- Near-instant start-up time.
- Great battery life (8+ hours)
- Cloud-based storage that eliminates the needs for data backups.
- Seamless integration of Google's web tools.
- Full size keyboard
- Cellular data (with the 3G model)
- Price ($20/month with education pricing)
- Application deployment in a single click from the Apps Marketplace
- Chromebook management through the Google Apps dashboard
These were many of the reasons that I was excited about potentially offering a Chromebook to all of my full time online students. An additional benefit of giving these virtual students Chromebooks is that it greatly reduces the support burden on our IT staff as they only have to support one optimized device, not hundreds of unknown laptops and desktops with all sorts of hardware and software configurations.
As my team gave further thought and consideration to our plans, we identified three potential issues:
2. Adding media from a scanner or digital camera
3. Virtual meeting (webinar) solution
Google Chrome does not support device drivers therefore a student will be unable to connect their Chromebook to a printer. This issue can resolved through the use of a wireless printer or by activating Google Cloud Print on Windows machine that has a connected printer.
A neat opportunity we discovered is the ability to have off-campus students remotely print documents at school for teachers to receive and grade. With students in countries around the world, this is a neat use for Cloud Print.
Most of the work that our virtual students do can be completed digitally. Papers can be written using Google Docs, presentations can be built in Google Docs Presentation, and quizzes are taken as a computer-scored assessment. One assignment, however, can not be easily completed digitally: math homework.
Showing calculations is a critical part of training a student in mathematics. Using equation editors in Google Docs or MS Office to complete an assignment is not a fun process. We currently recommend that students print out their math worksheets and complete them by hand, showing their work. When complete, students must digitize their work to submit it to their teacher. This is where the problem begins.
To our knowledge, there is no way to scan a document into the Chromebook. Wireless printer/scanners require the installation of special software and drivers to connect to the scanner; drivers that are not supported by the Chromebook. It is theoretically possible to take a digital picture of a document and upload that document using the media card port on the Chrombook. Not all of our students have suitable digital cameras for this, however, and the image quality of a document is not the greatest.
We contemplated setting up a fax-to-PDF solution, however we have students scattered around the world which would require that we setup international fax numbers for each of them. Additionally, fax machines are becoming increasingly scarce.
Virtual Meeting Solution:
Our digital curriculum is an asynchronous, on-demand model. We currently offer the opportunity for teachers and students to connect virtually through the use of Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate). This tools allows teachers and students to communicate via text and video chat as well as provides an opportunity for teachers to screen-share to help students with challenges they are experiencing.
A little known fact about Chrome OS that is not widely publicized is the lack of support for client-side Java applications. Blackboard Collaborate requires Java support as does Go2Meeting, Vyew, Zoho, and every other virtual meeting solution I have looked at. I even started a lively discussion on Google+ and got lots of great feedback and ideas, without any workable solution.
It appears that Google is banking on the future use of Google+ hangouts to fill this void. The recent addition of screen sharing and public hangout with unlimited viewers would certainly fulfill our needs. Until G+ is rolled out to the Google Apps for Education platform, it's not a workable solution for our current needs.
Chromebooks have a lots of attractive features and we would love to deploy them to all of our virtual students. Until we can resolve the issues of adding media and virtual meetings, we will have to wait for the product to mature. If you have any suggestions about how to solve the issues above, I would love to hear from you!