Not long ago I watched an episode of This Week In Tech where the host and panelists agreed that Chromebooks in schools were better than iPads.
Say what? How can a $200 piece of plastic with Linux inside, essentially a screen and a keyboard, mostly devoid of useful applications, be a better learning environment than an iPad which has hundreds of thousands of applications?
Price vs. Cost
The key to the TWIT conversation was recent news that in the U.S., Chromebooks sold to schools outnumbered iPads sold to schools.
I can’t let that slide through without pointing out the obvious. The numbers are guesstimates based on little more than a few surveys and extrapolations; not real, hard, factual numbers.
Only Apple knows how many iPads were sold to schools.
What’s the allure to a Chromebook? Price. And cost. A Chromebook is dirt cheap because there’s not much to the hardware and even less to the software.
Chromebooks are cloud-based, don’t have many useful applications, but what few they have are a good entry for students who need to crawl before they walk (or, is it walk before they run?). These slivers of keyboard and screen are drop dead easy to administrate, too, thereby lowering cost and management complexity.
Schools don’t have much money to throw around at modern technology, so they need it to go as far as possible. A school system can buy both a Windows notebook and a Chromebook for less than the price of an iPad.
Part of the cost vs. price consideration should also be a consideration of what the devices can do. Macs do absolutely everything, including run Windows and Linux as an app in OS X. Windows PCs are complicated beasts, probably not meant for the early classroom, but a necessary evil if children are to be taught how technology works (and doesn’t work) in the real world.
An iPad may be the most useful device entry-level device in schools because it is quickly mastered, easily managed, and comes with more useful application options than Mac, Windows, Linux, and Chromebooks combined (my non-scientific survey).
What it lacks is what students need. A keyboard. That’s the real world, even in a post-PC era, where PCs do the heavy lifting but mobile devices get used more frequently. An Apple-built iPad with a keyboard would be a worthy adversary to Chromebooks, Macs, and Windows PCs except for two things. Price. And introducing tennis elbow and bursitis to children. Touch screens and keyboard are not a good match for the masses.
In an ideal world, all schools would be required to teach children about the most popular and most used technology, but that’s almost impractical in the modern era of budget cuts, mismanagement, and political incompetence. Schools have a difficult time managing Windows PCs and Macs, let alone add a variety of Android tablets, iPads, and Chromebooks.
But that’s what should be done.