Is the Future of School on a Chromebook?
Is the Future of School on a Chromebook?
When I was growing up, it was all about “Apples in the classroom.” Then, while I was in college, every student had to have access to a PC and connected printer so we our term papers would be legible. If you’re a school-aged child today, though, chances are you’ll interface with Google hardware before you ever hear the words “Apple” and “Microsoft.”

My husband grew up in Norwalk, CT, and according to Dian Schaffhauser at The Journal , this school system currently provides a huge number of Google Chromebooks to its students. Ralph Valenzisi, chief of technology, innovation, and partnerships in Norwalk, told Schaffhauser that he needed the devices so students could take the Smarter Balanced online tests.

“We also wanted to move to a cloud-based computing platform that would deliver applications and provide a 21st century learning environment allowing creative thinking, collaboration, and communication among students, while giving them access to whatever they need,” he said. “Since most teachers were already using Google in their pockets, the Chromebook was the easiest tool to move forward with.”

A 2015 Futuresource Consulting study found that Google Chromebook sales now account for more than half of all devices sold for U.S. classrooms (not including the still-ubiquitous desktop computers), up from less than one percent in 2012. The Chromebook device has a built-in keyboard and cloud-based storage.

Why the sudden takeover? “Chromebooks have the perfect value proposition for education: They're easy to manage, secure, can easily switch between users, and are cost-effective,” Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder told CNBC’s Harriet Taylor. “Plus, a great deal of educational content and software has been optimized for Web-based delivery.” Case in point: Google Apps for Education is an easy solution for word processing, presentation building, and spreadsheet development.

Chromebooks are also very lightweight and hard to break.  Compared with similar devices, they are also relatively inexpensive, and their software allows teachers to offer learning plans that are tailored to a diverse range of student abilities and requirements. The only issue with the Chromebook (and it’s a fairly big one), is that functionality is limited and students often get stuck because the device can’t perform as, for instance, an iPad would.

Printing is one major area that has proved cumbersome for Chromebook users. Up to this point, if a child wanted to print out a document, they had to send it to a parent or teacher first. But fortunately, my partner Xerox has a new solution that may just save the Chromebook’s efficiency. The Google Chrome store now offers the Xerox Mobile Print app, which, when it comes to printing, immediately turns the Chromebook into a standard mobile device that students already know how to operate.

The app lets students send their Chromebook docs to any printer, even the old, laser jet ones that might be sitting in the office. School districts purchase access to the Mobile Print cloud server, and with basically the flip of a switch, tens of thousands of students have access to the app. The districts, in turn, can set policies for security, accounting, and tracking so they can restrict access where necessary.

In a digital world, why is it so important for students to be able to print easily? Obviously, assignments, lesson plans, and tests sometimes require it. But there is also a psychological component, which a MediaPlanet article describes well. “Imagine a student spending hours on that well-crafted report or project — and the pride experienced when seeing the fruits of their labor in printed form or when receiving the proverbial gold-star of approval from their teacher. Equally, many parents still want to proudly display their child’s handy-work on their fridge or at the office. None of that is possible without paper.”

In short, the future of education appears to be on a Chromebook that’s connected to mobile apps like the one offered by Xerox.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this trend develops!