Chromebook 30 Day Challenge: Update

Earlier this month I posted that I would be trying out a Matt Cutts’-style 30 Day Challenge, trying to use the Chromebook as my primary computing device for the month of July.  I purchased the HP Chromebook 14 a few months ago and made it my goal to use the device as often as possible in my daily computing, both at home and at work.

Like many school districts, we are a Microsoft shop, so I was especially curious how the Chromebook would interact with my work environment.  For the most part, the entire experience worked incredibly well.

heroFirst, about the device:  The HP Chromebook 14 is a very nice device.  On my desk at work I have 2 18-inch monitors, so lots of screen real estate.  I also have an iPad with Retina (Gen 3) and an original Surface Pro, each of which have much less screen real estate.  The HP Chromebook 14 has a very nice 14-inch screen that is much larger than my Surface Pro.  Granted, I would never want a 14-inch tablet, so the form factor makes sense for each device.  I love my Surface Pro, but often want for a slightly larger screen.  The HP Chromebook 14 screen is pretty large, but more importantly from a productivity standpoint, this leads to a nicely-spaced keyboard (no number keypad, but that’s fine with me).  With the larger screen and keyboard also brings a large battery inside, and this device has excellent battery life.  Only once have I opened it up from being in my bag and found it with less than 10% battery life.  The product page mentions up to 9.5 hours of battery, and I’ve found this to be true.  The trackpad is very nice (better than any Windows machine I’ve ever used at twice the price-point of this Chromebook), and that is a major plus for the device.  I’ve not needed to use the USB ports (it has both 3.0 and 2.0 ports), the SD card slot, or the HDMI port.  Sound from the speakers is fine, but not a highlight like the battery life or trackpad.

No device is perfect, and the HP Chromebook 14 is the same for me.  My biggest problem with the device is the weight.  It comes in at barely over 4 pounds, which compared to my iPad or Surface Pro, is really heavy.  I know it’s all because of the battery and screen size, and I’ve really become spoiled with simply picking up either of the other devices and walking down the hall to someone’s office or into someone’s classroom, but the weight (and in turn probably the large size) has made me begrudgingly pick up the Chromebook and walk with it.  I also struggled with the fact that I couldn’t access network resources (network storage and some printers), which really hurt productivity when I’m the only one in the district trying this.  Printing was able to work using Google Print, but that still required me to use my Windows PC, and was still kinda flaky when I use it: setup was much more difficult for me than it seemed like it should have been, and printing was very delayed for me as well. My district version of Outlook Web Access only allowed me to use the Light version, which is so stripped down as to be nearly useless, and this was probably my biggest pain-point during the challenge.  Honestly, I cheated for some more complex email searching needs and jumped over to my Windows PC.  I also needed to Remote Desktop into my work PC while on vacation, and while ChromeOS does have that capability available, I just used my Surface Pro and TeamViewer to do that work for about 20 minutes.

IMG_20140724_075406IMG_20140724_075406IMG_20140724_075406As to the classroom with students, I think the device would be very good for many students.  Chrome OS has become very capable in the last 12 months.  As I type this post, I have Tweetdeck scrolling on the right 25% of the screen and WordPress open in the other 75%. Window Snapping works very similarly as in Windows 7/8, and I use that feature alone many times a day.  I think this is a huge productivity feature that is missing on iPad and Android devices, so to have it on a laptop is essential, especially with the 14″ screen.  I believe that students can use most any device in the classroom with a smaller learning curve than most teachers, so ultimately the device choice should be heavily influenced by teacher requests.  I live in the Chrome browser at work, with the exception of Office products and TechSmith Snagit and Camtasia.  There is a SnagIt extension for ChromeOS for both video and screenshots, but I can’t use the screen capture across multiple browser windows.  That is a very minor issue, and perfectly useable.  Even Office 365 works incredibly well in Chrome, and I completed my productivity work in Word and Excel online, seamlessly saving to OneDrive, which then magically updated on my Windows PC.

I still have a week left in this challenge, but I’ve confirmed my beliefs that the Chromebook could easily be the primary computer for a large percentage of people.  A school visit to Richland Two in Columbia, South Carolina, a few years ago changed my mind on how the devices could be used in schools, and putting my hands on one for an extended period of time this month made that even more apparent.  I’m excited to use it even more in the future.

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Chromebook: 30 Day Challenge

Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, is taking a nice long sabbatical, he is well-known for his 30 Day Challenges. Reading his sabbatical post made me think about doing my own 30 Day Challenge.  I need to get back into blogging publicly more often, so starting a 30 Day Challenge should help drive me back into writing.

Chromebooks and Chrome OS have come into education into a really strong way in the last year or so. Google has refined the Chrome OS and enhanced the offline modes, helping to address the initial concern people (myself included) had with the device in limited connectivity situations.  Meanwhile, hardware manufacturers have really stepped up the quality of the devices being produced while keeping the pricing reasonable, so overall the landscape has become much more interesting.

