July 11, 2014

Maize schools to add 1,000 Chromebooks to classrooms

Some Wichita-area districts say they plan to put Chromebooks in classrooms this year.

Some Wichita-area districts say they plan to put Chromebooks in classrooms this year.

The notebook computers, which start up instantly, run the browser-based Google Chrome operating system and integrate with Google applications, offer several advantages at about half the cost of traditional laptops, said Jen Kern, technology coordinator for the Maize district.

“In an effort to replace the older machines in our district with less funding, we found Chromebooks to be a great solution,” Kern said.

Maize, a district of about 7,000 students that includes much of west Wichita, recently bought 1,000 Chromebooks at about $250 apiece. Kern said the machines would be used primarily in middle school and high schools, in classes that don’t require specialized software.

“If this works out great, we may just go ahead and get more,” she said.

Chromebooks have been popular with educators since they were introduced about three years ago. The machines have a full-sized keyboard and look like traditional laptops but weigh less, start up instantly and can last an entire workday – eight to 11 hours – on a single battery charge.

They run Google’s suite of programs, including Google Docs, Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar, as well as some free downloadable apps such as Evernote, Dropbox and Kindle Cloud Reader.

The disadvantages: Chromebooks can’t run traditional computer software, such as Microsoft Office. They lack drives for CDs and DVDs. And you can’t make Skype calls on a Chromebook, though you can use Google Hangout.

“There’s no perfect device. They all have advantages and disadvantages,” Kern said. “We’re finding that there are different areas where different devices work best, so we’re not doing an all-or-nothing approach.”

Like many districts, Maize employs a variety of desktop computers, laptops, Chromebooks and tablets. Some classes such as high school yearbook, photo imaging or computer-aided design require specialized software, so Chromebooks wouldn’t work there, Kern said.

They are, however, an effective alternative for classes such as English and social studies, she said. Students can collaborate on papers or presentations and access them from anywhere using Google Drive. They can listen to guest speakers via Google Hangout. And they can link up to Blackboard, the district’s learning management system.

Replacing traditional laptops with Chromebooks in those subject areas will allow the district to redistribute the laptops to other classes.

“What we’re visualizing is more of a project-based approach to teaching,” Kern said. “I think it will really open up some creative outlets for students and … some super-creative projects.”

Wichita administrators said recently that the state’s largest district plans to experiment with Chromebooks as well.

“We hope to this fall, but haven’t identified the specific product or schools at this point,” spokeswoman Wendy Johnson said in an e-mail.

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