Having spent some years teaching with iPads, and teaching others to use iPads, I was sceptical as to how useful Chromebooks could really be. When I was asked by my daughter’s school to provide her with a Chromebook, I baulked at spending so much money on a machine that was very limited. She was near the end of primary 5 (the second last year of primary school here) and I thought that she might need something more substantial than a Chromebook in 15 months so I asked if a Windows laptop would be OK. The school agreed, so I bought a second hand Windows laptop for nearly $400. She can do everything the students with a Chromebook can do and it has worked out well.
For schools the choice is different. For those institutions supplying the eLearning devices, the Chromebooks and iPads are significantly cheaper than buying new light Windows laptops with genuine MS Office and other paid programs. Plus, they don’t want to employ an IT department to take care of them. For BYOD schools like my daughter attends, asking the parents to buy an expensive Windows machine for their children is a discriminatory burden that institutions with an egalitarian ethos would like to avoid if possible.
The cheaper price of the Chromebook compared to the iPad automatically makes it more attractive to cash-strapped schools, but what is the pedagogical trade off? Well, in fact there is very little trade off and a lot more pedagogical pluses. When the iPad was introduced there was an immediate pedagogical deficit in terms of screen space, especially compared to the iPad Mini, and avoidance of flash websites that couldn’t be used because the default iPad browser, Safari, wouldn’t work with them (one of my first app purchases was the Puffin browser, which does display flash websites).
For schools supplying a device, the ease of managing content is a huge issue. With iPads, it is difficult to manage the content in apps between students if students are sharing the iPads on a trolley. Anyone using an iPad can see anything created by anyone else on that machine, and can change or delete it. When an extra app is needed or an update must be made, the teacher responsible for the trolley groans knowing this task will eat up a considerable amount of time. With a Chromebook, the trolley just has a charging function as updates happen automatically and don’t need a login. When a trolley passes from one class to the next, the new students log on to their Google account to access their material. No one else can see it as it isn’t stored on the device. This alone is a huge pedagogical advantage for Chromebooks.
Tim Holt is an erudite and passionate supporter of iPads in education. I recommend you read his blog post: Why we are misunderstanding the Chromebook/iPad debate. His argument is that the iPad is a tablet and so can transform itself into many things such as a camera, a musical instrument (Garageband), and a canvas with paint brushes. It can do anything a laptop can do and more. He denounces those who look at the extra cost of buying and managing iPads as old school, backward thinkers. The best part of the blog is the comments section where the pros and cons are argued – mainly by people who have experience with both, and they reach different conclusions. There is another comments section worth reading on this website where Tim’s post was reposted: Edsurge
As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I would much prefer my students to have a Chromebook as it allows the students to have access to the normal view of websites with full navigation options, not the restricted mobile one that often gets delivered to the iPads. If I think of the apps I want my students to use, most if not all of them, have websites that deliver the same, if not better, user interfaces. Quizlet, SpellingCity and TED are all better in the full website format. If you want your students to create a survey in Google Forms (which is a task my students must do), the iPad is not a convenient interface. Researching and writing is easier on a Chromebook than an iPad as there is a physical keyboard, not a virtual one that takes up a third of an already small screen. True, you can get a keyboard for the iPad – at extra cost – but it won’t widen the screen for you. I would question whether the camera for the iPad is really such a vital point of differentiation as most tertiary students these day also have smartphones whose cameras are certainly adequate enough.
You can read about the adoption of Chromebooks in an Australian secondary school here: McKinnon Secondary College As part of their instructions to students, the students have to agree to use the Chromebook for educational purposes only. The clear message is: if they want to have a laptop to play the latest games – buy a Windows laptop!
Just to add a bit of balance, I do use my iPad every day and love it for the convenience in pushing down podcasts, reading my email, listening to Pandora, reading the news apps taking better quality photos than my phone, and checking maps. But when I prepare my lessons, write my blogs and surf the internet, my laptop or desktop gets used if I am at home. Also, I agree with Tim when he argues that the tablet form is superior to a Chromebook in its mobility and performing some daily tasks. However, as a learning device, give students the Chromebook.