One late summer evening I was enjoying the company of several other educators who were all presenters at the next day’s large edtech conference. Somehow a little friendly razzing found its way in my direction. The other teachers in the group were giving me a hard time about all of the “corporate” ties I have.
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On Wednesday in a Buzzfeed interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook called Chromebooks “test machines” and cited Google’s take over of the education market as primarily a result of schools just buying hardware for standardized assessments.
There is no denying that recent mass purchases from school districts have been in response to needing more equipment for tests that have moved from paper to web browser. What is in question is why schools are choosing Chromebooks over Macs and iPads. Cook sells educational leaders and teachers short when he implies that testing is all that went into the decision making and all that is being done with the products once they reach schools.
Now, don’t write me off as a hater. Heck, one of the proudest recognitions I have received is that of being named an Apple Distinguished Educator. I am a huge Apple advocate and I truly believe that Cupertino builds the most durable and best designed products in the tech world. For a long long time Apple won the classroom because its stuff “just worked” and it still does. The six-year-old Macbooks I teach with just hum along. The three-year-old cart of HPs…don’t. The iPad has opened worlds previously un-explorable to people with disabilities. Apple has done great things in the classroom and I still believe schools need a number of Macs or iPads around for tasks Chrome devices can’t. I am just not convinced anymore that Apple products are the only solution.
Here Mr. Cook are 10 reasons why educators are choosing Chrome devices over Apple products…and they don’t have anything to do with testing.
The Reality of Classroom Technology Integration – “We create products that are whole solutions for people — that allow kids to learn how to create and engage on a different level,” Cook stated in the and he’s correct. iMovie, Keynote, Pages, Final Cut Pro, Motion, and other high level apps are the staples when it comes to kids creating high level content. The only problem for Apple is that the vast majority of students and teachers don’t learn and teach constantly at this level. As great as all of these Apple tools are, right or wrong, they have taken a support role to the tools students and teachers use most.The SAMR framework discusses how teachers use tech at varied levels between basic “substitution” and creating previously inconceivable activities in a level defined as “redefinition”. The Apple stuff excels in the hands of teachers who have mastered ways of getting to redefinition but the vast majority of educators are somewhere in the middle and most of the learning tasks they ask students to do with technology doesn’t require the high end apps.
Price – Chrome devices continue to drop in price to the point where schools can buy five Chromebooks with touchscreens for the price of one Macbook. It’s hard to justify the extra cost if the job can be done with a solid device at a fraction of the money. I just bought a fully functioning Chrome computer in the $85 Chromebit. $85! Yes it requires me to connect it to an HDMI display and I have to supply the keyboard and mouse but that price point alone makes it wildly affordable for a number of functions around a school.
They Just Work – It is still the number one reason I always choose Apple stuff over Windows stuff and I was very suspect of the Chrome products when they first hit the market. Aside from getting used to the layout of where everything is on these devices my experience has been that the simplicity of the Chrome “just works” as well. With less operating system there are less hassles.
Ease of Management – Managing a cart of iPads is incredibly time consuming and not something most classroom teachers are entrusted to do. Apple has put out a series of management solutions but none have been the silver bullet that actually make life easier for teachers. With Chrome there is virtually no management because when a kid logs in with their Google Apps for Education account, all of their stuff is available.
Google Apps – No, the free suite won’t let you make your documents as cute as Word or Pages will, but with a little skill you and your kids can get darn close. Cute isn’t deal closer on GAFE though. Storage is unlimited for schools and with a little foresight educators can help kids set up portfolios that will follow them all of the way through high school. No one will ever lose their work due to a dead laptop battery because Google saves every few seconds. Plus, it’s just automatically already set up with every Google account. Yes, Apple offers a version of its iWork suite online for free and it can do a lot but space is limited and the sharing options aren’t close to what GAFE does. What is really cool though is that if you want to use the online versions of iLife you can do it on a Chromebook.
