Jun 30, 2014
The Chromebook vs. iPad debate may be one that we never resolve.
Whatever I say for the Chromebook, or whatever you say for the iPad, we will never convince each other. The truth is probably that any 1:1 device program is better than none.
Although, many of you will counter by saying that buying or mandating any single device is misguided to begin with, and that we should be focusing on a BYOD (bring your own device) structure and diving deeply into the world of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure).
Case in point is Tim Holt’s passionate plea for choosing the iPad route in his essay, “Why We Are Misunderstanding the Chromebook-iPad Debate.”
In the end, someone has to make a decision. The decision to do nothing, to have no 1:1 or VDI program is also a decision. And each decision has consequences and costs, upsides and downsides.
To give you a little context, I am no stranger to this debate. I’ve been a big fan of choosing the iPad for 1:1 programs, for many of the same reasons that Tim Holt enumerates. In my last gig at Dartmouth College I helped roll out a 1:1 iPad Mini program for our students in our low-residency online Master of Health Care Delivery Science program. We put all the course materials on the private iTunes U app. We experimented with creating text, image, and video case studies with iBooks Author. Students loved the ability to have all of the readings and videos on the iPad, and they particularly loved being able to download all the materials for offline reading and viewing.
But after spending the past month with a Dell Chromebook 11 my thinking has begun to change.
The iPad makes sense as a 1:1 device if you know that the student already has access to a laptop.
But if your 1:1 program starts with the assumption that the device that you choose--iPad or Chromebook--will be the device that the student primarily or exclusively uses for learning, then the better choice is a Chromebook.
Reason 1: Chromebooks are for Creating, iPads are for Consuming
Tim Holt and legions of keyboard-toting iPad case owners will no doubt disagree, but the fact is that iPad was created with consumption, and not creation, in mind. The keyboard cover started as an aftermarket hack, and creating anything more than nuggets of text has always been an unsatisfying experience on an iPad.
The Chromebook has one huge advantage over the iPad that even the most hardcore iOS fanboys cannot dispute. It was built to type on.
You may concede that writing is a non-negotiable element of learning, and that typing on a Chromebook is better than an iPad. And you can argue that creating can accommodate many different types of inputs. The iPad enables creation with video (two cameras and all those video editing and picture apps). The iPad enables creation with sound. The iPad enables creation with the finger, gesture and touch.
But I would submit that anyone making the argument that the iPad is adequate for creating should be willing to live with only an iPad. How far would you get in your work if were iPad only? Everyone I know who owns an iPad uses it as a complement and a supplement to a laptop. They might bring their iPad to meetings attached to this keyboard or that, but for serious work (which almost always means creating documents), it is back to the laptop.
Should we expect our students to have anything less than what we rely on?
Reason 2: The App Versus the Web
The decision to go iPad or Chromebook is really a decision between the app or the web.
Do you believe that students should learn in an app or a web ecosystem?
The app world is seductive. The interfaces are slick and the features are many. The problem is that it is surrounded by fences and border guards. The price of admission is the cost of buying into the iOS ecosystem, which means purchasing a device manufactured by Apple. This may be a fine choice for the consumer, but it is less defensible for the educator.
Building our teaching and learning around an iOS device means that only those in the iOS club get to participate. Our students can’t connect or share or learn from anyone outside of the club. Is this what we really want?
The Chromebook, by contrast, is connected to (and yes, unusable without) the Internet.
The Internet, for all its flaws, has the advantage of being open to anyone who can find some way to gain access. Yes, that is not everyone yet, but the rapid growth of Internet-connected mobile devices and efforts to build out national and global broadband infrastructure will ensure that the numbers will increase at exponential rates.
Students using a Chromebook to learn can share materials and creations with everyone else on the Web. They can access the same sites and use the same tools.
All this openness comes with costs and difficulties. But these are teachable moments.
Reason 3: The Google Ecosystem for Collaboration
The final reason I recommend a Chromebook over an iPad, in a 1:1 setting where the only device that the student will reliably have is the one you pick, is that the Google ecosystem allows for easy collaboration.
The advantages cannot be oversold. A platform that encourages and facilitates teamwork will be a platform that encourages and facilitates learning. A Google Doc created in Google Drive can be easily shared with anyone on the Web. It can be read and worked on by a team. Nobody needs anything more than some way to access the Internet.
It may be that at some point Apple will catch up to Google with cloud-based collaboration tools. At that point, however, only those owning an Apple device will ever be able to take full advantage of the Apple creation and collaboration platform.
With the Chromebook a student is seamlessly connected to the Google collaboration ecosystem. An ecosystem that does not require the ownership of Google hardware to take full advantage.
All the learning and the work that the student invests to learn how to use Google collaboration tools will be relevant in their future education and work life, even if they never own another Chromebook.
Can that be said of an iOS device?
What device are you choosing for your 1:1 education program?