Ravenscroft had been mulling a one-to-one initiative for more than a decade. But when Chromebooks hit the market in spring 2011, it became a no-brainer. Because they run the browser-based Google Chrome operating system, these notebooks start up instantly, integrate with Google Apps for Education and cost far less than traditional models.
"When Chromebooks came out, I purchased one and gave it to my son," says Jason Ramsden, chief technology officer for the independent K–12 school in Raleigh, N.C. "We quickly saw its potential for use in a school environment. He was able to immediately get online and start working. That was appealing."
Ravenscroft began a pilot in fall 2011, distributing 30 Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks to the 10th-grade English composition classes. After that success, the school offered Chromebooks to all seventh- and 10th-grade students in spring 2012. Last year, every 7th- through 12th-grader at Ravenscroft received a Chromebook to do his or her work. This year, Ravenscroft will expand the program to include Chromebook carts in grades four through six.
"It's really made life easier for the teachers," Ramsden says. "They don't have to manage devices they may not be familiar with and which can be prone to issues. All they need to know is Google Docs, and we can train them on that."
Here are five key reasons schools nationwide are dropping traditional notebooks and going Chrome.
1. Cheaper Machines, Longer Life
When you're rolling out a one-to-one initiative to thousands of students, cost plays a huge role in the decision, notes Donna Teuber, technology integration coordinator for Richland School District Two in Columbia, S.C. This fall, the district is distributing Chromebooks to 22,000 students in grades three through 12, she says.
Aside from lower hardware costs, the ability to use Google Apps — and avoid software license fees — makes them a real bargain, notes Teuber, who adds that the district is hoping to use each device for at least four years.
"You need to look at sustainability," she says. "You can't always have the shiniest, newest technology every year. You've got to pick a device you think will be great for several years."
2. More Time Teaching, Less Time Troubleshooting
With Chromebooks, teachers and students don't waste precious classroom time troubleshooting, says Bryan Weinert, director of technology for Leyden High School District 212, just outside of Chicago. In fall 2012, Leyden rolled out Chromebooks to all 3,500 students and, in return, reclaimed valuable teaching time.
"We use a traditional 50-minute period, and with Chromebooks, [students] can spend all 50 minutes learning," he says. "With traditional laptops, teachers and students might spend five to 10 minutes each period battling with the technology."
500+ Number of schools worldwide that use Chromebooks
3. Painless Provisioning, Easy Support
From a management standpoint, Chromebooks make provisioning almost painless, Ramsden notes. All he needs to do is enroll students in the school's Google Apps for Education domain and asset tag the devices. If the hardware fails for some reason, he simply hands the student a loaner.
"We call it NASCAR tech — we can get you in and out of here in two minutes," he jokes. "And because we don't have to spend so much time on tech support, it allows us to focus on other technology initiatives."
4. Better Security, Perfect Backups
Because Chromebooks store everything in the Google cloud, the machines are less vulnerable to malware or data loss than traditional notebooks, says Dr. Roland J. Rios, director of technology at Fort Sam Houston Independent School District in San Antonio. Last year, all 400 students at the district's Robert G. Cole High School transitioned from notebook PCs to Chromebooks.
"When we had a traditional one-to-one program, students would bring us a computer that had a virus or a hard-disk crash," he says. "I'd ask, 'Did you back up your documents?' The answer was always, 'No.' Now, when a machine has problems, I just grab another Chromebook and hand it to the student. When he logs in, all his bookmarks and documents are there. He loses nothing."
5. Empowering Students, Teaching Technology
Along with its one-to-one initiative, Leyden High School District 212 launched a yearlong tech support class for students in its business education department, Weinert says. When something goes wrong with a Chromebook, these students provide the first tier of support. If the problem is too advanced or involves access to sensitive information, then it's passed on to the IT department.
"This is one of my favorite parts of going one-to-one," he says. "It's unbelievable what the students are learning. Many are getting technical certifications that will enable them to work outside the classroom. And we're able to support 3,500 devices while adding zero people to my department. It's been transformational."