Chromebook > MacBook

Written By Dave on Thursday, January 23, 2014 | 10:26:00 AM

A colleague sent me this article about why the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a well-respected magnet school in Philadelphia, switched from MacBooks to Chromebooks.

It's an interesting read. And while the article intimates that the decision was fiscally driven, it is my prediction that this ends up providing a more enriching experience for the students.

There is a large technology gap between high school and college. Having worked at both, it is obvious to me that the vast majority of high schools cannot provide an adequate digital literacy foundation, and the expectations of colleges are usually too high. 

Whether it is a financial issue (schools cannot provide the appropriate technology for their students), a training issue (schools cannot provide enough training for their students), or a philosophical issue (schools are unwilling or unable to permit students to bring their own device), high schools and colleges have a large disparity in their student technology expectations.

Image of the "Mac Guy" and "PC Guy" from
Justin Long was better in Die Hard.

I believe Chromebooks provide some collateral learning for the students. Namely, 
  1. Cloud-based computing isn't an afterthought; it's the inspiration for building it. And cloud-based computing is where we operate today. It's not only important for students to know how to wrangle files in the cloud, it is imperative if they want to find a job after college because great cloud computing skills are a dipstick test for computer literacy.

  2. It's so easy to have Linux running concurrently with the Chrome OS. And Linux is a great tool for becoming digitally literate

  3. The app store has many free productivity and educational tools. It's important for students to discover their own personal workflow, and how to be productive with the computer. I cannot overstate this enough - an alarming number of students enter college with computers and tablets, but have no idea how to leverage them in their learning.

  4. Google Docs is a tremendous tool for group collaboration - much more impressive than iCloud from Apple. And being collaborative naturally (instead of having collaboration be the focus of a project, Google Docs allows students to focus on being productive - the collaboration is just a nice addition) is an important lesson.

  5. The lessons about syncing across devices are much more apparent when working with Chrome and Chromebooks; although I like the syncing on Apple devices, it is a more potent lesson in Chrome.

  6. Using Chrome apps effectively means being a bit more critical with permissions, and really understanding what access students are willing to give. Critical thinking skills are a lost art in students of all ages. This is a fine example of how to evaluate what students are getting, and if the access it asks for is appropriate.

  7. This is going to sound harsh, but there is some truth to it. But I think that MacBooks tend to "spoon feed" users. You don't need to be computer savvy to use one. That is one of the draws to a Mac - that it is easy to use. But in the process of making a beautiful, slick experience, Apple has numbed the user to a big part of digital agility (file management, troubleshooting, an understanding of what happens under the hood). Chromebooks provide a much better experience for users who want to squeeze every drop they can from their computer usage. Put another way, if I were hiring a person and had two identical candidates, but one was proficient with a Mac and the other with a Chromebook, I'd lean towards the Chromebook user. I just think there is more authentic experience with a Chromebook user. Anyone can be good on a Mac, but it takes a higher level of conceptual knowledge to be proficient with a Chromebook.

In addition to shaping a more analytic user, Chromebooks are hot-swappable, they are substantially cheaper (I recommend the Acer c720, which goes for around $250), and they are easier to manage for classrooms. 

Stay tuned tomorrow for some insight on the Horizon Report. In the meantime, go get a Chromebook.

About Dave


  1. A lot of good insight. I agree with a lot of what you say - particularly the problems that Mac's can create.

    I'd also like to point out that I run a Linux session on my Chromebook, and it is more than suitable for development. I think this is a common misconception - that Chromebook's are not good for anything other than checking email or browsing the web. In truth, I run a fully functional Linux install next to ChromeOS and I can develop entire full-stack websites in Java (ironically, the site is hosted on the cloud).

    Interestingly, look at the trend of where computing happens - way back when, everyone used punch-cards on a time-sharing server. Then came the dumb terminal. Next came personal computers, and the computing was shifted to thick clients on the user side. We then saw a boom of true "web applications" where everything was done on the server side (again - just like 40 years prior). Now we are looking at a culture whereby the cloud hosts the app, but the client does the computing (again, just like 25 years ago). It may not be as visible to the user, but client-side JavaScript does an awful lot of work and computing now. As well, local storage facilities on modern browsers allow for a truly "disconnected" experience. Where will this battle between server/client computing finally settle? My guess is a close to the middle, where fully off-line capable apps are the norm, occasionally connecting to their home server to sync data, get updates and publish user content.