Chromebooks in education: Everything you need to know
Chromebooks are the foundation of a complete solution for teachers and students.
A student needs a few basic things to get the most an education has to offer and a Chromebook is a great way to fulfill those basics. A big part of the essentials are tools to get and stay organized, a resource to study and find the information they need to know, and a system where they can communicate with other students and educators. Students of higher learning, whether young adults or older adults, know this and can make sure they have the tools needed. For younger students, it’s important that the right tools be provided so they can learn about the world around them and what they can do when they are pushed into it. They also need to learn how to learn, which can be the biggest challenge to an educator.
Google has stepped into the education market in a big way with Chromebooks in public schools. As of January 2018 there are 25 million students using a Chromebook at school, 30 million students using Google Classroom, and 80 million using G Suite for Education. While most Google educational services (including Chromebooks) are used by students and teachers in the U.S., Google is also seeing growth in the U.K, Canada, and many other countries. With partners like the British Museum and the National Trust for Scotland, more than 500,000 British students have been able to use Google Expeditions for virtual tours of places a school district could never afford to visit. Google is serious about the education market and providing products that meet the needs of school boards, teachers and students alike.
Why use a Chromebook in the classroom?
There’s a reason so many schools use Chromebooks in the classroom. Actually, there are several reasons; each just as important as the next.
- The price. Chromebooks designed for classroom use can be bought in bulk for hundreds of dollars less than other devices like iPads and Windows laptops.
- They’re powered by Google. Google is a household name when it comes to technology and school districts know the company will be around to offer support for the life of the product.
- Security and administration tools. Chromebooks are very secure by design and s G Suite administrator can lock things down even further to meet the needs of any school system’s IT policies.
- Parents can provide a Chromebook, too. Because they are inexpensive and easy to use, parents can provide a Chromebook for a child who isn’t in a 1:1 school program, or during summer recess.
School systems are notoriously cash-strapped and understaffed, yet they have the responsibility of shaping the next generation through their formative years and beyond. School officials have told me that this can be the most frustrating part of their job because sometimes they can’t provide teachers and other hands-on educators with the tools they need to teach our children. Because Chromebooks are inexpensive to buy and support, they are a welcome addition to the classroom by frustrated school officials.
In the classroom itself, Chromebooks provide a gateway to everything a student needs in order to learn and everything a teacher needs to guide them. Little things a consumer may take for granted, like automatic updates and the ability to sign in to any device and have your profile available mean more time can be dedicated to studies instead of administration.
Chromebooks are designed to be used with Google’s educational suite of applications.
Chromebooks also work seamlessly with Google’s educational software. Google Classroom and G Suite for Education, as well as Google’s consumer applications like Gmail or Google Keep, are integrated into the Chrome OS experience. When these applications are present students and teachers can work online or offline, and the application syncs with Google’s servers in a seamless way. It’s very difficult to tell you’re working with an app that stores its data in the cloud because the experience is so good. But you’ll know it did when you pick up a completely different Chromebook and everything is just as you left it. This is great for students and allows them to focus on the task in front of them instead of making sure things are properly saved and synchronized.
Chromebooks and Google’s educational application suite are simple to use, well integrated into inexpensive Chromebooks and are the perfect foundation for an education.
What’s special about an educational Chromebook?
Really, nothing. Any Chromebook can be used in the classroom and still have access to Google’s educational suite and work, communicate and collaborate with other students and teachers. The applications and services are lightweight and easy on resources so no fancy (read: expensive) hardware is needed. What is different is the support contract. School districts that purchase through education channels can also opt in for various levels of support from the company that made the Chromebooks, or through Google itself.
This can include on-site service and you can even have a Google specialist help students and teachers get started in person. Traditional warranty service is also available through the manufacturer the same way as any other Chromebook should a school board decide to opt out. And because Chromebooks and Google’s services are intuitive and administration is similar to enterprise Gmail administration, opting out is an acceptable solution for schools to save money if they have knowledgeable staff on hand.
