Although I express opinions on this blog on a regular basis, most of those opinions aren't very controversial. By nature, I value open dialogue, and I dislike conflict. I'm also very anti-bully, and some people are used to winning arguments by bullying others. And some people are just jerks.
This evening, I ran across a tweet where a principal stated, “Jus got a Chomebook and I'm testing it out. First thought: We need to get a Chromebook into the hands of every student. Great machine.”
I couldn't let that one rest. I kicked over a hornet's nest in the process.
I own a Chromebook. Every few weeks, I scour the web apps looking for solutions in music education. I know there are readers of this blog who have these machines in their schools, and they need to find ways to integrate them, because their administration is requiring them to show proof of integration. I want to help those teachers, and I intend to help those teachers. But I can't go on record and say that I think the Chromebook is the device we should be pursuing in schools if we are looking for the best technology for all teachers.
If your definition of tech integration is based on the need for every student to have Internet access, a word processor, and a way to make spreadsheets and presentations–then the Chromebook is ideal. Some of the collaborative options with Google Docs are wonderful–but these are becoming available on every platform. If you teach in a specific subject that requires specific computers, software, and peripherals (e.g. PLTW), then you will need those items regardless of the tech initiatives in your school/district, because these initiatives are the “poster programs” for our schools. But the main problem is that the iPad changed how nearly every subject can interact with technology–far beyond the basics of a web browser, a word process, a spreadsheet, and a presentation maker.
Put another way–I can show you some ways to use an iPad in just about any subject. Can you show me ways to use a Chromebook in mine?
Now, you could make the argument that the Chromebook doesn't fit very well into music because developers haven't created web apps for it. You could argue that MakeMusic is as fault because SmartMusic isn't web-based. I'd respond that SmartMusic is a terribly complex program that relies heavily on the hardware of the individual device (recording, processing, and graphics processing). HTML 5 may not be robust enough to handle the load of SmartMusic. But HTML-5 (or its descendants) will be someday, and someday there will be HTML 5 SmartMusic. I think Jim Frankel (who works for Music First) is right–some day soon, all apps will be cloud based–we're just not there yet.
But as much as the Chromebook fails in music in terms of app offerings, it fails even more in form. The clamshell notebook, while wonderful for typing, just doesn't fit in any music classroom I've ever been in–elementary music, band, choir, orchestra, or even my college piano lab where we took courses in music theory.
What is needed of the Chromebook–once the apps are there–is the ability to convert a Chromebook to a tablet, removing the keyboard when not needed. I would argue that the arts–as well as most courses traditionally labeled “non-core”–need keyboards on a secondary basis.
Does the Chromebook have anything going for it? Absolutely: cost. You can buy two Chromebooks for the price of one iPad. We have yet to see what the life of a Chromebook is, and how they survive in school implementations (physically); we have a good idea of the lifespan and durability with iPads. Where the iPad falls short is in a keyboard solution and overall cost; I love my Zaggfolio (I'm using it to type this post), but most people don't want to shell out $100 for a keyboard. Windows RT hit it out of the part with their keyboard cover, and I'm hoping that Apple pays for Microsoft patents to be able to make their own. But remember…those Windows Surface keyboard covers are an extra $100 as well!
So…we'll see an increasing level of blending of the concepts of Google Chromebooks and iPads; Apple's introduction of iWork in the cloud is proof enough of that. But it's going to take time for that to happen. You certainly are not going to buy Chromebooks now to prepare for the future, as current Chromebooks will be long outdated by the time that day arrives. At the same time, if you are buying devices now, and you are worried about integration throughout your school, the iPad has to be your device of choice. The only reasons that you wouldn't choose the iPad would be a) cost, b) an anti-iPad/anti-Apple mindset, c) a belief that the 20th century “core” is more important, d) a belief a keyboard is required, e) and an IT department that doesn't want the hassle of dealing with iPads and wants easier central control of all Chromebooks. If you are basing your reasoning on any of those factors, I'm not going to change your mind.
In closing, and to repeat myself: if you work in a Chromebook district and you are desperately looking for solutions in music education, I will be working to support you. I'm not going to write a book about it, however, because the book would be very short and a tough sell. If you find yourself in a district that is in the Chromebook vs. iPad debate, I encourage you to get involved in that debate and to remind the decision-makers that the arts are a part of the 21st century core (p21.org), that we need devices that can be used in all subjects, and that we have to plan for the future while keeping current functionality in mind. I think there is a strong case to be made for a blended model where schools replace traditional computer labs with Chromebooks and pursue iPads 1:1, but I have a really difficult time recommending a 1:1 Chromebook integration model at this time.