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Tag: chromebook (Page 2 of 2)

Chipping Away at the IT Barriers

A few months ago I ranted about how our IT department is adamant about not wanting Chromebooks to be used in our schools. If a technology is not blessed by Microsoft, they really don’t want to talk about it.

Now, however, things may be changing – a little – whether IT likes it or not.

A small group of principals here in the overly-large school district decided to bypass the usual bureaucratic channels, along with all the IT denials, and took their case for Chromebooks to directly our Deputy Superintendent (with a great deal of support and encouragement from our little cheering section).

To our surprise, he approved their proposal to purchase a limited number of the Google-based devices to test in their schools. The initiative only involves a few classrooms in five six schools so we certainly aren’t talking about any major shifts in thinking. But potentially it does represents a big crack in the IT barriers.

Of course, nothing is ever simple in our world. As you might imagine, our CIO1 is not happy.

The “Nonstandard Computer Exception Request” she signed (required by regulations) includes this pissy little declaration: “No requests for hardware or software support associated with these devices will be made to IT personnel.” It also forbids the schools from using the standard Google administrative dashboard to manage the Chromebooks, conveying the message: this is our sandbox, keep your crappy toys out.

So, IT is essentially treating these as BYOD devices2 and clearly trying to set up this project for failure. We on the instructional side, are doing our subversive best to make this initiative a success, with a big assist from our Google Education rep. More to come as we see how things play out.

One more thing about Chromebooks.

I’m not going to tell you that they are the ideal instructional device or that they will magically transform learning in our schools. They have plenty of flaws as a classroom tool3. Same with the iPad, another popular choice by schools over the past couple of years and also hobbled for effective use by the barriers erected by IT.

No computing device by itself is going to change public education. The technology must be accompanied by a whole new approach to pedagogy and curriculum, along with huge shifts in thinking from teachers, administrators, parents, and kids.

And, at least in our district, a major alteration in IT attitude – from obstruction to support.

The Decline of IT

We are having a little dispute here in the overly large school district, between a growing chorus of principals, teachers and tech trainers who want to use Chromebooks in their classrooms, and the IT department who says no way.

I understand the reasoning of the school-based people. The devices are cheap, reliable, and perform most of the functions a student would need during the day. They are a step backward from the all-purpose laptop we’ve become used to, but it would enable classrooms to have far more access to network applications for the same money.

However, I also understand IT’s position: regulations. District rules state in no uncertain terms that though shalt not purchase anything that doesn’t run Windows. Just ignore those thousands of iPads we approved in a moment of weakness. :-)

Of course, there’s much more behind their opposition than just following the rules (which they wrote in the first place). Devices like Chromebooks represent the loss of both control and jobs. Our IT people love to customize and configure everything, and they employ more people to do it than the department for instruction.

In the approaching age of easy-to-use, disposable computing devices (the $100 laptop we’ve been promised for so long), organizations like ours will need far fewer people to manage and repair them.

Certainly “real” computers will not disappear from schools anytime soon,4 but in the next few years, their numbers will likely see a steep decline. Accompanied by a corresponding reduction in the numbers of computer repair and “desktop management” people.

21st Century Dumb Terminal

This week the latest edition of “Technology to Save Education” will arrive!

Maybe.

On Wednesday, Google plans to release something called the Chromebook and a program called Chromebook for Education (actually it’s lumped under business/education, since, as we all know, education is just another business).

As I read Google’s announcement and scanned various reactions to the Chromebook, my first impression is that this new device is not so much the next step in connected computing as it is a 70’s flashback to the time of computing through a dumb terminal.

Lear-Siegler ADM5 video display terminal

For those who were lucky enough to have been born into their computing life during the age of relatively inexpensive personal computers (my first was an Apple IIe) and missed the experience, a dumb terminal was a screen-with-keyboard unit connected to an mainframe computer in another room or another state.  All of the digital work was done by that unseen machine with the results displayed on your screen.

That’s basically how the Chromebook works. When you turn it on (very fast start up was one of the features Google is pushing hard), all you see is the browser, in which all applications are run (Google Docs word processing, for example.) All documents and information you need are also stored in the “cloud”.

For schools, another big selling point was that they wouldn’t own a Chromebook as much as subscribe to it – $20 a month for each unit on a three year contract.  No IT department needed, although, as near as I can tell, that price doesn’t include the absolutely essential connectivity, so either you either provide the wifi connections, or pay extra for a 3G contract.

So, is this the next big thing in ed tech? Can we forget netbooks, tablets, and computers running that antiquated software called an “operating system”?

Probably not.

Google says in their announcement that “With HTML5 and other open standards, web applications will soon be able to do anything traditional applications can do, and more.” but anyone who has used Google Docs and the equivalent programs on even a tablet knows that “soon” is not now.

And the final specifications for HTML5 are not even supposed to be released until 2022, so banking on that technology to replace independently configured devices and native applications is probably not a near-term solution to whatever problems Google thinks we currently have in instructional computing.

From the school’s side of things, certainly the face-value costs of using Chromebooks would be lower since the $720 price tag ($20 a month over three years) is about half what our overly-large school district pays for a standard laptop (although more than our standard netbook), and three years is the realistic life span of one in the hands of kids or teachers.  Plus Google says the fee includes all maintenance and upgrades.

And since, theoretically, everyone will be using Google Apps for their work, the experience is now standardized.  Every student would have a device that looks and acts like all the other devices in the system and there would be no concerns about lost work due to hard drive crashes or virus infestations.  Our IT department and most teachers seem to love standardization, at least when it comes to tech for student use.

Of course, at this point all I know about a Chromebook is what I’ve read on Google’s site, the reactions of others who were actually at the conference, and lots of speculation. I’m hoping to get some hands-on time with it at Google’s ISTE booth in two weeks.

However, at this point I’m wondering: is the ideal personal computer for instruction a device that is, in effect, a dumb terminal straight out of the 70’s?


Image: Lear-Sieglar ADM5 video display terminal by LevitateMe on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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