Tuesday, October 11, 2011

3 Problems with Chromebooks

Google's Chromebooks have some great features:

  • 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. 
  • Flash-enabled
  • 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: 

1. Printing
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. 

Problem Solved. 

Adding Media: 
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. 

Problem: Unsolved

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. 

Problem: Unsolved

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! 


  1. Thanks for the post on Chromebooks, John. I'm afraid that I don't have answers to your 2nd and 3rd problems. Sorry!
    I just had a colleague today wondering what device she should consider writing a grant for. In my flipped/mastery classroom, the iOS devices (iPads and iTouches) have been great for quick access to internet, vodcasts, apps, etc. Her primary use would be for students to write summaries of current events via her blog. Besides leaving blog comments, they'd also use them for quick research. She was leaning toward the iPad, but I wonder if the Chromebook would be better suited for her needs. She's a social studies teacher, so I'd also think she'd appreciate the device that runs Google Earth and Maps to their fullest capabilities. Do you have any advice on this? Thanks again for the post.

    1. As far as I know, Google Earth will not run on Chromebooks

  2. My school gave iPads to all of our high school students this year, so I am partial to that device. What it does, it does really well. As long as you understand its limitations, you will love it. I see the iPad as a multimedia consumption and creation device.

    I see chromebooks being used in situations where students need a slightly more robust device. The larger screen size, full keyboard, and flash support allows them to do some things that can't be done effectively on the iPad such as create longer reports and presentations that includes lots of images and specialized formatting.

    Picking a device really comes down to the core applications that you are planning on using. Do you want students to be able to do lots of writing? Do you want them to build creative multimedia projects?

    Hope that helps!

  3. I strongly advise against iPads, and I have been in this business a long time (25 years computer programming experience, 10 years teaching experience -- 9 as computer teacher -- BS in Computer Science and MS in Educational Technology.) In fact, I am so opposed to them, I am making a whole video series about why.

    My major problems with iPads in schools are:
    1) Productivity tools are scarce and not as full-featured - for better or for worse, if you look at job skills listed on Monster.com, you will see the vast majority of employers still want you to know Microsoft Office (go try typing "Windows" into the Monster.com job skill box, and try typing "Mac OS", "iOS", "Android", "Chromebooks", "Chrome OS", "iPad" and "Google Docs" or "Google Drive", while you are at it. You will see what skills employers want from people these days, and it's not Google Docs, Chromebooks, or iPads)

    2) Lack of keyboard slows down typing (Google did a study on this and found it is the main reason businesses aren't adopting them); you can get inexpensive bluetooth keyboards, but then if that's what you want, why not got an inexpensive laptop, netbook, ultrabook, Chromebook, etc?

    3) Lack of Flash = no access to THOUSANDS of great (and usually free) educational resources and multimedia supports online. More than any other industry, in education, Flash is a must. Chromebooks have it. Even Android tablets have it (though they have just made it harder to install now). iPads do not. If you want to see why this is a problem, watch some of my videos:

    4) Limitations with printing, storing files, etc. iPads (like Chromebooks), pretty much force you to do everything "in the cloud." For students learning at home on their own dedicated broadband ISP, this isn't a huge problem. But for schools, it can me. Most schools simply do not have the bandwidth to be doing a bunch of cloud computing. Every time you try to save a photo from the new iPad to Dropbox, you bog down your school's internet. If you have one class of kids doing that at the same time, you're in trouble. Same goes for streaming videos from YouTube. You can see more about the problems with cloud computing in my other video: http://youtu.be/g_VDCja7PbY

    5) Skills for the future -- the sooner we can get our kids used to using the technologies they will need in college and the real world, the better. That technology is computers, not smartphones and tablets. Sure, people use smartphones and tablets -- but NOT as replacements for computers. Did you watch the Mars Curiosity Rover landing? Not a single tablet in sight in the NASA rooms (lots of laptop and desktop computers, though). This goes for walking into any modern office -- even cutting-edge companies. Even companies that DESIGN things or tablets and smartphones. They do the work on real computers. So why should we be exposing kids to that and preparing them to be PRODUCERS instead of mere CONSUMERS?

    6) Cost. Schools all over are having budget problems -- they are laying off teachers and raising class sizes, not able to get as much technology (we SHOULD be aiming for one-to-one computing), cutting sports and arts, after school programs, tutoring, etc. So why would you get an Apple device that costs 3x as much as an alternative that does the exact same thing? If you want laptops, you can get decent ultrabook laptops for $500 (vs. about $1300 for Macbook Air); If you really want tablets, you can get Android tablets for about $300 each, where iPads are $600-$800. This means you either save money, or you can provide devices to more of your students for the same cost.

    Matthew Gudenius

  4. chromebook sucks! need to do this and that for just to print. i bought alot of laptops but no problem to print and can print to 90% of any printer out there. chromebook sucks!

  5. Hi Anonymous, sorry you are having so much trouble printing. It is a challenge, if you don't have a cloud printer or a printer connected to a Windows Machine. Ultimately, the Google Suite is designed to allow you to collaborate via the web, reducing the need to print. There will always be a need for some printing, but cloud computing is significantly reducing that need. Thanks for reading!

    1. Hi John R. Sowash, thanks! for the info...... it just happened that my old laptop broke coz I need to print an invoice (badly) to deliver my products, so I quick went to best buy and bought chromebook hehehe :-)

  6. Any thing that you can display on a white board could be saved to a shared Google drive and obtained by a student or client using the chrome book. I had a teacher that had the same problem of wanting to scan something directly to the CB, which I could do but came up with the work around.

  7. Word processors are designed for text not equations. They are poor at handling equations, chemical symbols, molecule diagrams etc.

    The correct tool to use for maths and scientific documents is Latex (see ShareLatex on Chrome App Store. It is extremely powerful and used extensively used for scientific papers, books, university theses etc. And it is extremely natural and an absolute doddle to use for people who approach the document from a mathematical viewpoint, especially if you focus on the subset of capability a typical student would want to use.

    For scanning, get decent scanners with a scan to email capability - preferably with a pin code which can restrict valid recipients to emails in your google domain or to your own email address only.
    This is the only sensible scanning solution that is practical in a school or large business - the plug your device in approach is an obsolete concept in the connected era.


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