In December of 2012, Help Desk blogger Tyler Desharnais authored an excellent post titled “The New Chromebook v. the iPad” which was quite popular. The post was shared via Twitter 126 times, Facebook 18 times, LinkedIn 5 times, and has had 4,062 views (and climbing) since it was first published, making it the second most popular Help Desk post to date; not bad for a high school student! Hard to believe there are schools across the country that still don’t believe and/or understand why students should be blogging…anyway…
This year, I decided to resurrect the iPad versus Chromebook debate, since it continues to be a hot issue in education, and once again gain a student perspective on which device was “better” in a high school 1:1 environment. I decided to take the standard device debate one step further and challenge my Help Desk students to sacrifice their iPads for a week (or try to anyway) and instead sign-out a Chromebook and use it in all of their classes (or try to anyway).
Burlington High School is fortunate because our students have access to both devices. While not every student is issued a Chromebook, there are many readily available for students to use. If your district is struggling with the “iPad or Chromebook” decision as you move towards developing a 1:1 environment, remember to take into strong consideration your school’s most important stakeholders and their opinions: your students.
Below is Ronak and Xin’s review on what it was like to go from being a student in a 1:1 iPad school environment to a student in a 1:1 Chromebook school environment. Their post is the second of what I hope will be a semester-long op-ed series and it speaks for itself. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
The question to answer before answering the big question is probably:
There are plenty of other reviews I could read, why should I read this?
Here are four reasons:
1. Because this is the best use of your next 5 minutes.
2. Because literally every other comparison between the iPad and the Chromebook only focuses on its specifications.
3. Because specs don’t matter.
4. Because this is from a student’s (or in this case, two!) point of view.
How many reviews of the Chromebook can attest to the previous 4 claims? Precisely zero. But if you must, the Chromebook has a keyboard and a trackpad, and the iPad doesn’t. The iPad has a multi-touch display, and the Chromebook doesn’t. The Chromebook can multi-task (we’re talking window-to-window), and the iPad can not. The Chromebook runs on Chrome OS, and the iPad runs iOS. That is all, spec/feature wise, that matters in an educational setting. Front facing cameras? Why does the ability to take a selfie in class matter?
In your opinion, how has the iPad been in a 1:1 environment, and how did you think the Chromebook would do “replacing” it?
R: The thing I’ve noticed about the iPad in a 1:1 environment is that it’s something that takes time to adjust to. Though from what I’ve noticed some teachers have been taking a significantly longer time to adjust to the devices in comparison to the students. Not that this wasn’t expected, but it is interesting to see in some classes how some teachers are all for using the iPads and others try to avoid using it as much as possible.
The iPad has created a 1:1 environment that includes lots of interactive workflow. Applications like Explain Everything or Notability have served as great tools for both teachers and students, and have led people to find other, new apps that make their work easier for them. That’s what I feel like the point of the device is, to make your life easier. Now not to say that it is for everyone, from what I have seen, it most definitely is not. But I have seen people use their iPads in some pretty creative ways at BHS. I will admit, though, the iPad in my opinion is lacking in a few places.
Drawbacks of the iPad:
The iPad has a problem with flash, which makes it harder for some teachers to use it in their classes because the things they’re accustomed to working with have been running off of flash. The games on it are plenty better but cause more of distraction most of the time. I see the games part as something that is huge, whether it not be obvious that someone is playing Candy Crush or if there’s that kid in your class who spends his time flying jets, games can be an issue. And the fact that iPads don’t come with a physical keyboard makes it harder to take notes fast (for a few kids). This makes me feel like the Chromebooks would be better geared towards educational purposes.
X: People opposed to the 1:1 program say the iPad will only be a distraction for the students, especially since our administration, in particular, has decided not to block social media sites (take notes, LA) and allowed students to bring their iPads home.
To answer the opposition, yes, the iPad can be a distraction, but only if students let it be. If students let iPads be a distraction, chances are the class isn’t engaging. Having seen BHS before and after the iPad, I will admit it has led to better things, with little to no drawbacks. But the iPad just doesn’t cut it in some scenarios, and that’s where the Chromebook steps in. For every iPad without a physical keyboard, there’s a Chromebook with one. For every iPad that won’t run flash, there’s a Chromebook that can. For every one of the iPad’s shortcomings, a Chromebook promises that the grass is always greener on Google’s side.
In what classes was the Chromebook most effective?
R: The classes that I’ve found the iPad most effectively used have all been in the history hall. My AP World history class last year was full of iPad use and the teacher seemed to enjoy thinking of new project that would include the iPad.
But I feel that the iPad would slack here in areas that the Chromebook would not. The fact that Chromebook has web apps and a much nice browser, it makes using the internet a lot easier on teacher and student.
X: Perhaps the biggest irony with our 1:1 program was that we were all using Google’s services on an Apple device. You will not spend one day in this building without using Google; there just aren’t feasible alternatives.
