According to the Associated Press, in five years, Google Chromebooks have gone from being 9 percent of the mobile devices present in classrooms in the U.S. to having over a 49 percent mobile device market share in the classrooms in the U.S. How did that happen? What are the implications? What are the pros and cons of Google's fast push and rise into K-12 education in our country?
Why Chromebooks? -
Only seven short years ago, it appeared as though iPads or PC laptops would be the major players in terms of classroom mobile computing technology for students. Both are highly respected. Apple has created many great educational applications and provides a high quality product. They pushed very hard in their marketing efforts to make an inroads to the K-12 education market, but today, according to a New York Times article, they only have penetrated the market with their iPads and Mac laptops to 19 percent of the mobile devices in classrooms in the country.
Microsoft PCs are more versatile devices than Chromebooks. They perform many tasks with their stand-alone installed programs even when there is no internet connection. Yet, according to the New York Times, they only have a 22 percent representation of their laptops in K-12 classrooms in the country.
Google Chromebooks are more dependent upon the availability of wifi in order to be used. They have apps that can be installed, just like Android tablets and cell phones. There is little availability for any data storage. Data must mostly be stored in the cloud. They do boot more quickly. How did they get to a 49 percent penetration in K-12 classrooms in the U.S., and how will and does that impact education?
According to Education World, one big reason that so many Chromebooks have been adopted by school districts is simplicity. Teachers need students to have access to technology that is easy for students to boot up and learn quickly. Educators who are not technology teachers have to focus upon teaching state standards, not teaching technology. Many teachers have been won over to Chromebooks by how easy it is to have students use the apps, such as Gmail and Google Docs. Also, Docs provide the availability for collaboration between students on one document in real time. This is a huge plus that aids in co-operative learning and homework. Teachers have an app called Google Classroom that allows them to assign work to students.
According to Education World, Chromebooks come in at around $200. The manufacturer of the Chromebook, not Google, makes a profit on the sale of the device. Google charges a management fee of $30 per device. This is one of the means that they potentially can make money on Chromebooks being used in the classroom. This is substantially cheaper for school districts than iPads or PC laptops. The totally understandable and necessary goal of having technology devices in the hands of each student fueled the choice for Chromebooks over the more expensive iPads and PC laptops, especially in light of the fact that the first big push by Google to sell Chromebook use in the classroom came in 2012, not long after the Great Recession, which deeply hurt school district budgets around the country.
Google Chromebooks and their information stored in the cloud can be accessed by Chromebooks at home as well, so students can complete their assignments and homework, carrying work from school to home and back again.
Interaction Directly With Teachers, Not Districts At Times -
According to a really excellent article in the New York Times, Google was not shy about courting school districts, asking them to adopt Chromebooks. They made it easy and inexpensive for districts to convert from other email providers to Gmail for all district communications. It did not stop there, though. Google also hedged their bets by courting teachers and having them pilot certain apps in order to obtain a ground swell in individual school districts of early teacher adopters. This is a tactic that Apple and Microsoft were not as vigorously pursuing.
The Times stated that, in some cases, this was a problem, because the Google applications had not been vetted by their technology departments, which is essential in order to not violate the student and/or parent's privacy that is guaranteed by federal regulations. The teachers were using the technology that Google had provided them as early adopters, not understanding that there might be privacy issues.
This technique of gaining a critical mass of early adopters was effective, though, and helped Google Chromebooks to be chosen in some large school districts, such as the Chicago public school system.
Use in Classrooms -
With Chromebooks, students have been able to conduct online research that they can present in a myriad of ways, practice their writing, get assignments from their teachers, upload completed assignments in the cloud and collaborate with other students via Google Docs and Hangouts in real time and asynchronously. The learning curve on Chromebooks is short. Students are able to get to work and learn quickly. Chromebooks, being so inexpensive, have gotten useful classroom technology in hands of more students more quickly than would have happened with either Apple or Microsoft.
