MacBook vs. Chromebook

So it’s been almost 6 months since the last post and I think that’s a pretty fair chunk of time to observe how the Chromebook and Android tablet have performed in the classroom. There really aren’t any surprises here and what I’ve observed won’t really break any new ground.

tl;dr Chromebooks are less expensive. MacBooks are more functional.

When the Chromebook made it’s first appearance in our classroom many students got excited. Instant on and easy login were a big plus. No need to wait for Windows Network Authentication and a spinning HD to load an OS. These things also hold a battery charge like a real champ. Even under heavy use I only need to plug this in once a week. Under normal use I charge it monthly. It’s at this point where the Chromebook seems to start losing its lead in the race.

Students use them for creating presentations, writing, accessing our online learning platform, and that’s about it. In the Junior Math curriculum there’s a little bit of work on spreadsheets, but not a whole lot. That’s it. Even when I try to work above the line in a SAMR model it seems like quite a stretch using a Chromebook. They just weren’t designed for that.

This is a problem. Technology use in the classroom should be more than just substitution. A lot more.

Using a MacBook, or a similarly equipped Windows device, we are able to work above the line and redesign our learning tasks to take full advantage of the power we have available to us. Using tools iMovie and GarageBand the opportunities just open up and are only limited by our imagination and creativity.

Then there’s the price. Unfortunately the least expensive MacBook is 5 times the price of a Chromebook. For most schools the cost is the bottom line. Even Tim Cook’s old school has switched from MacBooks to Chromebooks. Then there’s teacher training. What’s the point of using a MacBook for word-processing all the time? Then there’s IT support. Lots of school boards out there still prefer supporting only one flavour of OS. Some are downright nasty about it.

So Chromebooks seem to be enjoying the path of least resistance, but at what cost?

Apple vs. Android

So last year our district started a teacher technology program that puts a Windows laptop or a Chromebook and Android tablet in the hands of teachers. It’s still at the lottery selection stage currently, but I imagine it will roll out to all interested teachers eventually.

So that’s the promising news.

Now for the not so promising news. Where is the option to select Apple products? Well that’s still up to teachers to purchase with their own money, because someone won’t support what they can’t repair. So there’s that.

So choice one is to receive a Windows laptop that comes with OSAPAC software, lots of IT support and looks and works like the thousands of machines that our district has in place. Option two is a Chromebook and Nexus tablet. Nice for those that are willing to do a little experimentation and still be supported by IT. There is an option three where you can purchase your own iPad and MacBook with your own money and receive no district support. Your support is provided by AppleCare, should you decide to purchase it beyond the initial grace period.

I suppose there is an option four whereby you don’t do anything and still teach in a pre-technology era, but those people really aren’t reading this blog.

So I was fortunate enough to receive a nicely spec’d out Chromebook and a Nexus 7 tablet to use in my classroom. Now I already have my own personal Chromebook that I use at school, so I’m a little familiar with what these machines can do. Having another one in the class creates some interesting options for use. I also have a personal MacBook Air and Retina iPad Mini that I use at school. There are a few other bits and pieces, but these are the main players. With that background taken care of, let’s move on.

I thought it might be interesting to document the advantages and shortcomings of each of these devices. Well, the Chromebook and Android table and the MacBook Air and iPad Mini. I’m not really a Windows user, although I can definitely use one if I have to. I understand they are entirely different in what they offer and really have no place being compared to one another. Yet, as a teacher I want to be using the best tools under the proper circumstances to get the job done, and each of these devices has its own niche. Practically speaking I am also well aware that one set of devices is a fair bit less expensive than the other, so that will play a role in the comparison as well.

I will admit right from the beginning that I have a lot more experience with Apple products that I do with Android products. I’m really going to try and maintain some degree of neutrality in future posts as I reflect on using these devices. I realize ahead of time that may be a bit of a challenge.

So here’s the idea. I’ll post some thoughts on how I use these devices in the classroom and how students use these devices in the classroom. I don’t know if I’ll end up with a score card kind of result, or more of a blended experience that might suggest the most promising use for each device. Maybe a combination of both.

Textbooks (1450-2012) R.I.P.

For the times they are a-changin’
– Bob Dylan

Apple’s announcement today is a game changer. Don’t buy it? Let’s look at a bit of history. Remember when we went to music stores to buy CD’s and people laughed at the idea of an online digital music store? Remember Blockbuster and the idea of renting DVD’s and people laughed at the idea of streamed TV and movies?

Remember textbooks?

Publishers have a real opportunity here to come off as the good guy here. The music industry learned the hard way that the more you fight change, the more you’re going to lose. The movie industry chose to ignore this lesson. Look what happened. Are the publishers going for the three-peat this early in the 21st century?

One thing is for sure, the future isn’t what it once was.

Convergence and Minimalism

Steel Guy-Wires

So I’m always on the lookout for ways to make work that little bit more efficient. With all the tools we have available to us it’s easy to get mired in messy duplication and general ineffective workflow.

I started to take a good look at the word processor. Most word processors are overkill for daily use.  We don’t need many the of features they have, as a matter of fact they just serve as a distraction. When I’m writing anything longer than a Tweet I use TextEdit. It’s simple, clean and uses next to no system resources. Writing in Plain Text also future proofs your work. It’s a lot more likely that you’ll be able to open a Plain Text file 10 years from now, than say a MS Word or Pages file.  Think Appleworks or Wordperfect.

Now since I often jump back and forth between using my iPad, MacBook and iMac I really want a way to keep all this in the same place. For quite a while now I’ve been using Simplenote on the iPad. This syncs perfectly with their web based app. It also syncs with a great minimalist Mac app called Notational Velocity. This is a no-nonsense simple plain text editor.

I’m currently using nvALT, which is a variation on the Notational Velocity theme. These will save all your notes to Dropbox and sync with Simplenote. Now your choice of writing tool is determined by what works best right now and not where your last writing edit sits.

Oh, and one more thing. All of your Simplenote entires can be exported as an Evernote file and stored there as well.

Now for a purely distraction free writing experience I love using Ommwriter, which exports to a plain text file. Using Ommwriter is more about getting work done when my surrounding environment is not cooperating. It doesn’t quite have the seamless workflow that nvALT and Simplenote do.

Pages and Word are fine for some sort of finished product. I’m not sure meeting notes require that same level of polish.