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Chromebooks Versus Tablets in Schools? #TBT, and a Look Ahead.

Chromebooks-Montgomery-County-classroom-blog.jpgSuddenly, Chromebooks are all the rage: My colleague Michele Molnar and I will present next week a package on the low-cost laptops' rise in K-12 education, based on some startling new sales figures and an inside look at the nation's largest Chromebook deployment.

But it was just one year ago today that the Apple iPad seemed poised to reign as the device of choice in schools. As Molnar wrote then on the Marketplace K-12 blog:

By the end of 2013, total shipments for tablet computing devices in the U.S. education marketplace are expected to exceed 3.5 million units--a 46 percent increase over 2012. In the first half of 2013, 94 percent of that market has gone to Apple's iPad, according to Tom Mainelli, research director focusing on the tablet market for IDC Research, a San Mateo, Calif.-based firm that provides market analysis of technology.

Apple still dominates the U .S. K-12 tablet market, and it's not as though digital tablet sales have dried up since 2013. Most of those tablets sold in recent years are still in schools, and according to new data from Futuresource Consulting, Ltd., a U.K.-based research and forecasting firm, 1.03 million tablets were purchased by domestic K-12 institutions in the second quarter of 2014. That was good for almost 42 percent of all mobile-device sales to schools.

In the second quarter of 2013, however, tablets commanded 51 percent of the mobile-device market in U.S. schools. That's a pretty significant drop.

Chromebooks are flooding into the open space, more than doubling their slice of the pie over the same time period. More than 729,000 such devices were shipped to U.S. K-12 schools in the second quarter of 2014, according to Futuresource.

The Chromebook market is also diversifying. Eight different manufacturers now produce 19 different versions of the device. The common threads: All run on Google's Chrome operating system, rely almost entirely on cloud-based storage and applications, and—significantly for schools—cost around $300, much less than a tablet or traditional laptop.

One of the worries that educators and school-technology officials have about Chromebooks is their relative lack of processing power.

But when I spent time last week at Ridgeview Middle School—one of the model Chromebook schools in Maryland's 151,000-student Montgomery County public school system, home to the largest K-12 Chromebook deployment in the U.S. to date—that didn't seem to be an issue.

"As a 6th grade English teacher, I really cannot think of anything I did in a computer lab or with laptops that I have not been able to do on the Chromebooks," Jill Raspen, a 6th grade English teacher at Rigdeview, told me.

(Check out Education Week on Instagram to see photos from Ridgeview by T.J Kirkpatrick.) 

There remain a host of other concerns about what it means for schools to turn to Chromebooks, including the reality that they are heavily dependent on Internet connections that schools and families don't always have.

But there is not doubt about the considerable excitement on the part of many districts who now believe they have an affordable option for closing the technology-equity gap while also promoting the kinds of collaborative digital learning that so many are so gung-ho about.

Check out edweek.org and page one of Education Week next week for our in-depth look.

Photo: Students use Google Chromebooks during an advanced 6th grade reading class at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg, Md.. on Nov. 6.--T.J. Kirkpatrick for Education Week


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