Google's Chromebooks hold advantages for schools, but are they getting the message?
Schools wanting to purchase class sets of Google’s low-cost Chromebook laptops have just one day to register and qualify for a free charger trolley worth £1,700. The offer runs out at the start of September.
Chromebooks, which operate on wireless networks, have the potential to make huge savings on schools’ ICT bills. Thirty Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks plus a charging trolley and the Chrome Management Console cost a school £7,980 (£266 each).
The charger trolley offer was originally made to US schools and then extended to the UK. The problem for UK schools is that many of them have probably not heard of it as it was launched during the holidays. So this offer is best seen as the search giant dipping its toe further into the UK schools market (it exhibited at the BETT educational technology show for the first time in 2012 and supports teacher academies – see "Teachers celebrate first UK Google Teacher Academy"). Presumably, more offers will follow.
This offer is available through Google's Chrome sales manager Alex Fleming who is based in Dublin (contact details below) and fulfilled by its new UK reseller, C-Learning based in Wiltshire.
Schools can be run on Chromebooks, and St Ursula's E-ACT Primary Academy in Bristol has already proved it – for both the learning and teaching and the administration (see "Welcome to Google's first UK 'server-free school'"). And St Ursula's sponsor, E-ACT, is extending their use to other schools.
A more recent primary school pilot in Cumbria is even running Microsoft Office software on its Google-based set-up. Google Apps are used on Chromebooks for classroom work while Microsoft Office 2010, Gmail and Google Calendar are used for administration on three Chromeboxes (£287 each). You can read the full details on Steve Moss' blog. And what's interesting other schools – policy makers too – is that this technology can be managed through revenue funding.
Lower-case keyboard an important feature for primary schools
On a personal level, a ChromeBook is far more useful than its description suggests, and surprisingly little is made of the lower-case keyboard in the publicity material even though is an important feature for primary schools.. The evaluation model loaned to Agent4change.net was a Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook (available for £299.95 from Amazon). Most of the tasks we use computers for can now be done in a browser, and that's the thinking behind the Chromebook computers. They run on an operating system called Chrome, which is basically a browser. For most of us it's all that we need.
You sign into the machine via your Google account and it loads up all the apps and tools that you have subscribed to. The loan machine currently handles four different sign-ons and the users get their own, personalised set-up.
The Google Apps are very powerful tools, capable of running a business or even a school, but there's far more on offer. There are other online productivity suites, like Zoho, and there are loads of other apps to link you into services you may already use, like Skype or Dropbox. You just subscribe to them from the Google Chrome Web Store and they are always available to you through your browser (even if you sign in on someone else's Chromebook).
Yes, this machine is designed for online use but you are not completely stymied when there is no connection. In the Web Store there are also all sorts of apps that don't need an internet connection so if ever you need to write something, for example, you can just just use an offline tool (Gmail would actually suffice). In fact the Web Store has enough useful tools to make a Chromebook sing and dance. And if you really do need somewhere to store your data (there is no hard disc to speak of – just 16Gb of storage) you can keep a decent-sized SD memory card in the slot provided (32Gb cards are pretty cheap and should be more than enough).
The memory card slot was very useful for media. This may be a browser-based device but it will play music and movie files like any other laptop, and if the speakers aren't to your taste just plug in some headphones.
This machine also had a slot for 3G card. I simply took the SIM card out of my mobile phone and put it into the Chromebook. Connection was simple and wonderful when wifi was not available.
Clear advantages over regular laptops
The Samsung Chromebook is a nicely designed, reasonably robust laptop that has some clear advantages over regular laptops: instant on and off; regular OS and Google Apps updating means that it only gets better; lower-case keyboard; Flash compatibility gives access to most online education content services; because they work with the cloud there are major savings on servers and on technical support; there is no threat from viruses.
The loan machine coped with all the work required to run this website, although it would have to offer better picture editing tools to break our dependency on programs like Photoshop.
There was a time when those who didn't want to follow the herd bought Apple. Now Apple is becoming the herd so Chromebooks could easily be overlooked by those who are star-struck by digital tablets and think that it's time to dump keyboards (even thought many users still prefer them). Despite the fact that Google, with all its massive resources, seems unable to invest in effective marketing for schools, thoughtful school leaders and technology advisers would do well to check out schools that find these underplayed devices engaging and effective tools that can bring serious savngs (see links below).
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook
Laptop computer with Google Chrome OS, 2Gb memory, 16Gb SSD storage, SD memory slot, slot for 3G SIM card, 12.1-inch high-re screen, lower-case keyboard, Intel ATOM processor N570 (1.66GHz, 667MHz, 2 x 512KB), 1-megapixel webcam, two USB ports, one external display connector (plus adaptor), headphone socket, claimed battery life of 8.5 hours. Price around £266 for schools.
Schools interested in the Google offer should contact Alex Fleming Chrome sales manager (EDU) – EMEAP
UK + 44 207 881 4704
Ireland + 353 1 436 1390
Fax + 353 1 684 9921
Google Ireland Ltd, Gasworks House, Barrow Street, Dublin 4, Ireland