In The Interest Of Full Disclosure
My last post reviewed the 11″ and 14″ HP Chromebooks. I wanted to give a classroom teacher’s perspective about these devices and asked my students for their feedback, as well. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I have a lot of experience with technology, not only as a user, but as a technician and support specialist. In fact, if I didn’t love teaching so much, I might have become an IT guy.
In my very first grown up job, I worked for the Management Information Office at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I started as a Residence Hall Information Specialist at UWO, helping students learn to use the residence hall-provided hardware and software. I moved on to technician, learning to take apart, upgrade, and repair a variety of desktop computers and servers. I hand-coded the very first website for the Department of Residence Life, learning to write HTML in the age before WYSIWYG. I have worked on Macs, PCs, and Linux boxes. I have used Apple’s Newton and various Palm devices. I dialed into AOL with everyone else. I had a profitable sideline fixing the “blue screen of death” and multiple malware scares many of my teaching peers experienced on their home PCs. I have installed 184-pin DIMMs RAM in parallel and lived to tell about it.
Why Does This Matter?
When people ask how I know about technology, I let them know that it has nothing to do with smarts and everything to do with repetition. Change the slave/master settings on enough hard drives while installing additional storage enough times, and computers just aren’t scary. Terminate the CAT5 cable for 60 data drops, and WiFi settings don’t seem so daunting. Install enough betas of iOS, and a little frozen home screen doesn’t make you blink.
I have spent over 22 years hacking and tinkering and learning about computers and technology. So, I get why the Toshiba Chromebook has only 2 GB of DDR3L memory. I get why it has only 720P video output in an era of 1080P. I get why it’s built-in “stereo” speakers don’t sound so great. I don’t agree with all of these choices, but I “get” them.
The problem is that many classroom teachers not only don’t get excited about specs like that – they don’t really care. They just want a device that powers on and lets them do what they need to do whether teaching or in support of teaching. They want to project their screen to their LCD projector. They want to know that a student’s device will work when they have a classroom activity planned.
When I look at a device like a Chromebook or an iPad, I look through all of these lenses. I’m not impressed by slick packaging, but I still get excited about opening a new device fresh out of the box. I’m not frightened by glitches or betas (I’m running iOS 7.1 on my iPhone right now). I want to know how well-built a device is, and I always evaluate ease-of-use for students and staff. My students raved at how “cool” the 11″ HP Chromebook looked, but they couldn’t see why the micro USB port for power AND video might be a problem. I know HP provides a dongle for that, but why not just provide an HDMI port?
So I come at these devices as both an end user and support specialist. Some of my complaints about the various Chromebooks may seem minor; however, I have seen students bang the hinge end of their Samsung Chromebook down on the metal of the Chrome Cart, cracking the cheap plastic on the spine. I have watched students press their finger to the screen to point out something to me. I have watched staff struggle to figure out how to project their Chromebook screen to their LCD.
I do not come to bury the Chromebook, I come to push it.
I want to give honest feedback so that one day we can look around and say, “Did we really accept that an inexpensive device for schools had to look, act and feel cheap?” I want the Chromebook manufaturers to make a profit, but I also want them to innovate – to demand better of their suppliers. I may look at RAM memory and display resolution and the type of USB reports when others do not, but I do not accept the statements, “It’s good enough for students” or “It’s good enough for teachers.” If we want to prepare our students for jobs that do not yet exist, lets give them the best, yet affordable, tools with which to prepare themselves. Let’s start saying, it’s the best tool for the job.
This Toshiba Chromebook I have in front of me weighs in at 3.3 pounds, pretty close to that “sweet spot” I suggested in my HP Chromebook review. Maybe they are on to something…
…check that. The faux-metal texture of the case will turn off many teachers (and it won’t fool any students).
There is so much potential in all of these Chromebook devices. Which manufacturer will take the best of all of the chromebooks and come up with “One Chrome to rule them all?” I’m excited to see what new devices reveal themselves in the coming months.