Are students who use Chromebooks going to succeed?
In a recent interview, Apple’s marketing chief, Phil Schiller, was asked to comment on his perspective on why Chromebooks have grown in the education market. His response included the following statement:
“Chromebooks have gotten to the classroom because, frankly, they’re cheap testing tools for required testing. If all you want to do is test kids, well, maybe a cheap notebook will do that. But they’re not going to succeed.”
Wow. Pretty strong words. Are the millions of students who have been using Chromebooks really doomed for failure? In a word: No.
Schiller rightfully challenges us to think about our why before we jump to our what. In other words, his statement acknowledges that a solution made just to test students may not necessarily be the best solution for other student needs. I agree. I’ll also give him the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he wasn’t trying to say that every student that uses a Chromebook is doomed for failure. I think the point that he was trying to make was that testing a student alone doesn’t guarantee success and that we shouldn’t make decisions based solely on our testing needs. And, again, on that point, I agree. As the saying goes, “weighing a pig each day doesn’t make it fatter.”
I think that we can also agree that we want students to gain the necessary skills for their futures. The required skills extend well beyond just skills of word processing or using a spreadsheet. It also goes beyond knowing how to solve a quadratic equation or to name the phases of mitosis. The skills most in demand in today’s economy — and certainly the future economy — will require students to be able to problem solve, collaborate with others, communicate effectively, think critically, and be creative in their work. There is no longer a manual and rarely a six-month training program in today’s jobs. Instead, today’s workers and our future workers must be continuous self-learners who can and will effectively work together to face and embrace new challenges and opportunities.
What Schiller’s comment fails to acknowledge is that the Chromebook is much more than a device for testing. Yes, in many ways, the Chromebook is simply a cheap device with a keyboard attached to a pane of glass – with minimal software installed. But, its umbilical cord – that which gives it life – is the power of the Cloud. Because it’s part of the powerful ecosystem that Google has created, the Chromebook is a tool for creating, collaborating, communicating, and problem solving. What Schiller either fails to understand or admit is that the battle is no longer over what. The battle is over where.
When I was a young kid, I wanted to hang out with my neighbor who had the latest Atari baseball game. As a teen, I was impressed by my friends who had a huge collection of cassette tapes and even more impressed by those building up their collection of CDs. A good weekend was when the local movie rental store still had a copy of The Breakfast Club on the shelves, and I spent time shopping with friends at the closest mall to my house, which was an hour drive away. In other words, whether I wanted to play a game, buy a new song, rent a movie, or shop for clothes, I actually had to leave the house and select from what was in stock at my local stores. This is a world that my two daughters (ages 14 and 12) already see as ancient. Their entertainment comes to them. They log in and play games with not only neighbors but with people on the other side of the world. They can choose from hundreds of shows to watch, play just about any song of their choice, and shop for any item they can possibly imagine — all instantly from the phone they hold in their hands.
Not only has the way that our kids get entertainment changed, but so has the way they work. Imagine if you are a middle or high school student today and are asked to go to a lab to work on a paper at school. You don’t care if you are opening a program called Microsoft Word, Pages, or Google Docs. What you do care about is that you have the features you need to type your paper. Furthermore, you just expect to be able to access that paper from any computer, edit it from your phone, share it with a friend, make comments on your friend’s paper, turn it in easily to your teacher, and quickly get comments, feedback, and your grade from your teacher. Likewise, if you are a kindergarten student who is learning to read, you don’t care if your teacher is having you read into a microphone connected to a cassette recorder, iPad, tablet, Chromebook, or laptop. What you care about is that it’s easy to press record, playback your recording, share it with your teacher, listen to a catalog of your recordings over the course of the year, and allow your parents to hear any of the recordings from their phone.
The power of computing is no longer the computer in your hand. It is the Cloud powering your work. Cloud computing fundamentally disrupts the way most customers select products. We used to buy a device and then think about where to save our work. Now, we think about where our work is saved (in what ecosystem) and then pick a device that will let us most easily access and continue our work. The three tech giants – Google, Apple, and Microsoft – have known this for some time. It’s also why they all eagerly provide access to most (if not all) of their Cloud services for free to K-12 education.
So, the choice is no longer about what device you should buy for your students. The choice is now which Cloud to adopt for your students. For me, the choice is simple. Microsoft and Apple have made efforts to connect and partially live in the Cloud. Google, on the other hand, was born in the Cloud. And, the current state of each of their products shows that history. For several years, Google has had robust, fully Cloud-based productivity apps like Google Mail, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, and Maps. They also have a whole host of other solutions that make student learning even more engaging, flexible, and authentic – such as Google Classroom, Google Sites, Google Photos, Google Earth, Blogger, YouTube, CS First, Google Expeditions, Tour Creator, Google Arts and Culture, and more.
Microsoft and Apple still have a place for special situations – like a lab for computer-aided design and drafting or a lab for producing the school’s video announcements. And, certainly, a school should take time to do their roll out the right way. However, I think the majority of students’ needs can be best met with a Chromebook and the robust Cloud that powers it.
With that said, a Chromebook – and really any of these devices – cannot guarantee that a student will succeed, much like owning a pencil and paintbrush didn’t guarantee that my generation would all be good writers or good artists. However, Google understands that the future isn’t just about bringing tools into the classroom; it’s about connecting the work inside the classroom with the world outside the classroom. Students are no longer just producing work that their teacher can grade. Their audience can be the world. They are not limited by access to a lab that has the software they need. They are limited only by the depth of their imagination.
Schiller is right: a Chromebook is less costly. What he fails to understand is the experience that it can provide students is exceptionally rich.