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Why I’m Shifting My Classroom from iPads to Chromebooks

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Back in 2012, I was given an opportunity to become the first and only teacher in my school district to have a class set of brand-new iPad 2s. The infusion of technology revolutionized nearly every aspect of the way I taught my seventh grade social studies course: I digitized my entire classroom workflow with Edmodo, crafted media-rich lessons, designed student-directed learning experiences, taught students to use apps like Notability like digital paper, and even created systems of transparency to keep parents in the loop.

Here on Chromebook.net, we already saw in 2011 that Chromebooks were going to change the education system in a big way. Now, years later, it’s obvious that Chromebooks have taken the classrooms by storm.

It was a lot of work, but I was blazing a trail into uncharted territory as a digitally empowered educator. Most importantly, my students were engaged, empowered, and successful. The effort paid off.

Five years later, everything has changed. Our district has invested heavily in Chromebooks and the Google for Education infrastructure; meanwhile, my classroom remains the lone Apple holdout. I have gone from being the district’s digital classroom hermit to actually leading my colleagues in professional development sessions on integrating technology into the classroom (on Chromebooks, no less!).

Ironically, despite using the iPads, nearly my entire classroom workflow is now managed through Google Classroom. My students create and submit work created in Docs, Slides, and with photos taken from their iPads.

The teaching and learning systems I’ve created in my classroom over the past few years still work, but lately I have had to consider, could they be better?

 

Seeking Advice

I can’t speak to other jobs, but one of the coolest parts of being an educator is the culture of sharing and collaboration that exists within the profession.

When I started embedding technology into my classroom I was largely alone – left to figure things out on my own. Today, thanks to the proliferation of tech in my district’s classrooms and the growth of my professional learning network, I have access to a plethora of creative, innovative, and expert peers that I can collaborate with to ensure I am creating the best possible learning environment for my students.

So when an administrator asked me if I wanted to trade my aging cart of iPads for a set of Dell Chromebook 11s, I knew where to turn!

 

I posed a simple question:

Within a matter of minutes, the support came rolling in. Here are some of the best pieces of advice I received from my peers on social media:

As Apple has pushed out iOS updates year after year, my iPad 2s are struggling to keep up. The snappy interface and typing speeds have been dragging since the update to iOS 9 in 2015. While the apps I rely on continue to provide legacy support for the older models like mine, these apps lack the optimization (and sometimes even features) available to the newer iPad models.

Furthermore, Apple’s attempts to create user-friendly and responsive management software has always seemed to come up short. The available tools, Apple Configurator and iTunes, take a very long time to push files, apps, and updates to a cart full of iPads even when running on a fairly well-spec’d MacBook.

I get it. The idea is that I should be upgrading to newer iPads and suddenly all the speed and compatibility I once enjoyed will return. Unfortunately, that’s not how schools (and school budgets) work. While I can survive without the latest bells and whistles on my classroom tech, I can’t tolerate basic functions like typing and navigating the operating system being hamstrung. Even if I were to have the ability to upgrade to a newer set of iPads, I’m fairly convinced the same cycle of planned obsolescence would be nipping at my heels all over again in a few years’ time.

Chromebooks, in today’s classroom environment, offer an alternative that is more future-proof and reliable. ChromeOS is a glorified web-browser designed to handle web-based tasks consistently and quickly. Since I am fortunate enough to be in a school with a fairly robust and reliable network infrastructure, I have little fear that a Chromebook would ever regress to a state where it could be rendered unusable by my students.

 

Keyboards Make a Difference

 

Apple products like the iPhone and the iPad are, at their core, personal devices. While they found their place in classrooms, educators (especially early on) were forced to find creative ways to repurpose them into classroom devices; this meant finding ways to create classroom workflows that would provide enriching experiences but also be user friendly for students. There were plenty of natural limitations posed by using a personal organizational and multimedia device as the cornerstone of a collaborative learning workflow. At the top of the list: typing.

The value of a keyboard cannot be understated. While I teach social studies, writing is embedded in nearly everything my students do. In the first years with the classroom set of iPads, my students regularly used a variety of apps like Notability, Google Docs, and Pages to create work on their iPads and then submit responses through Google Classroom (and Edmodo before that).

Fast-forward to today: when it comes to lengthier written pieces, the majority of my students now opt to write out their work by hand and then use the iPad camera to take pictures of their papers for submission. If one of the goals of a digital classroom is a more paperless learning environment, the iPads are not delivering for me anymore.

Why would students opt for old-school penmanship rather than the modernity of typing? The reason is simple: a laggy, unreliable touch-screen keyboard. My students find it much less frustrating to use a pencil and paper than contend with the iPad keyboard that struggles to keep up with their typing.

Sure, there are external Bluetooth keyboards available for the iPad, but they come at an added cost (on top of already expensive iPads), require independent charging, and generally aren’t the greatest build quality. For me, at least, they aren’t an option.

