Chromebooks vs. iPads: What’s best for the classroom?

There is much discussion about technology in education.  The general consensus is that technology is a great idea for the classroom.  It is a tool that can enhance teaching and encourage learning.  We try to teach our students that nothing is free in this life, and technology in the classroom is an expense that many schools can’t afford.  This has been one challenge for schools, especially in the last few years.  Another challenge is how to get staff and students to adopt new technology, and use it to their greatest benefit?

When you think of technology in the classroom, what comes to mind?  Smartboards and LCD projectors? Mimios?  Desktop computers?  Walk into any classroom at my school and you will see these things.  These are all extensively used as teaching tools and benefit the teaching side of the school equation.  But what about the students?  How do we encourage student learning with technology, especially when the expense can limit what is available?

The library media center has been an important part of helping students have access to technology at school.  In addition to our in-library computer lab that teachers can reserve class-time in, we also have several carts that can be checked out and wheeled to the classroom. For the past few years we have had two carts with 30 iPads each, a smaller cart of 24 iPads, and a very small set of 10 iPads.  These carts have seen heavy use, which really isn’t surprising.  The Apple iPad is versatile tool that definitely increases student engagement.  But is this the best tool you can use?

This January we also added four Chromebook carts, and I was surprised by the result.  Teachers actually prefer the Chromebook carts.  What’s more, students actually seem to prefer them.  In fact, the iPad carts sit unused in the library while the Chromebooks don’t stay in the library long enough for me to finish processing them.  The biggest reason this surprises me is to me the iPad seems to offer so much more.  Students can create videos and take pictures, surf the internet, use one of thousands of education apps (many of which are free) and even type if they check out one of our iPad keyboards.  With Chromebooks you can surf the internet and type.  For many of our teachers being able to easily type something is the advantage over iPads.  For lessons that show learning has occurred when the paper is typed and printed, Chromebooks (or other laptops and desktops) will always be the technology of choice.

So what now?  Chromebooks are a great tool for education.  They’re definitely cheaper than iPads, and teachers, particularly at my school, tend to love them.  For schools that are looking for technology they can afford, they are certainly a good option.  Are they better for education?  I have found that the best tool is the one that gets used.  The goal for school librarians is to help staff and students learn to use those tools, and to watch for new technology.   Chromebooks and iPads can both work for education.  The good news for me is that it will be easier to reserve iPads for students to use in the library, which will be great for Teen Tech Week as well as other technology based library lessons.