Why we’re betting Chromebooks aren’t just another interactive whiteboard

One thing we’ve noticed after 25 years in the educational technology space is that software products don’t get a lot of play on Parent Teacher Conference night. Teachers and school board members can easily point to a stack of iPads or an interactive whiteboard in the front of the room and say, “Look! Technology in the classroom!” But they rarely make a big deal about software; or even budget for it. In fact, K-12 schools in 2011 spent an estimated 55-60% of their education technology budgets on hardware, with only 18-22% going toward software.¹

So there was a lot of head-nodding around the office when Jason Orbaugh’s article for EdSurgeLessons from the Downfall of Interactive Whiteboards” made the rounds on TechSmith’s internal social media site few months back. When we visit schools and ask teachers how they’re actually using their IWBs, the answers would probably surprise the people who wrote the checks for these devices.

But we’re making a huge bet that things are going to be different with Chromebooks. Why?

Students are hungry


In his article, Jason recommends focusing on those who are eager for change. “Feed the hungry, not the full: If your teachers aren’t asking for the technology, odds are they won’t use it.”

Lots of forward-thinking teachers are pushing for meaningful, and not just flashy, tech implementation. But some of the hungriest people you’ll meet in schools are the students! With 1:1 Chromebook initiatives, the technology can benefit them directly.

Students don’t need hours of professional development to figure out how to use the devices. They just need permission. (tweet this)

Give students:

  1. a meaningful challenge
  2. a real audience
  3. some coaching

…and they will make good use of technology, whether that’s through teaching each other math or creating their own book review videos. Students can turn around and share what they’ve learned with teachers…or even become the IT help desk!

Eric MarcosEric Marcos (@mathtrain), a teacher from Santa Monica, California, let his middle school students loose with his personal tablet PC a few years back. They started making math videos for fellow students, which grew into Mathtrain.tv…a site that now hosts hundreds of student-created videos that have garnered nearly 1 million views.

This innovation was spurred by direct and unfettered access to the technology. Eric says, “My students seem to have a thirst for learning new things. So at times I am training them and other times they are training me, or each other.” (tweet this)

Ed tech thinker and consultant Alan November shares Eric’s story with educators around the globe, to show how students can become “digital learning farmers”—active contributors to their own learning community rather than passive consumers of learning.

Teachers have problems to solve, too

Let’s not forget about the practical, day-to-day challenges faced by classroom teachers, technology integrators, and administrative staff. Clay Christensen famously observed that customers “hire” a product to do a job for them. Some teachers and staff employ educational technology to rethink education or flip their entire school. But many others simply need a better way to keep students on track when jury duty calls or to quickly give students personalized feedback in an appealing format. To get these important tasks done efficiently, they need technology that “just works,” anywhere, any time, unobtrusively. We see Chromebooks and Chrome apps fitting the bill quite nicely here, as well.

It’s all about the apps

If there’s one thing both Apple and Google have demonstrated with their respective mobile platforms, it’s that building a platform for developers to deliver rich apps unleashes a juggernaut of creative potential. Both Apple and Google now claim to have more than 1 million apps in their respective mobile app stores. Those apps drive adoption, implementation, and continued use of the hardware.

Chrome OS is emerging as another major platform, with Google Drive at its heart and Google Apps for Education as its backbone. Business Insider reported in October 2013 that 22% of school districts in the U.S. are using Chromebooks. We’ve been tracking major Chromebook deployments and have pinpointed 167 in the United States so far. (tweet this)

Small is the new big

The relatively low price point of Chromebooks and ease with which they can be deployed is driving a lot of 1:1 pilot programs and even single-classroom experiments. Teachers are getting small grants and spinning up Chromebook initiatives without a lot of overhead. The primary infrastructure requirement is good WiFi access. Google offers robust management tools. Even larger 1:1 initiatives like those at Richland School District Two, Council Bluffs School District, and Cherry Creek Schools are finding that Chromebook roll-outs are relatively simple.

So we expect Chromebook adoption to continue accelerating, making it a smart bet for our R&D dollars. We’ll keep working to build tools for people to create and collaborate around rich, visual content on every platform—including all these new Chromebooks.

¹ “2012 Education Technology Market Watch,” Center for Digital Education

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