Collaboration – The whole game changed way back in the day when Google bought Writely from an upstart called Upstartle. Simply being able to edit something simultaneously ten years ago was groundbreaking. Google has used the last decade to further enhance the collaborative capabilities. Apple is bringing that to iLife but are essentially playing catch up. The collaboration built into a Google Apps/Chrome environment helps teachers better communicate with students and provide useful feedback. The same is true with students communicating and collaborating better with each other.
Google Classroom – From its introduction teachers have been flocking to the free learning management system. As it evolves and becomes more stable it is becoming the go-to, even by die hard Edmodo and Schoology users. What is the big deal? See all six of the previous reasons. Seriously, you can apply all of them. As a classroom teacher, paper was my Achilles heel. In Classroom it’s all digital and the interface shows who has completed work and who hasn’t. Once it’s turned in, it’s locked until the teacher grades and returns it. Apple offers iTunes U which is a beautiful way to present content and develop courses that don’t rely on Internet connectivity but they only run on an Apple device. Classroom works everywhere.
Access Everywhere – Speaking working everywhere, students and teachers can access the work they started on the Chrome device at school anywhere they can find a web browser with an Internet connection. It is something kids have come to take completely for granted. Ubiquitous access is their normal. A perfect example was when we were making book report trailers on iMovie and my students all wanted to know how they could find their work when they got home so they could continue working. They were put off when I told them it was only available on the one device they’d been using.
Open To Innovation – Google Apps has evolved at light speed because of the way individuals can create add-ons. Doctopus and Goobric are examples of innovation created by a user that have made the product better fit teacher needs. This isn’t just in Docs either. There are a ton of new Chrome apps being developed that bring a lot of the creativity and depth of exploration to the Chrome browser. Apple obviously innovates all of the time too but doesn’t adapt as fast as Google because the innovation all takes place within Apple.
Big Yet Nimble – Lebron James and Cam Newton are special athletes because they are big yet have uncharacteristic speed. Google Chrome and the devices that run it are a lot like that. Google is massive with unlimited resources to support its products yet has retained a simplicity that makes stuff work at the highest level of efficiency. There is no reason to expect that won’t continue to be the case.
Ultimately schools have to find the platforms and devices that work best for their needs. I always have a Mac nearby because I use so many levels of its functionality. My students don’t always need the firepower and Google is picking up a lot of believers in educators who see all of the benefits Chrome devices can deliver at a fraction of the cost.
I understand and appreciate Tim Cook’s passion for giving educators and learners amazing stuff but if Chrome devices are just “test machines”, he needs to Think Different.
Yesterday presented a chance to work with innovative teachers and embed some technology instruction into middle school math and science investigations. Despite the 49 degree temps and constant mist, it proved to be a tremendously rewarding afternoon.
A lesson I have used for three years now is called the Shooting Gallery. It was developed by Jon Corippo as a way to lay film making foundations for students in the classroom. It is one thing to provide the opportunity for students to share learning in video form, but it is a whole other ballgame when you can give them techniques that greatly ramp up the quality of video they are producing. That is how I use this lesson and it’s why I approached a couple of our middle school teachers who are leading an integrated math and science class that studies our local watershed.
Students in the STREAM class at Hamilton Middle School by Ted Malefyt and Nate Alkire study and then share their learning in a number of ways beyond pencil and paper. Coming up they will be presenting projects to a panel similar to the ABC show Shark Tank. We want to give these kids all of the digital tools we can so that their work impresses somebody besides their grandma.
Last week I had the chance to join the hosts of the Mobile Reach Show and talk about the various professional learning organization that fuel our teaching.
Hosting the show are Jennie Magiera, Sue Gorman, and Dave Freeburg who I first met face-to-face in 2011 at the Apple Distinguished Educator institute. We were joined by Josh Mika and Scott Meech who both became ADE’s with us that summer. Scott and I first met in 2008 as we became Google Certified Teachers together at the Google Teacher Academy in Chicago.