Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Chromebook Experiment: Part II

As I've played around with the Samsung Chromebook for the past few days, I've tried to look at the device through the eyes of my school and my students. My thoughts on this:

As a 5th Grade English teacher, I ask my students to use laptops quite frequently. During the last three weeks of school my students spent nearly all of their class time in GoogleDocs, drafting, editing and revising their personal memoirs. The beauty of GoogleDrive was immediately clear, as students could easily access their writing from home or school and complete pages of their memoirs from any computer. The only challenge we faced in class was in regard to the slow boot up time for our school netbooks, which due to some combination of age and processing speed, ate up a good 10 minutes of class time before students were ready to get to the work of writing. The Chromebook is so incredibly fast, both in terms of boot up time and browser loading, that I can easily see gaining back that class time previously lost and giving my classes a few extra minutes (and far less frustration!) for working.

It is also the case that, as our school computers are PCs, we needed to remember to use Chrome when working from GoogleDocs in order to get a full complement of features. I devoted a class period to teaching my students about Chrome (what it was, how to find it on their machines, the omnibar, etc.) but my 5th Graders would periodically forget and start their day's work in IE, which had a limited array of features (nothing terribly significant, although accessing fonts, spellcheck and adding printers were all a bit wonkier when using a browser other than Chrome). With a Chromebook, the lack of choice when it comes to browsers would actually be a plus.

While I am mostly sold on the Chromebook as one of the best options for student computers (given its price point, ease of use, speed and simple interface), the greatest challenge I've come across thus far is printing. I've been using my Chromebook at home, where my Macbook is already set up to print wirelessly. I assumed setting up the new device to print would be relatively easy, but that was not the case. Chromebooks require a cloud printer, which I do not own. If I did want to print from my Chromebook, I would need to follow these steps. The workaround involves logging into Chrome from my home computer, and linking my Chrome accounts with my existing printer. I'm sure it's doable, though it felt like more trouble than it was worth given I already had a computer that allowed me to print from home. This does, of course, raise a different issue for these as school devices. Adding printers is already a time consuming process at school, particularly for the younger grades who haven't yet mastered the many steps involved. I'm not sure how we'd work out printing at school, and I wonder if the hours necessary to setting up cloud printing would be the best use of our amazing tech team's time.

As I pondered the issue of printing with Chromebooks, I checked in with a few GTANY colleagues, and their input definitely points towards a greener future. Jason Markey, a principal in Illinois who rolled out 3500 Chromebooks at his school, chose to NOT enable printing on any of them. The choice was made not only because of the hours that would have been necessary to set up cloud printing, but also because it offered an opportunity for the school to discourage and move away from the wastefulness of endless student printing. Amy Mayer, who works with a school district in Texas, also finds printing an ever rarer occurrence  but both Jason and Amy have backup systems in place (printing via email or desktop) for those times when students have to print. I'm interested to share these details with my school as we continue the conversation about the best device for our students! You can read more about Jason's Chromebook Rollout and Amy's Chromebook Tips by following the links.

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