A Response to “Options Increase as Google Enters the Education Market”

I have paid attention to the work of Andrew Marcinek for some time, and have even quoted him at presentations.  On January 3rd, Edutopia printed an article by Mr. Marcinek, and it was tweeted out this morning (January 6th).  Perhaps it is because we are having what will be the coldest day of the year (perhaps even a decade), but the article really caught my attention this morning.

You can find the full article here:


It is clear from the title that the article is about Google and its products in education, but there are aspects in the article that I need to question.

In the event that you won’t read this full post, let me just summarize them before I begin:

  1. We have to abandon this “kids have to be able to type to write papers” philosophy of integration.
  2. If students have open access to devices, there is no way they are going to not install every game in the Google Play Store.
  3. I would like to know what the sample size was when “students preferred” is used.
  4. PARCC is referenced in the article, but what about P21?
  5. I am tiring of technology initiatives that are failing to consider the arts and electives as a device is chosen.
  6. The “Age Appropriate Device” philosophy threatens usability in the electives and the arts.
  7. And ultimately, I am afraid of the impact that columns like this have on fellow administrators, IT leaders, educators not currently in a technology initiative, and the general public.

This past year, Google made incredible gains with its Chromebook, and experts are widely stating that the growth is mainly due to education.  In general, individuals and businesses are not flocking to the Chromebook, but education has.  And it is clear why:

  • Price (you can buy two or more Chromebooks for the price of one iPad)
  • Management (easy set-up, central management, and CONTROL of the devices)
  • GAFE – Google Apps for Education (Free e-mail and web services, even providing 30 GB per student)
  • Generally virus-free
  • Keyboard

These are all good things, and there is no doubt that setting up iPads is an intensive process; setting up Windows 8 devices and Android devices (other than the Nexus 7 which was the subject of Marcinek’s article) is just as intensive.  All of these other devices need to create a better system for initializing devices in the educational setting, and need to add additional tools for management.  I give Chromebooks all the credit in the world for their setup and management.

The arguments for keyboards is questionable; some studies have shown that students type faster on an iPad than on a keyboard; and schools in general have eliminated keyboarding classes and even the majority of business departments!  As I have said before, if typing is so important, then why isn’t keyboarding a standard which students need to meet to graduate from high school?

Furthermore, to use GAFE as a basis for any platform is erroneous, as GAFE works well on Chromebook, Mac, Windows, and even the iPad versions of GAFE are working better than ever (Google itself has placed huge resources into their iPad apps).  Ironically, it is Google’s own Android platform that currently has the worst interaction with GAFE.  Secretly, even though Google has introduced the Nexus 7 with education-specific tools, I think that they have doubled-down on their Chromebook strategy in education.

Some Chromebook supporters get angry when you state that one of the reasons (main reasons) you choose a Chromebook is price; but this is an undeniable reason why many schools choose the Chromebook.  Schools are completely focused on budgets.  If Chromebooks were the same price as an iPad, would they still choose the Chromebook?  And if the Chromebook were more expensive than a MacBook (such as the Chromebook Pixel) would schools buy it?

Marcinek argues that Chromebooks and GAFE are a great combination for the new standards of PARCC, which is a partnership focused on college and career readiness.  I have been a part of a brand new high school that took college and career readiness very seriously as we created the vision for the school–and there is no doubt that data suggests that a majority of students are not college ready as they enter college.  At one point in the recent past, only 33% of Minnesota students (and Minnesota is considered to have a good educational system) that entered a four year college ever graduated with a four year degree.  Now…not everyone will earn a four year degree or pursue traditional college, but still…only a third graduate?  So, yes, college and career readiness is important.  And Chromebooks certainly can be used as a tool in that process, but so could any technology platform.

I would also encourage Marcinek to consider the P21 partnership, which considers the essential skills needed in the 21st Century, and as things stand, Chromebooks simply cannot be used to meet those skills in all subject areas, where other devices (iPad, Windows, and Mac) could.  But then again, these other devices (usually) require a more significant capital investment and time investment in terms of distribution and maintenance.

