Ipad vs Chromebook in the Classroom is Only Part of the Debate

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By Eric Fulkert
Sep 11, 2015 8:42:00 AM

I hear this question being asked every day. "What's better for education, the Ipad or the Chromebook?" It pains me to hear this question. It's really the wrong question to be asking. Why? Ipads and Chromebooks are two dissimilar platforms.

The first real comparison should be Windows vs Chromebooks. A Chromebook, which is a laptop, competes with Windows. Laptops are intended for content creation. Content creation requires more processor power, keyboard, trackpad, and a form factor that requires a stationary use.

In the education process, we need to look at what expectations the content creators have. Windows powers a range of business applications that are not available on any other platform. Many new applications are web delivered, making the operating system less relevant.

With laptops, the decision points revolve around your application needs. Many schools are in the Office 365 vs Google Apps debate right now. I feel that the choice for Chromebook vs Windows depends on how your district resolves this debate. Mac OSX laptops are caught in the middle of this fight, and carry a much higher price point, not incidentally.

Driving the mobile device gold rush, of course, is the increasing mobility of the students and staff who with each day depend more and more on their mobile devices. As a school administrator, you're weighing and wrestling with a lot of issues – Ipads, Chromebooks, BYOD, mobile apps, a school website with responsive (mobile-friendly) design. Fact is, the Ipad vs Chromebook in classroom debate is only part of what you should be discussing.

Let's jump in and look at some pros and cons when deciding which platforms and devices to consider for your school.

Why Chromebooks for schools are attractive

  • Price – Chromebooks are much cheaper than Windows.
  • Management Google offers enterprise-level management tools as part of Google Apps to manage large amounts of Chromebooks.
  • Google Drive and Docs Chromebooks can use cloud storage from Google, and Docs to work offline on documents.
  • Built in security Anti-virus and disk encryption are built in.
  • Support Get 27/7 support from Google.

Some downsides to Chromebooks for schools

  • Deep applications Anything that requires a big app or processing power is going to be hard to come by.
  • Unreliable internet If you have challenges with Internet connectivity, Chromebooks can be a challenge.
  • Lack of browsers Some applications are browser dependent. Chromebooks run Google Chrome only.
  • Hardware Projectors, scanners, anything that you might connect to the computer.

Some schools such as Leyden High School are out in front of it. Bryan Weinert, Leyden’s director of technology, rides herd on that district’s Chromebook and 1:1 program. A certified Google educator, Bryan leads a district that has been using Google Apps for Education for over five years. More than three dozen of the district’s faculty and staff, in fact, are Google certified. Check out Bryan’s blog to see how they’re using technology, and maybe you can pick up some tips if your school is considering the transition to laptops or tablets.

Delavan-Darien School District in Wisconsin has put together a Chromebook FAQ/Policy page on their school website. The Leyden Chromebook manual is comprehensive as well.

Windows is in a completely different place. Unlike Apple or Google, Windows computers are a two- or three-way agreement. That is, you will have your hardware provider, Microsoft, and a potential hardware support group. Chromebooks are 100% Google. Windows laptops are minimally a two-party system. That compounds support.

Benefits of Windows software for schools

  • Control Lock down your school as much as you want via Active Directory
  • Reputation – Office is still the reigning champ of the Fortune 500. It’s like the Yankees. You’ve gotta respect them.
  • Data control Keep your data local, away from hackers and third parties.
  • Applications Windows has a huge base of applications for schools and business.

The difficulties with Windows for schools

  • Price – Windows and Office cost real money.
  • Reputation – It’s like the Yankees. You’ve gotta hate them.
  • Support – In a two- or three-party arrangement, who has responsibility?
  • Security – Security is another layer on Windows systems. Anti-virus and disk encryption need managed.

The key is what your students need. If they need detailed applications and power, Windows is your choice. If your school needs basic productivity applications and storage, Chromebooks might be your choice. The educational need must always drive the technology choice.

So what about Ipads for schools?

The second real comparison that ought to be made is Ipad vs Android tablets. Tablets are for consumption of content. Tablets can create content, but the goal is the consumption and interaction with content. The lack of a keyboard, and a portable design put tablets in a different space in the educational process. The goal with the tablet is interaction. Tablets allow for video, audio, and environmental interaction. Tablets are portable by design. Where we take the educational process is limitless with a tablet.

Ipads are based on IOS, Apple's mobile operating system for Ipads and Iphones. Apple is the sole provider of any IOS device. You can only buy and get support for IOS devices from Apple. The key positives about Ipads are:

  • Education focus. Apple has a long tradition of supporting education, from pricing to tools.
  • ItunesU. Often overlooked, Itunes U is a powerful source of free educational content.
  • Ibooks. Ibooks is a full solution to textbooks, wrapped in aq managed package.
  • App marketplace. Apple maintains a large app ecosystem, and a high level of security for the marketplace.
  • Security. Apple has a strong security platform in place.
  • Apple TV. Use Airplay to share screens on projectors or TV's.

Ipads do have challenges in the educational space. The big challenges are:

  • Price. Apple charges a premium for the Ipad, and for third-party devices that work with it.
  • Control. Using Microsoft or Google management tools is difficult. Fitting device management into your larger plan may be a challenge.
  • Interoperability. If your school is not Mac focused, Ipads may be a challenge.

Android is the other alternative to the Ipad. As Google's mobile operating system, Android powers a large range of tablets. Android tablets are similar to Windows laptops. Google makes the operating system, and another vendor makes the hardware. This arrangement leads to potential difficulties. Google is starting to make Google-branded hardware, but a wide range of the market is still comprised of two-party devices.

So why Android tablets for schools?

  • Price Android tablets can be purchased for under $50! You can get tablets for less than the cost of a textbook.
  • Flexibility The wide range of providers and hardware lets you pick a device that meets your needs. Change things like storage, cameras, screen size, and battery life to your needs and budget.
  • Google Apps for Education GAE offers a suite of tools to enable tablets in the classroom.
  • Chromecast Use Chromecasts to share screens from Android devices

So what are the challenges? Android does offer a few.

  • Support Who is supporting what? Any non-Google Android device is a 2 party support agreement.
  • Updates Updates for the Android operating system are dependent on the hardware manufacturer. Some manufactureres don't release updates.
  • Security The Google App store and Android have security challenges. Controling the devices is dependant on Android versions and the management application.

Choosing the hardware is just one aspect

As more and more schools ponder just how to equip their students with tablets, there are a host of considerations that come into play. And it's much more than a debate over devices. Wireless infrastructure, tech support, teacher training, vendor relations and curriculum delivery to name a few.

The key takeaway from all of this is to understand the educational process. If we educators look at the needs and our goals for our students, the solutions present themselves. Education isn't measured in technology, it's measured in outcomes.

Get out and ask your colleagues what's working and not working in their shift to 1:1 technology. Watch what districts like Leyden High School District are doing right. Remember, it’s not the shiny hardware that educators need to focus on, rather having the support system in place and training educators to use the technology.

Topics: School Districts Private schools Content management

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About the author

Eric's background as a technical CEO with a big-picture focus brings the experience and vision that both gains the respect of technical audiences, and gets the attention of the progressive school leaders and administrators.