Monday, January 2, 2017

Limitations of 1:1 Chromebooks, Laptops, and Non-iPad Tablets

Recently I wrote about the value of tablets in math and other subjects where only having a keyboard would be limiting, such as art, music, physical education, science, and world language. 1:1 tablets are truly a universal tool that add value and enhance learning across all subject areas, multiple grade levels and tasks from basic to highly complex. (Video of iPads in high school calculus)

Besides limiting input to only text on a keyboard and not having the flexibility to use handwriting or drawing, devices like laptops, Chromebooks, and even non-iPad tablets are less versatile than iPads. The iPad itself is lightweight and highly portable, so students can work anywhere and anytime -- at home lying on a couch or their bed, sitting on the bus, standing in the hall, or on the court. Students on the Minnetonka swim team even film their workouts underwater using a Ziploc bag over an iPad and review the film with their coach. The iPad is an amazingly versatile device for anywhere, anytime learning.

Since its introduction, a Chromebook’s low price point has made it very attractive to many schools beginning 1:1 programs. This has resulted in heavy sales and widespread adoption. Unfortunately, schools aren’t factoring in the costs of having to refresh the students’ devices more frequently due to a shorter device life, as well as the educational sacrifices inherent in only having a keyboard. As explained above, much of school and learning is not typed on a keyboard. Subjects like math, art, music, and more require more flexible devices for an investment to see the best possible return. In addition as stated earlier, the iPad has proven residual resale value after years of use.

We currently have Chromebooks on carts available in our K-12 schools for basic uses like taking state tests, editing Google Docs and some coding. Chromebooks require an Internet connection for most uses, and software and files are stored in the cloud, making some offline tasks not possible. When using a Chromebook, a user is still limited to running all apps and use of that device through the Chrome web browser. Users can’t use or install programs other than what works through the Chrome web browser. In comparison with an iPad, the processing power of a Chromebook and its speed stills lag with video files, file transfers, copy and paste functions, and large, web-intensive tasks. This can be made somewhat better by spending more on the device upfront to get some increased capabilities, but that means the device itself isn’t as low of a price to enter the 1:1 world. Chromebooks also have limited local storage with little space for personal files unless you pay more for the device.

Ironically, neither Google Earth or Google Expeditions can be used on a Chromebook. These are two wonderful educational tools used more and more in all Minnetonka 1:1 iPad classrooms for virtual field trips and more. The processing power of a Chromebook is not powerful enough for either of these tools, and the limited storage space prevents it from being able to store enough images and content to make the experience even happen. Recently, an app became available in the Android App store that would make Google Earth work on a Chromebook, but Chromebooks that can run this app cost more upfront. In addition, due to a lack of an accelerometer and gyroscope, neither a Chromebook or a laptop is able to measure the direction the device is moving/rotating it in space. Applications like Google Earth and Expeditions, as well as other virtual reality tools, taking advantage of these advanced special motion sensing abilities.

One of the most widely used tools, by students and teachers alike, is the camera on the iPad. The iPad camera has a significant advantage over other devices. Editing, sharing and uploading to widely used student apps is also seamless on the iPad. Users wishing to edit photos and a movie on a Chromebook are limited to web-based editors such as WeVideo, which are improving but don’t compare to iMovie, and as previously mentioned, require an Internet connection to be used. A Chromebook, or a laptop for that matter, has only one forward-facing camera which makes filming difficult.

For similar reasons, other devices, be that tablet format or a more traditional laptop, have many of the same limitations. The upfront price tag may look appealing, but in the mature ROI model, is a wash or in some cases more expensive. The most extensive, robust and powerful educational and productive applications remain in the iOS ecosystem in comparison with a much smaller, limited options currently available in other platforms. While all devices will certainly improve in functionality as innovation continues, the iPad continues to be our best choice to meet our high instructional goals supported by technology.

Rather than sacrificing functionality and limiting students and teachers in their use of technology, in Minnetonka we have made the device decision on what is best for all of teaching and learning, not a decision based on an initial price or the ability to technically deploy or manage the device. The depth, complexity and innovative nature of Minnetonka’s instructional goals has led us to what we believe is the best single platform to meet these goals. Other technical tools could help support our deep instructional work, but we believe the iPad rises above them. (Read more on our instructional framework for teaching and learning beyond SAMR ladders and pools).

When planning and budgeting for an implementation or even re-evaluating past decisions and possible device changes, it's important to realize that 1:1 programs don't have to start in kindergarten. Ours doesn't begin until fifth grade. (Tip #1 for a Successful 1:1 Implementation: Execute the Rollout Carefully and Deliberately) While getting any technology in the hands of students is certainly better than nothing, getting the best tool in the hands of some students is better than simply getting a tool in the hands of everyone. Don't forget staff development, either. Planning for sustained teacher professional development is still important six years into our implementation (Tip #2 for a Successful 1:1 Implementation: Differentiate Teacher Training).

Maybe someday my Christmas Ed Tech Moonshot wish from a couple years ago will come true, and there will be a marriage between Apple and Google, merging the best of both environments into one. Until then, I wish more schools would think through the full implications of their decisions and limits they may be creating when choosing a device. I know that some readers may disagree and perhaps some even be upset reading this, but I would encourage everyone to think outside the traditional teaching and learning environment and beyond the mindset of keyboards to what is truly best for the flexibility of learning for the future.

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  1. I'm curious what your replacement cycle for student iPads is? How much memory/which model are you using?

    1. Hi Tami, we kept our first round of iPad2s for five years, sold them to a reseller, and purchased iPad Air 2 64GB model for half of our students last year. More on that here: Bigger, Better, Faster: New iPads Coming for Year Six in Minnetonka's 1:1 Program; First Devices Cost $0.38/school day and A Big Bang for Your Buck: The iPad for $0.38/day: Less than a Chromebook

  2. Hi Dave,
    I found your post very interesting. My district is currently working on a tech plan that calls for ipads in K-2 and chromebooks 3-12, however the more I Iearn about ipads and what they can do the more I think we should reconsider them at levels beyond 2nd grade. Your post has given validity to what I've been thinking so thank you.