Monday, 3 December 2012

So, what can you actually do with a Chromebook?

At the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) we recently bought 16 Chromebooks to allow teachers and students a bit more flexibility with computers. We do have three computer labs at our centre, but the fixed layout of those rooms means that it does discourage collaboration and teachers feel obliged to use the PCs the whole time they are in there. With the Chromebooks, they can be taken into class, used when needed, but then set aside when the teacher wants to focus on other things. 


Our Chromebooks quietly charging
And why Chromebooks rather than netbooks or tablets? Several reasons, price was a consideration, though the ones we got were probably dearer than some netbooks and not that much cheaper than an ipad (Samsung have recently released even cheaper ones though).

Speed was a factor: because Chromebooks don’t run a full operating system, they start up very quickly, ready to use within ten seconds. Netbooks - on the other hand - with their slow processors and limited ram can take a long time to boot up into Windows and that can lead to a lot of dead time in the classroom.

It also helps that we use Google Apps at our university as well. From within the Chrome OS, it's very simple to sign in and out with your Google account and have access to email, docs and calendar. This would be a particular issue with ipads, I'm really not sure how multiple users could securely sign in and out of them.

But what can you do with the Chromebooks once you've got them in the hands of the students? Here are some suggestions based on my limited use with them over the last few months:

Collaborative document creation and editing


Through Google Documents, it’s very easy to create a shared document for the class and then get different sections of the class to work on different parts of it. As an example, a few days ago I wanted to get my students to brainstorm the kinds of questions they might be asked by interviewers in an exam. I created a Google Document and then brainstormed various topic areas (food, transport, studies etc) and added them as header titles on the document. Students were then assigned one of those topics in their small groups and used the Chromebooks to add questions to each one.

I had the whole document up on the projector screen and it was fascinating to watch the document being created in real time as students added their ideas to it. It also meant that it was then easy to look at it together and discuss the appropriacy and accuracy of the questions they created. 



Students working together using Chromebooks


Backchannelling and polling


There are lots of ways to get ongoing feedback and reactions from students during your lesson. One way is to set up a back channel where students can add comments or questions and which the tutor can refer to later. Today's Meet is an excellent example, simple to set up and doesn't require any registration, just a weblink. Alternatively you could periodically check students understanding using a polling or quiz tool such as Poll Everywhere, Strawpoll or Socrative





Posterboards for brainstorming


A great way to brainstorm ideas is to use a posterboard site like Wallwisher or Linoit. Multiple students can edit the same board at the the same time and they can add video, pictures, text or documents. At the end they have often produced something that is both informative and visually attractive. I’ve used it to brainstorm arguments for essays or for students to create informal presentations on subjects. Of the two Wallwisher is the easiest to set up but Linoit is the most reliable. And rather like using Google Docs collaboratively, you can see the the page being created in front of everybody on the class projector. 



Brainstorming from students in Linoit


Webquests


A webquest is a series of tasks that students have to complete collaboratively using the internet.
For our students at the ELTC, having tasks that encourage real world skills while learning English at the same time can be very useful and webquests are perfect for that. I’ve done various quests with our students: one of them involved them discussing the features needed in shared student accommodation and then going to the Right Move website to find a suitable house they could live in. Another one got them to plan a trip together for the weekend in a small group with a limited budget. They had to use hotel, transport and tourist sites to plan the weekend and then write up a short description on a Google Doc for others to read and comment on.

These webquests are specific to our learners at the ELTC, but these could obviously be adapted to whatever subject you are teaching.

Could all of these tasks have been done as easily on a netbook or a tablet? On a netbook probably yes, but using a device with Windows would have meant slower boot up times and shorter battery life. And on an administrative level, the amount of maintenance needed for a Windows device (installing programmes, anti-virus etc) is far greater than a Chromebook, so life is much easier on the technicians. As for a tablet, probably not, Google Docs is still awkward on both ios and Android and I’m not sure how well a tablet could handle the kind of task-switching needed for some of these activities.

As a teacher and technology coordinator, I’m very happy with the Chromebooks, minimal training and upkeep, excellent battery life and portability and most of all they allow students and teachers to engage both with each other and with the technology at the same time.

3 comments:

  1. Nice article. You're right - the webquest task in a Google doc would have been difficult on a tablet. I'm going with the Chromebook!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Stuart, I'm glad we went with Chromebooks in the end, the price and the ease of switching between users make it much more manageable than tablets.

      Delete
  2. How do you upload documents/files created in the cloud (google docs or microsoft skydrive) via your Samsung chromebook to turnitin.com website widely used by teachers?

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