iPads vs. Chromebooks at Work in the Classroom: Which One Wins? by @hejames1008

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ipads vs chromebooks

Before you read any further, know this: as a former educator who has taught everything from fifth-grade math to senior military literature, I’ve been in just about every classroom environment there is.  Typical of an educator, I also have ideas about how each one could have been improved for my students’ learning.

More technology or less depends on each classroom and all its surrounding environmental factors, but typically better technology is the key when technology is involved at all.

There are right ways and wrong ways to bring technology into the classroom.  One wrong way?  Making parents pay for it in public schools.  Another?  Tossing tablets into the hands of students and sending them on their way for a whole day of navigating by themselves.

Regardless of which method your district chooses, there are other important decisions to be made first, like which devices to use.  Just as they both of risen to the top in all other aspects of technology, Apple and Google rise to the occasion for portability and sharing with the iPad and the Chromebook, respectively.  Yet some new changes on the horizon for one may be pushing out the other in the classroom and other aspects of life.

The Little Laptop That Can

I recently purchased a Chromebook.  An affordable option for those looking for more functionality for their own work product or for their entire classroom, the Chromebook can be a boon for education.

If you’re encouraging your district to look into the Chromebook, it has a lot to offer as a primary tech tool: it’s cheap, it’s durable, it doesn’t need add-ons, and its functions are automated.  Cloud storage on a Chromebook, while not unlimited, is certainly large enough to handle the workload of a student if not more than one.  

The beauty of Chromebooks is that classrooms need only one set, and multiple user profiles can be established.  My Chromebook has three: one personal and two professional, each based on a Gmail account.  I can toggle easily among the three of them, as long as I remember the passwords.  This is where the Chromebook shines in the classroom.

At the same time, as a now-regular academic and professional user of a Chromebook, I can attest to some of the cons of this mini-laptop.  Certainly it is much more affordable than an iPad.  My iPad cost me more than $300, while my Chromebook cost half that.  Yet if I have multiple tabs and apps open together, the speed of my little laptop that can slows considerably.

There are a lot of great apps and software pieces that you cannot use on a Chromebook, either.  The Google Web Store offers some decent alternatives, if you use applications like Evernote for file sharing in your classroom, be aware that functionality will be limited on a Chromebook.

You will also need a wi-fi connection nearly all the time to work on a Chromebook, though Google applications like Docs and Sheets will save offline and upload changes when a connection has been re-established.

Can the iPad Take Back the Classroom?

Though it is more expensive than a Chromebook, and certainly less durable, there is a lot to be said for the iPad.  When it was introduced by Steve Jobs and co. in 2010, it was revolutionary.  Since Tim Cook took over leadership of Apple, the iPad has only continued its trajectory of innovation, with new releases rolling out almost yearly.

Yet the biggest hurdle for iPads in the classroom, besides price, has been the difficulty with sharing them among classes of students.  

It’s easier for school districts to afford a classroom set of iPads then establishing a one-to-one device policy, yet Apple devices are notoriously difficult to share.  That’s all about to change, as Apple rolls out a new suite of apps and features in iOS 9.3: iOS in Education.

Similar to its Health Apps integrations and its Home Kit, Education will feature a School Manager, from whence administrators can manage sets of iPads and IDs.  Those IDs will also be shared across iPads.  One Apple ID per student, who can use the ID to log into more than one iPad throughout the day, and the data will follow the student.  At the same time, the iPads in one classroom can stay there, for each class period, a new group of students can seamlessly log on and retrieve the previous class session’s data.  In theory, nothing will be lost from student-to-student or class-to-class, and students’ privacy is protected.

If, as Mark Rogowsky suggests in an article on Forbes.com, Apple can work to make the iPad more affordable for the education market, this new iOS feature could be the turning point for Apple’s tablet in the classroom.

Apple will have to act fast to roll out this feature, as Hewlett-Packard is already jumping into the education-specific mobile device game.  It just announced the roll-out of the Chromebook G4 Education Edition.

My Choice?

Since Apple’s new Education suite is as yet unavailable, it’s hard to tell.  It looks like a great option for teachers wanting to integrate the iPad into the classroom, but having a hard time because of budgets and lack of sharing capabilities.

To that end, your classroom tech desires don’t go beyond using a tablet or laptop for more than web browsing or word processing, Chromebooks are a great option.  In the end, your district will have the final say, but it’s up to you and your students to test out the options and raise your hands when the time comes.

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