Monday, August 26, 2013

Chromebooks for Education: A Student’s View

As a high school senior and an intern at Newmind Group I see the need for technology in education and the struggles that many people face with it. In school these days, not having a computer can put a student at a severe disadvantage. Teachers expect you to type papers, create slide shows, and accomplish other tasks that require a computer in your free time. This can be a struggle for students without a computer of their own.

2 major struggles that I’ve had include:

  • Finding a device to work on
    While using computers at school or at a library is an option, it is inconvenient and the environment is not always conducive to accomplishing school work. Not to mention availability is always an issue when dealing with publicly accessible devices.
  • Saving & Transporting Files
    You also have to worry about how you save & transport files. Every teacher that I know stresses the importance of saving every document three times to guard against data loss. Without a personal device I’ve had to email myself, save to a USB drive, or to my Google Apps account at my school. (That last one isn’t so bad as I can get to it anywhere I have internet access, which is what I’ll touch on in a little bit.)

The problem escalates as I look forward and begin to think about college, where a laptop/PC is considered a necessary tool for learning. A 2012 study by Google found that 86% of all college students supplement what they learn in class with digital media, today I would assume that number is even higher. A computer therefore becomes a necessary tool for a college student and therefore a necessary expense. The same study found that 45% of college students pay for all of their college costs (tuition, room, board, books, and other expenses). This means that most students will choose a computer based largely on the cost of the device, even if the device is not ideal for their needs.

As a student I love the features of the Samsung 303 Chromebook that I’m using. It is very light and has an average battery life of seven hours with constant use, or about three days when in standby, which makes it extremely portable. I am a pretty heavy user and usually have anywhere from ten to fifteen tabs open at a time while I check my email, edit documents, spreadsheets, and do research simultaneously. I mainly use my Chromebook for work so I am constantly editing spreadsheets, doing research, creating documents, and writing code. Despite this heavy usage, the Chromebook has always remained lightning fast.

The greatest advantage of saving my work in Google Drive, which automatically saves changes while I’m working on a document, is the ability to access it wherever there is an internet connection, with any computer, while still having it saved to my Chromebook for offline access. By using Google Drive I can share my work with any other Google user and collaborate with them on documents. When I collaborate with other users we can all simultaneously edit the document and add comments to communicate. I use the collaboration feature constantly when a teacher assigns a group project. In fact, my AP Government class actually used Google Drive to create a unified copy of our notes so that we could compare them and help each other. (I also used the collaborative features in Google Drive to get help editing this post.)

The compelling feature to many students may be the low cost, with the Samsung 303 Chromebook starting at $249 compared to a basic laptop that starts around $300. Most laptops/PCs that would be adequate for student use are closer to the $400-$500 range. A chromebook also has the added advantage of coming with an extra 100 GB of Google Drive cloud storage free for two years, a service that would usually cost $4.99 a month.

This table shows the cost of ownership of a Chromebook vs a low-end and midrange Ultrabook and Macbooks over four years. I chose to use Ultrabooks and Macbooks for comparison because they are the devices that are similar in size, weight, and battery life; aspects that are very important when you are carrying it all day.

Device: Samsung 303 Chromebook Dell Inspiron 14z Ultrabook (it’s pretty basic) Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook (this is a midrange model) Apple Macbook Pro with Retina Display 13” Apple Macbook Air 13”
Longevity: (years) 2 2 3+ 3+ 3+
Cost: $249 $549 $1,199 $1,499 $1,099
Extras: 100Gb Google Drive Storage**: $4.99/mo Office 365 University: $79 Office 365 University: $79 Office 365 University: $79 Office 365 University: $79
Total: (Over 4 years)* $738 $1,178 $1,278 $1,578 $,1178

* Totals assume the replacement of devices every 2 years.
** New purchases of Chromebooks come with 100Gb of free Google Drive space for 2 years, but I’ll calculate the cost as if I was paying for Google Drive Cloud Storage.

As I finish high school and move to college I know that I will be taking a Chromebook with me because of its portability, price, and features. Using a Chromebook will allow me to easily guard against data loss, and allow me to access my data through Google Drive from any computer with an internet connection. Google Drive will also provide a suite of applications for collaborative and creative use that is easily accessible and free. A chromebook will also be extremely portable at 2.4lbs with a seven hour battery life, while still saving me more than $500 over four years.

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Tyler Triemstra is a new intern at Newmind Group. He works on internal improvements to make the sales process more efficient, but mainly, he is learning a ton from the team at Newmind. He has a passion for technology and enjoys being part of a team that helps businesses use technology effectively.

Tyler is a senior in high school who enjoys reading, traveling, and volunteering. He can’t wait to graduate from high school and is busily searching for a college to attend.