My day job has me working with hundreds and hundreds of students, faculty, and staff members to ride herd on many hundreds of Macs, Windows PCs, Chromebooks, and plenty of iPads all in the name of higher education.
Our school is blessed with resources yet we spread the technology around. That’s not the case with many public schools where money is an object and learning tools go to the lowest price. In years past, Apple’s Mac rules in schools, but shared space with various Windows PCs. These days, more often than not, the growing trend is toward Google’s business model– cheap. Enter the Chromebook.
Macs were in wide use throughout many school systems in the U.S. because of a variety of important reasons. Total cost of ownership– the TCO– proved that Macs had a value not matched by far less expensive Windows PCs. Macs proved to be easier to administrate, easier to use and maintain, and far more secure because Windows attracted the malware and user abuse.
Those days are gone.
Math rules in schools today, and that means very inexpensive Chromebooks, which schools can obtain for $200 to $400, while newer Macs remain out of reach at over $1,000. Windows PCs fall in between, as always, but Microsoft is fighting back with less expensive PCs and a new management system.
Too little, too late.
Chromebooks are representative of the new math in U.S. education systems. Essentially, a Chromebook is the least expensive PC a school can buy, and they are drop dead easy to set up and use, easy to reset back to the original state (which is a requirement thanks to student involvement), more secure than Windows. Still, a Chromebook is little more than a Linux notebook with a browser that does most of the work, married to a suite of Google applications for education.
What’s the best computer to use in schools? A Mac. That comes from one who has nearly two decades of experience dealing with students, faculty, and staff members who work on Macs, Windows PCs, Chromebooks, iPads, and a few other Android devices. The disadvantage for the Mac is price. The advantage for the Mac is that a properly equipped Mac runs everything– all at the same time, if needed– macOS, Windows 10, various flavors of Linux.
What a Chromebook does is teach children how to navigate a few basic apps without devoting much expensive or management to the process. That’s what amounts to computer skills these days. Programming? It doesn’t happen on a Chromebook. It could. But it doesn’t. The smarter or more experienced computer users in classrooms navigate to devices which do more, have a wider array of applications, and among those higher classes in private where students are responsible for their own devices, Macs tend to rule; not Chromebooks.
There are reasons for that swap in positions of use. Macs are more capable than Chromebooks and get used for more than even Windows notebooks. Still, Apple’s lead in schools has been overtaken by Chromebooks because the basics are covered; lower entry cost, low maintenance cost, low administration cost, and nominal student involvement. They learn to type, navigate files, and browse. But not much more.