New Features and Projected Uses – Tablet/Stylus, Data Gathering, Classroom and Differentiation -
According to Android Central, in the past two years, Google has been collaborating with teachers to find out what more they would like to see Chromebooks do for them. Google and Samsung have created new Chromebooks that have the capability to also be a tablet with a stylus, for writing. Also, newer and more powerful Chromebooks can be interfaced with scientific instrumentation in order to collect data for STEM activities.
Also, EdTech reported that Google has listened to the needs of teachers and provided a means where assignments created in Google Classroom could be differentiated for groups and individual learners.
Concerns About Privacy For Students and Parents -
Unfortunately, all is not necessarily perfect. The New York Times stated that educators and parents have concerns about data privacy and that federal parent and student privacy guidelines may be breached. In fact, it took 16 months of negotiation with Google for the Oregon Department of Education to allow Chromebooks in their schools because Google was insisting that their internal company rules be followed, not the Education Department guidelines on student and parent privacy. Lawyers for the Chicago public school system were very concerned when they looked up these corporate guidelines and found them on the web. The school system's lawyers advised their client that these corporate guidelines could be changed at any time.
Google encourages students to move their student email account to a new private account, along with all of their school data. Parents have expressed concerns that their children's data is being mined by Google without their consent.
Concerns About Direction Google is Taking Education -
According the the Times article, other educators have expressed concerns that Google will begin to dictate curriculum, changing the emphasis from classical learning that allows a person to function with critical thinking, reading and computing skills that they can utilize on their own at any time to students who are reliant to being able to find answers online that they can then utilize in some manner. The concern is that student will be doing less thinking and reasoning and have less organic academic capabilities.
Conclusion – Pros and Cons -
As educators, we have been clamoring for an easy means of getting our students to use technology that supports learning. For most teachers, except teachers of technology, we have too much on our plates to spend a lot of classroom time teaching students how to use technology. We simply need it to work, so our students can write, research, and draw or record videos, audios and/or photographic evidence online. It is a given that Google Chromebooks have provided those capabilities to educators for about half of the students in the U.S. This is a positive outcome that supports students and teachers.
Also, the new technology that Google is providing as a part of the Chromebooks, such as the ability to hook up and record test probe information, the tablet-like qualities the newer Chromebooks can exhibit and the ability to differentiate lessons within Google Classroom are really great additions that all educators can support.
Over time, it will remain to be seen if the complaints of parents and teachers who are concerned that student privacy will not be protected end up panning out or not. Certainly, parents have a legitimate concern that Chromebooks used at home over their IP address may allow Google to collect data that parents would not approve of. The reality is that we do not know what data Google is collecting and what uses they intend for such data. Data gathering is how Google makes money. They don't make a cent selling anyone a Chromebook.
The other really well-founded question created by Google being the main provider of technology in schools across the country is, “Will we maintain control over our direction set by the Common Core State Standards and emphasize critical thinking, deep reading, and tying all learning into the “big picture?” Otherwise, will the technology vendor begin to control how our children learn? As stated in the Times article, Google has a tendency as a company to throw things out in the ethers and think about getting it right after the fact. The education of our students cannot be dictated by such corporate whims and fancy. We all need to teach according to research-based principles that help our students be able to read, compute and synthesize information in order to come up with unique and valuable ideas and solutions. They need to be able to do that away from the glow of a computer screen as well as in front of one.
The answer seems to be that each teacher, administrator and parent needs to stay informed and vigilant and in control of how Google and their products are utilized in the classroom and at home. Every stakeholder needs to keep aware and not simply allow any tech giant to push itself beyond what is safe for children and parents and their privacy. We are aware of situations with other large technology providers in the past few years where the provider has simply trampled privacy and has, in at least one instance, even created experiments that they conducted upon their user base in order to gauge their reactions. That company was not Google, but wariness of any tech company having too much control over education in our country is certainly not unfounded.
Parents and teachers need to maintain vigilance and be the gatekeepers over our children's privacy and futures. Teachers and administrators need to ensure that technology is used to enhance learning of the state standards we are committed to teach, which includes learning critical reading and thinking skills, big picture thinking and discernment. When we are firmly committed to those goals, we can ensure that our children and students' experiences with technology are enriching and safe.