Companies that make education-focused Chromebooks do offer models that are built with an eye on durability. You’ll find thick polycarbonate shells and rubber bumpers to withstand bumps and falls, MIL-SPEC approval for survivability in the elements and even special features like microbe-resistant screens to cut down on spreading germs from student to student or waterproof keyboard pans because kids will be kids.
Education Chromebooks all have one thing in common: they’re tough.
Google does have some standards a Chromebook must adhere to for educational certification, but they are common sense requirements you’ll find that almost all Chromebooks follow. If you ever wondered why a Chromebook built for students has lower-case letters on the keyboard instead of capital letters like most other keyboards, it’s because Google said they should. For a small child learning how to read and type, it’s important that a key be marked with what it will print on the screen when pressed. Ingenious!
Who makes Chromebooks built for education?
You’ll find education-focused Chromebooks from the names you already know and trust. Companies like Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo and more all make educational Chromebooks at various price levels.
You’ll find that they all have a few things in common regardless of the price tag: the ability to install and run Android applications from Google’s Play Store is a must-have feature. This gives teachers and students a huge library of apps that can be installed, and many are built specifically for learning. Google’s educational services also have dedicated Android and iOS applications so teachers and students can collaborate from a phone or tablet as well as a Chromebook, and since they are web-based they can also be accessed from any computer with the Chrome browser installed.
The companies you already know and trust make Chromebooks designed for schools.
On the hardware front, you’ll find that Chromebooks built for the classroom will have a touch-enabled display and the ability to convert into a tablet-form factor by way of 180-degree hinges. This year has also ushered in Chromebook tablets, which educators agree are better for smaller children to begin their education. Small fingers and a big screen allow young students to draw letters and numbers in a familiar way so the basics can be taught before they graduate to a keyboard form factor.
Acer’s Chromebook Tab 10 in the hands of students. Image courtesy of Google.
Higher-end Chromebooks for education also come with extras like an active stylus, and can even be bought with current generation high-performance internal hardware. This may seem like overkill for a consumer model, but Chromebooks are right at home in places like chemistry labs, where students can use temperature and pH probes to collect, analyze and visualize data, or when used budding engineering students can use Google Sketch to design models for 3D printing.
Where can I buy a Chromebook built for education?
In the past, and as recent as just a few years ago, you had to purchase Chromebooks that were approved for education from special channels through the companies that manufacture them. That’s a thing of the past and you’ll see education-focused Chromebooks from every well-known laptop manufacturer for sale online and in stores.
This is a boon for consumers who want to buy a Chromebook for Education model because they are designed and built for a bit of abuse, but it’s really great for teachers and parents who may just want to buy one or two Chromebooks to use at home. Not having to buy in bulk removes the barrier that prevented everyone from having access and it’s a welcome change.
Chromebooks, including models for schools, are for sale in the same places as any other laptop like Amazon or Best Buy.
If you’re a consumer who is in the market for a Chromebook for education for yourself or a child, we recommend the same places you’ll find other electronics like Amazon or Best Buy. Many Best Buy stores will have a Google-trained Chromebook specialist on site who can help answer any questions you have as well as a section of the store dedicated to Chrome hardware. This is a great resource, but the products are exactly the same as you’ll find at any retailer so it’s not necessary to search out a store with a Chromebook section when you want to take a look.
For educators buying in bulk, it’s worthwhile to go outside normal purchasing channels and contact manufacturers directly, as well as contacting Google about sales. Chromebooks for schools are great for kids and teachers alike, but they are also big business. Google and the companies that make Chromebook for education models treat them as such and you’ll find representatives that are ready to talk to your purchasing department as well as IT staff and the teachers themselves — who are really the most important link in the whole chain. All companies want to make money, but Google in particular also wants to help kids get a better education and provide assistance to teachers to make sure it can happen.
The best Chromebooks for students
There is nothing more important than teaching the next generation and it’s great to see Google and other tech giants like Apple and Microsoft have products that can help make that happen as well as have a genuine concern about doing what’s best for the students. And there is plenty of room for all three companies in our schools and each can fill a certain set of needs. When it comes to everyday education, especially for younger students who have moved past a tablet and are ready for a real laptop, it’s hard to beat a Chromebook. Because they are inexpensive and easy to administer, they’re also great for teachers and budget committees.
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