The Chromebook vs. iPad Debate

Tim Holt is the director of technology for the El Paso school district.  I have been aware of his work for some time as he was one of the first people to show how to make an iPad document camera out of standard school chemistry equipment (you can now buy a fabricated stand or make one out of PVC).  On the 18th, one of Tim’s blog columns was posted on EdSurge, and since that time, I have seen the article posted a number of times on Twitter.  The EdSurge article can be seen here:

Let me make this clear: I, for the most part, agree with Mr. Holt.  I support iPads for music education because they are the one device we can actually fit into our work flow.  If you are familiar with Rueben Puentedura’s SAMR model of technology integration, tech integration begins with Substitution.  Chromebooks (and other clamshell devices) do not fit into our music classooms (no desks!).  That means that if you are a Chromebook school, your music teacher has to jump to levels of M and R (modification and redefinition) to use that technology in their classroom.  That’s terribly unfair, as much of the “core” can “substitute” and show tech integration in their classrooms.  Many of the “elective areas” have the same SAMR problem when it comes to clamshell devices.

That said, the Chromebook isn’t a bad device.  There are a number of different Chromebook devices, and only two models of iPad with different levels of onboard memory).  The iPad itself is probably a better device than half of the Chromebooks on the market, but there are a number of top-of-the-line Chromebooks with hardware on par with the iPad.  Schools buy the inexpensive models of Chromebook, and do not purchase the top of the line models.  My own Chromebook is the common Samsung 303 model, and I am using a Chromebook to type this article (I figured this was the right thing to do when blogging about the Chromebook).

When you need  a keyboard, a physical keyboard is always going to be better than a virtual keyboard–particularly if you learned how to type on a physical keyboard.  That said, some research is showing that students can type faster on an iPad than on a physical keyboard.  I’m not surprised by this–they are accustomed to doing so.  We continue to say that keyboarding skills are important, yet most schools have removed keyboarding as a class!  In our 1:1, we offer keyboards for checkout in the media center.  They were basically left untouched last year.

The Chromebook is better at all the Google “stuff” than an iPad.  If you want to use collaboration in Google Docs, or just Google Docs,  Chrome, or Chrome Web Apps and Plug-Ins, the Chromebook is going to offer a better experience than an iPad.  I still have major issues with educational workflow and Google Docs (or Google Drive).  Perhaps Google Classroom, Google’s new classroom learning system to be released this fall, will solve many of those workflow issues.  I always expect the entire Google experience to be better on a Chromebook than an iPad–they should, as Google controls the OS, the Web-based apps, and many aspects of the hardware.  As much as Google has improved their iPad offerings over the last year, I don’t see this changing very much in the future.  If you are a GAFE school (Google Apps for Education), and you primarily use GAFE tools, the Chromebook MAY make more sense for your school.

There are some new(er) music tools that are available on the Chromebook, such as VexTab in Google Docs, NeoScores (coming out of Beta soon), and of course, Noteflight (not new!).  All of these products, however, mean a departure from the traditional performance/rehearsal based music programs at the secondary level of education in the United States…and where do you put the Chromebooks as you work on them?

The educational technology divide has become Chromebook vs. iPad, much like Apple vs. Windows of the past.   As a pro-iPad person, I have found that some pro-Chromebook educators and tech directors become very territorial and angry in their defense of the Chromebook.  I would imagine that there are iPad people who do the same; but I haven’t met them (perhaps because I am in their camp?  See my last post as an example of some anti-iPad/Apple abuse I was given on Twitter).

I don’t use my Chromebook, Windows 8.1 Tablet, or HP Touchpad running Android very often.  On a similar note, I don’t fire up my Mac very often, unless I have work to do in Finale and PhotoScore.  Nearly all of my work is done on my iPad or iPhone.  I fired up my Chromebook just to write this post; and in typical fashion, it crashed twice as I wrote!  I don’t think my Chromebook’s issues (yes, it has been restored) are common to all Chromebooks.  But I know my Chromebook crashes more often than any other device that I own.

For music education, Chromebooks may become a viable option when  the new(er) touch-screen Chromebooks take the leap to a full-tablet mode (sort of like my Asus Windows 8.1 Transformer–detach the keyboard and it becomes a tablet).  When you get a Chromebook that is a tablet, it can fit into your music classroom,  and it potentially can  match the iPad in functionality.  Until then, I will continue to advocate for iPads in music education.  I don’t know if Google will allow this, as they already have a platform for tablets–Android.  For the most part, Android has not made much of a dent in the educational market.  It is pretty clear at this point that the competition is Chromebook vs. iPad for 1:1 distributions in schools. For that reason, if I were a developer, I would be making apps for the iPad and WebApps for the Chromebook, particularly if I was selling a subscription-based software package.

The ability to run advanced software becomes an issue for the Chromebook.   If your entire philosophy is to provide a computer that can do 90% of what a computer can do, with a fraction of the RAM and relying on web-based apps, there will be a point where developers want to write software/apps that can run on your device, but your device doesn’t have the power to support those apps.  But you can’t make a more expensive “base unit” that schools will purchase, because you would quickly run into the price range of an iPad.  And when your price matches an iPad, which will you choose?  The whole idea of Chromebook was, “Cheap, easy to manage, web-based, low quality parts.”   Do you see a Chromebook running Finale, Sibelius, or even MuseScore?  I don’t–the platform isn’t made to handle that kind of computing.

There are a number of pro-Chromebook IT directors who state that iPads require more tech upkeep than Chromebooks.  This was true in the past, but new developments from Apple (during this year of the LAUSD iPad debacle) have made it very easy for schools to register devices and to distribute them via a MDM, such as Casper.  In fact, with the new DEP (Device Enrollment Program), it might be just as easy to manage iPads as it is to manage Chromebooks.

The other thing to consider is Chromebook repairs.  iPad repairs are costly…It cost me $149 to replace my iPad’s retina screen this past May.  Chromebook repairs are just as costly; it may be cheaper to replace a Chromebook than to replace its screen.  If that is the case, how much of your Chromebook is recyclable?    And what is the mentality of a throw-away technology tool?

I think Mr. Holt’s opinion piece is going to generate a lot of discussion, and there will be a lot of unhappy Chromebook advocates because of the article.  Let me again make my stance clear: I am not anti-Chromebook (in education or in life), but as products stand right now, I am anti-Chromebook in music education.  That could change with new forms of Chromebooks, and I look forward to the day those are offered!


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