My 30 Day Challenge for the month of July 2014 will be to use a Chromebook as a primary computing device in as many scenarios as possible.

Some background on Chrome OS: Chrome OS is basically the Chrome browser from Google along with an operating system to allow it to run on the device.  The OS is minimal and everything happens within a browser-style window.  The OS continues to evolve, including advanced features like left & right-side window locking for easy side-by-side windowing, adding of bookmarks directly to the task bar at the bottom, and more.  Chrome OS is automatically updated in the background as updates are pushed out from Google, so you are always up to date.  Plus, if you’re already in the Google ecosystem (Gmail, Chrome web browser, Android phone) the synchronicity is very impressive.  You can pick up from one device to another with open or recent tabs, sync sign-ins (if you trust Google with your passwords), and more.

I recently purchased an HP Chromebook 14 with TMobile LTE from Woot recently because I wanted to try out a Chrome OS device.  I use Chrome on all my computers and a Nexus 5 as my daily driver, so I’m in the Google ecosystem enough to warrant giving it a shot.  I was also curious to see how the TMobile addition of free LTE (200 MB/month for life of the device), but more importantly in my mind, this specific Chromebook had 4GB of RAM, which seems to be very important for Chromebooks if you’re a big tab user like me.

As I try to use this Chromebook frequently, I’ll be on vacation for a week, part at the beach near Pensacola Florida and part in suburban Atlanta. At least in the time I’m in ALT I won’t have wifi, so I’m really curious to see how frugal the Chromebook is with the 200 MB of data.  I know my work email works, but it is the “light” version of Outlook Web Access which is fairly ugly and light in fuctionality.  Of course there is the Google Docs, but I’ll also make use of Office 365 and online Word, Excel, and more.

I’ll try to report back before the end of July and update the progess, especially depending on how much of my TMobile internet I end up using while on vacation!

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Not at ISTE 2014

So, I’m not at ISTE 2014 this year, but here are some of the things I’m watching:



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Communicating with Parents

Summer break has begun across the country for most everyone, and with that break brings preparation for the next school year.  I plan to write about a few topics this summer, putting out a few web tools and apps that you might find useful. Each week will have a theme as well!

This week I want to focus on communication with Parents.  It is essential to keep Parents/grandparents/guardians involved in what is going on in their child’s classroom, as an engaged parent is a helpful parent. Keeping them in the loop will bring offers of help, spur conversations at home, and preemptively answer questions (maybe even cutting down on emails!)

Three tools to that end:

weeblylogoWeebly is a simple and easy web page creator and host.  Can be created from a computer web browser or a mobile device, it uses easy drag-and-drop design, tons of templates, and more.  If you can use Word, you can use Weebly. If you like Publisher, you’ll be up to speed with Weebly in no time.  Easily and quickly keep parents up to date on class projects and activities.  Try out Weebly for a summer gathering to get familiar with it!  Weebly has for-pay plans, but their free service will work for all classrooms.

2014-06-17_14-56-57Remind is a free “communication platform built for teachers. Using Remind101, teachers can engage their students and parents more effectively without needing to know their cell phone numbers and without having to give their phone number out.”  Basically it is a web-based text message system like those you might sign up for a restaurants to receive deals, but for the classroom. Your parents sign up for your messages, and you can preschedule or send texts as needed. Field trip reminders, papers to be returned, and anything else that fits in a short text message can be sent easily to parents, and no one knows your cell phone number. Open a free Remind account and put in your own phone number to test out the system!

top_header_bar_mbclogo@2x-6cce8a247747d6acad1eeed9246703e9My Big Campus is our district’s Learning Management System, or LMS.  Similar to Edmodo, Canvas, and others, My Big Campus allows full class collaboration online. Assignments can be created and turned in electronically, students can upload and save files to the service, post blogs and upload pictures, and much more.  My Big Campus also has a Parent Portal component which will let your parents keep tabs on their student’s activities and requirements.  Parents can see what is happening in your class and all of your updates, but they don’t see things that other students post, keeping student work private.  Teachers can also share resources with students and teachers. Your district might use Canvas or Edmodo or some other product, so look into that!

Consider all of these tools as you think about new ways to include your parents in your classroom activities!  If you know of others, let me know and I’ll include them in future posts.

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The iPhone 5S on Virgin Mobile – Unboxing and TMobile

I recently picked up an iPhone 5S on Virgin Mobile.  Sprint (the backbone that Virgin Mobile rides on) has been expanding their LTE service around the country, including in my area (supposedly) and I wanted to see how the coverage was where I live and work.

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For fun, I recorded the unboxing of the iPhone 5S.  It’s identical to all the other iPhone 5S’s, but sometimes seeing the insides makes folks more comfortable buying the device, especially from a “discount” retailer like Virgin Mobile.

I also wanted to see if the Virgin Mobile iPhone 5S was actually shipping Factory Unlocked, so I go a TMobile SIM and popped it in.  Sadly, as you’ll see in the video, the phone is locked and will only work on Sprint or Virgin Mobile.

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