DAILY INSIGHT: Be the best fluff you can be: Chromebooks in schools

By Miguel Guhlin, CIO Advisor

"If we're not seeing technology blended into curriculum & instruction," shared a colleague one afternoon, "if it's not integral to the success of a lesson or learning activity, then technology is just so much fluff."

"Well, if we must be fluff, then let's be the best fluff out there!"

I regret that this was not a fulfilling conversation for either party. When we talk of revolutionizing schools, reforming them, fundamentally transforming them, I'm left wondering what we're really saying.

As I've transitioned from my role as a director of instructionaltechnology to technology operations, I feel less pressure to advocate the "edtech perspective" which is undervalued in schools today. Simply, who the heck wants to keep evangelizing a perspective that has made such poor inroads into curriculum & instruction departments in schools? Now, my focus is less that of preacher and more of Maytag repairman with a good product to support ... fortunately, no technology seems to be as reliable as the Maytag washer featured in commercials!I'm often reminded of the plight of instructional technologists when I reflect on the work of C.S. Lewis, who cites G.K. Chesterton. I've adapted the original quote:

Instructional Technology has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

I get a laugh every time. I also get a laugh when I read quotes about revolution (including my own):

Principal Chris Lehmann believes Chromebooks can “revolutionize the way schools are thinking about technology” because of their cost. Source: No More Macs

Chromebooks are attractive for schools...but why? What's the motivation for taking a hard look at Chromebooks?

"Humans respond to three motivations: moral, social and economic. The measure of character is which you respond to most." —Joseph Grenny

Character may matter little to schools these days. Choosing your technology because of cost makes sense. The problem is, most school leaders are NOT choosing cost. If that were the case, we'd all be using Linux and figure out a way to make management work and twist the arms of State Education Agencies and Pearson to support dominant technologies.

We'd forget about motivators like...

1. High-stakes testing from Pearson that requires a proprietary operating system.
2. iStation (in Texas)
3. Think Through Math (in Texas)
4. A wide variety of software that only runs on Windows, and many times, on Mac

More powerful than Lehmann's embrace of Chromebooks for SLA (Video | Article | Rebuttal) is this story Del Valle ISD English teacher shared. This is the motivation I can get behind, although cost is a powerful motivator:

Source: Students Raise Money for New Computers in Del Valle ISD, Texas

Who couldn't blame students for wanting computers they could type on?

Although I've discussed this before, if cost is the primary motivator, then why not do a cost comparison? Sorry, Windows 7 on desktop computers wins for most versatile.

My criteria depend on the following, for which I am unapologetic:

Does the technology do what we need it to?If the need is for drill-n-practice, then it would be foolish to buy technology for PBL, multimedia creation, etc. After all, tech supports the dominant culture in schools. Unfortunately, mixing super advanced technology into the mix does not "transform" people. That takes crucial conversations and confrontations.

Once we've determined what technology is needed, what's the least expensive equipment to get the job done?If we're going to be putting kids on electronic tutorials, then why buy top-of-the-line laptops that cost $1,300? Let's spend $620 (that's an actual quote for Win7 machine, BTW) or less to get an i3, 4gigs RAM, 500gig hard drive desktop that will get it done.

Where will this equipment be placed?If placement is in a lab, then we should be buying desktops, not laptops, Chromebooks and iPads that have to be managed in a cart (expensive). I can't tell you how many times I've walked into situations where equipment less durable than a desktop has been destroyed.

With these 3 bullets in mind, I see real value in setting up desktop computer labs because that's what is needed now. However, in classrooms, we need more choices. And, iPads, Chromebooks, etc., all can fit into the classroom.

That's why a mix of technologies in the classroom is helpful. For example:

  • 2 iPads for document cameras, video editing, digital cameras
  • 2-5 desktop computers for whatever
  • 5 Chromebooks

Campuses must make these decisions on their own, decide what they need and what they intend to accomplish.

How would you go about helping teachers develop a classroom technology plan?

For those of you looking for more information regarding Chromebooks, you may want to check out these documents:

Miguel Guhlin is director of technology for a 5A school district in Texas and past president of the statewide TCEA Technology Education Coordinators group. This blog is cross posted at Around the Corner.