kindle Fire] as providing a service. Google execs actually admit that they hope their hardware “disappears.” 

Apple has been pouring its heart into promoting iPads in school (as about 10,000 digitally happy TFA’ers can attest). Apple executives like dropping the fact that more than 600 K-12 school districts have launched iPad programs–with two-thirds of them beginning since July. That’s one small number for the U.S. (when measured as a percent of the 15,000 or so school districts)–and one big number for Apple.

Google debuted the Chromebook about a year after iPad. In spite of its brawny web strength, Google lacks the advertising pizzazz with which Apple swaddles its newborns. Those factors likely add to Google executives’ reluctance to report on how many schools have adopted Chromebooks. (Google does chronicle three schools’ experience in using Chromebooks here.) Jaime Casap, a Google senior education evangelist, told EdSurge that Google is focused on “what’s the best device to get to that place in education where you want to be.”

Here are some thoughts on how those two devices stack up on those issues:

COST: A Chromebook costs an educator $20 (Wi-Fi) or $23 (Wi-Fi+3G) per month per device for three years. That fee covers hardware, a warranty, the management system, and continuous support. Maximum outlay: $830 over three years, at which point, the educator owns the machine. By contrast, Auburn, Maine, just spent $475 per tablet to launch its iPad pilot program.

SUPPORT: Google has milked all the benefits of cloud computing for Chromebooks. A web-based administration panel makes setup and updating easy. A teacher can push out homepages and web apps or manage domain-specific logins to anything from 30 to 3,000 Chromebooks with about the same effort. Automatic updates every six weeks mean Chromebooks “get better over time,” says Google’s Adam Naor, who works in the Chromebook division. Apple iPads take can take about 10 to 15 minutes to update, though school IT administrators can do this in groups.


HARDWARE: Chromebooks are slender but iPads still pack a “cool” factor. Even so, Chromebooks’ eight-second boot-up time and 8.5-hours of battery life are real pleasures. Both Chromebooks and iPads come with built-in Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi-3G support.

SOFTWARE: Chromebooks use the Chrome OS, a browser-based operating system, and store applications in the cloud. Not every application works on Chrome, a problem Google execs say they’re trying to address. (By contrast, Apple supports HTML5 but no Flash applications.) Instead of Microsoft Office applications, Chromebook users will likely use Google’s Apps suite–something that Google execs contend won’t be a problem particularly as there are already 14 million using Google’s Apps for Education.

APPLICATIONS: This one’s a biggie. Apple has more than 500,000 apps, including many for education here. The Chrome Web store features more than 12,000 apps, a portion of which are designated as “educational.” Many iPad apps stress aesthetics, aiming to make consuming content a pleasure; many Chromebook apps are about letting teachers and students build and create content.

Bottom line: The good news is that educators are finally getting devices that will work easily in a classroom, letting them and their students tap into the treasure trove of digital content. Picking between an iPad and a Chromebook means weighing costs (both how much you pay and when you pay), complexity (how much work you have to put into keeping it running), and the quality of the applications best suited to run on them.

By Darri Stephens for Edsurge. EdSurge is a community watering hole and resource for those engaged in the emerging eco-system of education technology. Sign up for their weekly newsletter here.

[Image: Flickr user flickingerbrad]


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