Google is offering a $99 Chromebook! Wait…does cheap make it right?

This is a quick reactionary piece to two things I read today that have me scratching my head.  Both related to Google and the Chromebook.

As reported on Engadget “Google (is) offering $99 Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks to public schools” and while this seem like a sweet deal I am skeptical for another reason.

Also in the in news today was a report that Google has a widespread outage or “service disruption” as Google reported (ZDNet).

Now these two thing were all the buzz on the Internet and social media today.  I couldn’t help but see something either in my Facebook or Twitter feed (sorry Google+ was looking at you today) about each of these stories.

What concerns me about theses new pieces is that people will jump into these cheap devices and not think about the issues and once they have these them they will be forced to deal.

Now, these Chromebooks look great! They have a really nice design, are visually appealing as well as now with Google’s support a great price for (public) schools.

Just look at that picture… yeah… let’s look at this picture closely.

It’s a beautifully sunny day and you (not shown) and your device are outside getting a little work done. But wait a minute… do you have an Internet connection? Has public Internet access become so ubiquitous enough that it is available anywhere and everywhere? I don’t think so.

This is part of the problem as I see it for many people, particularly those that will find these devices appealing in trying to bridge the gap in particularly hard hit economic areas is that they will not meet their needs properly.

What percentage of people have broadband WiFi access in the home? Broadband access is growing, but it’s not there yet and WiFi access is still behind that.

The other concern I have had with these device and the cloud in general is that it his moving us back to a terminal and server model. When the server is down, as it was today with Google you are out of luck.

I have read that you can take a certain piece of Google Apps/Drive offline, but it doesn’t appear to be a complete solution yet.  Word processing doc work offline, but spreadsheets and presentations are read only.

Now I am in a potion where I work at an institution that has other options and I am grateful for that.  Many schools will find that these devices will fill a need and that they provide access to technology that wouldn’t be possible in any other way.  My concern is that cost is often the driving force behind decisions and that it should not always be the deciding factor.

Again, I may be off base here in my criticism of Google and the Chromebook in general but when you look at the excitement over the device is it because of what it does and how it can transform learning or is it because of how much it cost?  If it’s because it’s both great and I’ll shut-up!


About William Stites

Currently the Director of Technology for Montclair Kimberley Academy, "Blogger in Chief" for, husband and father to two crazy kids who make me smile everyday.
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  • I’m not sure the criticism is valid. Can the Chromebook do everything that, say, a MacBook Pro can do? No. But I can do enough with it offline that I think it’s at least a compelling alternative, especially at that price. If you think of how many of our students have phones that let them tether for internet access, you have to start believing that they do have access in a whole lot of places besides our schools. No one says that a baseline iPad with no cellular access is incapable of day-to-day use.

    What I love the Chromebook for is pushing us towards a place where the networks that we put a lot of resources into eventually won’t matter. We’re getting close to BYON (bring your own network), and this is just another step towards that. It’s coming… heck, it’s already here in some places. So what do we do about it?

    • Basil… I agree completely, but to Jason point above the issues with public and private institutions vary greatly.  Could the Chromebook work in our (independent school) situations? Sure. Our students have a number of other resources at their disposal. But, for those without ready and easy access to broadband or wireless who are without other options if this is their primary device are they left wanting/needing more?

      • I get that the hurdles are different, and that’s something I wouldn’t deny. But I still see the Chromebook as a great multipurpose device. It’s a low-cost computer that, on a basic level, works with or without wifi. And it natively supports multiple users.

        Let’s assume that I don’t have my own internet access. I can take my Chromebook to the library, coffee shop, McDonald’s, wherever, and use their free wifi. I can go home, without wifi, and work on writing a paper to synthesize the research that I’ve done in places where I can jump online. And then the next morning, back at school, I’m back online.

        It’s not the optimal situation that we’re used to or that we want to envision for our students, but it still works.

  • The $99.00 is per device and only through so the money has to be raised by parents. In my opinion it was designed to provide schools who might not otherwise have the resources to get in the game in a relatively inexpensive way. Most public schools are using this as an entry point, not for 1:1, but for plain old classroom sets which is probably helping them reduce costs. You have to remove yourself from your independent school model and consider what public schools have to contend with when it comes to technology. Once you do you’ll quickly learn that our hurdles and their hurdles are incredibly different. Just remember, all technology has hurdles regardless of the platform, setup, and design.

    • Agreed that the public sector has different issues to content with and partially to my point is the issue with access to the Internet and WiFi in particular in these areas.  I think that when you look at Chromebooks they CAN be a greta option for may school, both public and private, it is just that I think access is a big concern.

      My cousin’s husband in principle in a South Jersey school that has the majority of their students on free or reduced lunch (the measure of poverty levels in NJ) and as they are looking to roll Chromebooks they are trying to figure out how to get Internet access into the homes.

      The device may be relatively inexpensive, but the cost of access needs to be brought down to the point where is is a primary service like heat and water.  At this point those without access are now falling further behind.