Most Popular of 2015, No. seven: 6 reasons why Chromebooks are the device of the moment

What makes Chromebooks popular, and will they outlast their buzz?

Ed. note: We’re counting down the top stories of 2015 based on popularity (i.e. website traffic) to No. 1 on Dec. 31. Truthfully, I almost didn’t put this piece together following my appearance on Education Talk Radio in Nov. I wasn’t sure that there was an appetite for another article on Chromebooks trends (boy was I wrong). But as I re-listened to the interview, I realized there were several assumptions challenged and some useful information shared about everyone’s favorite sub-$200 laptops. Besides, the complete interview is a good listen and well worth a plug.

google-devicesAs the familiar refrain goes, “It’s not about the device,” but even so schools need to choose one to advance their digital instruction goals. And by all accounts, Chromebooks are the device of the moment, with 2.5 million shipped to schools in the first half of this year alone. There’s no doubt they’re trendy, but is there any deeper reasons for the sales surge beyond appearance and affordability? Recently, I joined host Larry Jacobs and Google Certified Innovator and trainer Chris Scott for an episode of Education Talk Radio in which we talked through these issues at length and came up with a handful of reasons for the Chromebook’s trendsetting status. Here’s the CliffsNotes of that discussion, but be sure to check out the full conversation available online.

Google’s name has staying power. We’ve been Googling for more than a decade by this point, and with the near ubiquity of Google Apps for Education in the nation’s classrooms, educators and students feel comfortable with the Google ecosystem. Branding helps, but at the end of the day, educators do realize that Google is just the conduit for students to advance their learning, not the first and last steps.

Chromebooks have some surface-level advantages. First, they’re cheap, with models often starting around $200. And while the cheaper cost can mean lower quality, it also means cheap replacement parts, too. IT management is simple — and there are few horror stories equaling what schools went through with iPads. They’re easy to share among students, and at a time when online high-stakes testing is still very much a part of the conversation, Chromebooks have the all-important built-in keyboard. None of these things necessarily makes the Chromebook the ideal or superior device for education, but they certainly don’t hurt.

Next page: Why Chromebooks are the safe choice

It works. Many educators can still recall a time when technology was as liable to fail as it was to work properly. One of Google’s most noticeable innovations — besides eliminating spam from email — is its consistency.  Sparse of features as Google Apps and Chromebooks may be, they’re simple to use and even simpler to collaborate with.

Chromebooks are the safe choice. As a Google trainer, Chris Scott goes into a lot of schools and frequently sees teachers who are unprepared for using devices in the classrooms. They haven’t yet given much thought to how devices will lead to a redesigned classroom experience and, at least at first, are looking for quick tips and lesson ideas they can start using immediately. For them, Chromebooks are easy to use and, being that they’re based on Google, familiar and easy to learn on the fly.

There’s a support network to tap into. Google provides ample training on its devices and a large network of certified trainers and innovators, who aim to be more visible and approachable than Apple or Microsoft certified educators — to reach out to for help or getting started. Google also offers a number of workshops and summits for training and professional development.

They last. Scott’s four-year-old Chromebook is still going strong and, to him at least, doesn’t feel outdated. Whereas some devices get bogged down and begin to crawl after years of downloading and heavy use (and others feel less useful thanks to planned obsolescence), Chromebooks are capable of lasting for years without much noticeable change.

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