Next, Marcinek describes how they decided to examine Android implementation alongside their Chromebook implementation.  Several middle school and high school students were allowed to play with the Nexus 7 (Google’s own Android device, which has some education-specific tweaks).  However, what we are not told is how the students were chosen, how many students were involved, and if the students had iPads previously.  The conclusions from the students were:

  1. Students liked the wider form factor to take notes in Google Docs or Evernote (both apps are available on every platform, and I would imagine that they were not interacting with paper based 4:3 PDFs on their 16:10 widescreen tablets).  At this point, it is made clear that the comparison model to the Nexus 7 is the iPad Mini, not the iPad Air.
  2. Students like customizing their home screen with widgets and to have quick access without using Apple’s app switching feature (a four-finger swipe up, or a double pressing of the home button).  This is interesting, because in the past, many IT staff were anti-individual customization.
  3. Students did not stray too far into the Google App Store, but mainly used GAFE, Evernote, Edmoto, Explain Everything, and Notability (In my experience, if the devices are actually the student’s to use, they WILL stray as far as they can in the app store, and to my knowledge, Notability is not yet an Android app)
  4. Students preferred to have a Bluetooth keyboard for longer assignments on the Android Nexus 7

After evaluating the student feedback about the Nexus 7, Marcinek moves to some additional thoughts.  First, he makes the case that the size of the app store shouldn’t determine the device that is chosen, but instead the ease of use and integration into the student’s schedule should define the device.  I agree, in part, but something has to be said about the app store of a device having apps for all subjects, and you can’t trust GAFE to meet the needs of every subject.  Marcinek then suggests that iPads might be a better fit for elementary schools because they are easier to use (“The Android might be a challenge to operate”) but that Android devices were preferred by students at the secondary level.  Just because a device is easy to use doesn’t mean that it can’t do advanced tasks; and I would argue that the iPad still has apps that far outshine what you can do on an Android tablet, many of them now coming free from Apple when you buy the device (all the iWork and iLife apps).

Marcinek fails to note that the Nexus 7 is also more affordable than the iPad, at $229 versus the $349 iPad Mini with Retina Display, plus it has a Micro USB port for additional storage.  Don’t get me wrong…the Nexus 7 is a nice little device.  It might be all the tablet that a end-user needs.  But does it work for all subjects in education?

Marcinek believes that digital learning shouldn’t be about a device, but instead should focus on learning goals and outcomes.  I think that it also has to do with transforming education and not just substituting a device for an analog way of doing things.  The ability to write is important, but if your main goal for choosing a device is to write papers, you aren’t transforming anything.  You are substituting technology–a Chromebook, an iPad, a MacBook–in the place of pen and paper or a typewriter.  Furthermore, you need to make sure that your technology initiative can be used in all subjects, not just the “core” or “state-assessed” subjects.  And I still wonder how Math teachers can make good use of Chromebooks in the classroom.  You can take any device and use it successfully in any subject if you use it at home (e.g. “flipping”), but to integrate at school is another matter altogether.  Remember that many classrooms do not have traditional student desks, and are specialty fields such as music that need specific programs (such as SmartMusic) or apps (such as PDF music readers) to effectively have students use technology during class.  At the moment, neither the Chromebook nor the Nexus 7 is a good option for music or many other elective subjects.

I fear that administrators, IT leaders, teachers in settings without technology initiatives, and the general public will read articles like this and jump to conclusions.  My hope is that they would read Marcinek’s article, consider the pros and cons of these devices (none of the cons were discussed in the original article), and then test drive those different devices in ALL subjects before making a decision.  I’m not saying you can’t go Chromebook, Android, Windows, Mac, iPad, Linux, or Raspberry PI.  Just make sure you do so with all subject areas in mind.

When it comes to Chromebooks, there is a recent development of touch-screen Chromebooks, some that are relatively affordable (the Pixel is not), such as the Acer C720P for $299.  There may be a point in the future where Chromebooks become transformers, allowing you to remove the keyboard.  If this happens, this will change the usability of Chomebooks in many elective classes (provided there are web apps that apply in those elective classes).  At the same time, schools would be negligent if they did not consider the Asus T-100 Windows 8.1 transformer tablet  (Which I am using to write this post) as an alternative to the Chromebook.  The Asus T100 is $349 in 32GB and $399 in 64GB format, and can probably be purchased for less in bulk.  Windows 8.1 will run GAFE, and the device can function as a tablet (although more apps in the Windows RT store, such as a Music PDF reader, would be welcome).  Some schools are going to be anti-Apple, and if so, I hope they are willing to explore all of the other options before going for the lowest price.

As I stated at the Minnesota TIES conference, you can choose another device than the iPad–but you need to be honest about the impact that doing so has on your music classes and other electives, and if you tie the hands of those elective teachers technologically, please do not assess their use of technology in education the same way as other teachers who can use your chosen technology in their classrooms.


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