Of course, the Chromebook runs Google better than the iPad. In fact, I’d go a step further and say the internet is simply easier on the Chromebook. Sometimes web apps are just plain better than some half-baked iOS app that crashes every 7 seconds.
Also, the keyboard is a godsend. Finally I can exceed 5 words per minute in a class and not fall behind notetaking.
In which classes was the Chromebook least effective?
R: Math was definitely where I saw the Chromebook lose its effectiveness. Not that the iPad was that much better for me, but the Chromebook definitely had close to nothing for math. At least on the iPad the touch screen allows you to handwrite things, whereas on the Chromebook, if you attempted to write, you would get barely legible writing.
The thing for me though, is that I have always preferred pencil and paper for math. Not for any particular reason, but I’ve never seen a good enough reason to change. I have seen some math teachers at BHS use the iPad for almost all their work, they send PDF’s of the worksheets through the district email and the kids can do all their work right on the iPad with Notability if they have it. I definitely have not seen any teachers use, or for that matter even try to use Chromebooks in the math setting.
X: Handwriting on a touchpad is worse than writing with your non-dominant hand. I learned this the hard way in Calculus. Taking calculus notes, or any notes where simple words just won’t cut it, is where almost any device starts failing, except for the iPad. Graphing and handwriting equations on a Chromebook? Forget it. Two minutes after class, I trashed the Chromebook, and whipped out the iPad.
That was on Monday. The Chromebook didn’t exist to me in Calculus for the rest of the week.
What was the biggest difference between a Chromebook and an iPad?
R: The biggest difference between a Chromebook and an iPad would have to be the touch screen as opposed to the physical keyboard. Both devices have their ups and downs, and both are practical for different things, but neither of them cover the full range of subjects in a school setting. Putting the Chromebook in a 1:1 educational setting that was built around the iPad is weird, unfair almost, because the iPad’s functionality is based around completely different things. But also, if BHS were to create a 1:1 setting with the Chromebooks, the iPad would have a harder time adjusting into it. It is pretty easy to tell that with a physical keyboard, taking notes would be significantly easier, but on an iPad touch screen, the student can be given activities that are much more interactive than on the Chromebook.
X: Individuality. A Chromebook just doesn’t feel like it’s yours. Even if I kept the same Chromebook for a year, and was able to take it home, I still wouldn’t feel familiar with it. What it does feel like, however, is a lot of unnecessary work. For whatever reason it just doesn’t like to save credentials, which leads to constant relogging into the same service, be it Dropbox or Evernote. This will never happen on an iPad. On numerous occasions over the week I’ve had to make teachers wait while pulling up my homework from Dropbox because I had to relog. I was known as “the kid who was too good for an iPad” for the week.
Which is overall more appropriate and/or practical for a 1:1 educational setting?
R: My choice would have to be the Chromebook. This is getting away from the specs of both devices, but focusing more on the functionality in the high school setting. Now while I admit the iPad has more interactive apps with the touch screen and all, I feel that that is more applicable in the elementary school/ middle school setting.
As I said before, my real complaint with the iPads is the lack of physical keyboards. Now while I could just go out and buy an external keyboard for my iPad, I don’t see why I would do that if I could have just have a Chromebook with one already there. I see notes as the main thing that is facilitated through a device, and I type on a keyboard much faster than I handwrite, and it generally comes out much cleaner.
The iPad iOS is nice, I’ll admit, possibly nicer than the Chrome OS, but I don’t think its as applicable in the 1:1 setting, to be honest. That being said the iPad has been treated me pretty well so far, I’ve gotten used to the keyboard at this point and found some apps that are actually pretty cool. Once the Chromebook gets some better apps, and an updated OS, I think it will easily be chosen over the iPad.
X: I would have to go with the iPad. Forget the fact that its lighter, or the fact that it’s made from better materials. That stuff doesn’t matter. What does matter, however, is how a device integrates with a 1:1 curriculum, and the iPad just simply does a better job with it.
The Chromebook’s biggest downfall is its lack of native apps. An app on Chrome OS is simply a link to a website. Apps on iOS, in the words of Steve Jobs, are just “richer and revolutionary”. I’m aware Chrome OS offers desktop apps as well, but unfortunately that isn’t allowed by the administration at this moment. But even then, the unfortunate reality is that a Chromebook is pretty much useless without an internet connection.
I prefer the Chromebook’s hardware over that of the iPad’s, but it is Chrome OS that drags it down. It’s fully understandable, because it’s playing catch-up to iOS at the moment, but in a couple years it’ll be interesting to see how it’s evolved. Android certainly caught up.
Questions or comments? Xin and Ronak would love to engage in deeper conversation about using both an iPad and a Chromebook in an educational setting. If you are thinking about going to 1:1, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the BHS Help Desk for advice. We are available to chat via Skype, Google Hangout, or an in-person visit to tour our school and see first hand what a 1:1 learning environment looks like!