Chromebooks, on the other hand, come with keyboards that are durable and reliable (I do the majority of my writing – thousands of words a week – on my Dell 11 for that very reason). In the other classrooms in my building that have Chromebooks instead of iPads, it isn’t unusual to see students finding creative ways to be able to type their work rather than to ever have to sharpen a pencil or pull out a sheet of loose-leaf. In the early days of iPads my class was like that; I think it’s time to get back to it.

 

Age Matters

 

 

 

 

These are valid points. Chromebooks provide an inherent value to students with the vocabulary and skills to engage with language and typing. For younger students, a simplified touch-friendly device may be more appropriate. While there are touch-enabled Chromebooks, unless they have support for the Android Play Store, Apple probably still makes a product that is more useful and intuitive for younger students.

In my case, seventh graders are beyond the point where they need tech devices that make learning novel. I need my students to have classroom technology that is seen as an effective, reliable, and intuitive tool for exploration, collaboration, organization, and creation. I want them to be able to push their thought-processes as far as they will go and have devices that can be canvases for sharing that experience with me and others.

Chromebooks continue to outpace Apple products in terms of adoption by schools. As such, innovators are flooding to the development space to help fill the needs of an education community that is vocal about its wants and needs from classroom devices. Perhaps most importantly, Google is spearheading many of these efforts with regular and impactful updates to their Google for Education products like Classroom.

As Chromebooks have become more prevalent as the go-to devices in classroom tech, it has become clear that a Chromebook can check those boxes for me and my students in ways that my iPads are currently struggling to do. What’s more, the pace of advancement has made it clear that education-focused developments will continue to roll out making the Chromebook experience even more versatile and efficient for classroom use.

 

Storage & Organization Considerations

 

 

Chromebooks are ideally suited for multi-user environments due to the fact that the storage and account settings are cloud-based rather than device based. Each period a student signs into a Chromebook (regardless of the device in the building they sign on to), they are greeted with their content, their Google Drive, their Gmail account, their Google Classrooms courses, and their creations.

Google for Education provides unlimited storage for the students in our school to utilize. This means students can archive and organize their work and have access to it days, even years later if they wish. Knowledge is an additive process, Having Chromebooks that students can use to create living educational portfolios that are secure and easily accessible is a huge plus!

This may seem minor, but iPads require students to add and remove their Google accounts each day to ensure that their peers in other classes can’t access their files. Files saved to applications are often saved locally, meaning subsequent users can access (and potentially copy) them unless extra steps are taken to protect or store the content on a student’s cloud storage.

My students currently use their Google for Education accounts on the iPads, but the time it takes to remove a profile or clear a locally-stored file from the iPads is an extra step that, if removed, could save time and improve the overall security of student data.

 

Creativity Can Flourish on a Chromebook

 

 

The stalwarts of the G Suite like Docs, Sheets, Forms, and Slides have made common desktop publishing tasks a breeze on Chromebooks. That being said, when it comes to more creative tasks, Apple’s branding efforts have most people convinced that iPads are the superior products in the space.

Prior to reaching out to my fellow educators, I was part of that camp. However, thanks to a Padlet shared by Karly Moura, the versatility of the lesser-known Google Drawings is now fully on my radar.

The idea that Chromebooks can provide all of the reliability and functionality with desktop publishing tasks and allow opportunities for students to represent their learning in more creative ways pretty much sealed the deal on my decision to make the switch to Chromebooks next school year.

 

It’s a Personal Choice

 

 

I clearly am not the first educator to face this dilemma. Articles like this one have grappled with the iPad vs. Chromebook debate long before I was faced with the choice.

In my case, I am opting to switch to Chromebooks; but for others in similar situations, decisions like this should ultimately come down to what is best for students. Teachers can gain comfort and confidence in new technology with practice and professional development opportunities, but the strengths and limitations of a tool will dictate how effective it can be in a student’s hands.

For other educators and professionals facing similar decisions, I encourage you to reach out to your peers. Tapping into the experiences and knowledge of others is what made this decision more informed and powerful than if I had made it alone. A big thank you goes out to all the teachers and members of my professional learning community who helped me with this!

 

Where do you fall in the iPad vs. Chromebook debate? Which do you feel is better suited for classroom use? Share your thoughts in the comments below or with our social media community!

 

1 Comment
  1. I am currently in a 1:1 iPad environment and can definitely sympathize with the struggles you’ve pointed out. I actually have a personal whiteboard for each student to write notes on so they can take pictures with their iPads and not waste paper! Fortunately, we are also BYOD and many of my students opt to bring their own laptops because the functionality they find in having full web access and a keyboard outweighs the portability of the iPad. Like you said, ultimately, it’s about what’s best for the students, and in this case, I think you made the right choice.

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