People involved in educational technology (EdTech) know that Chromebooks have become the computer-of-choice in school districts across the U.S. Some experts are estimating that 80% of new computers sold into U.S. K-12 this year will be Chrome devices (Global Market Insights; Statista 2018). But why?
In 2012, Chromebooks had 1% of the K-12 market, but by the end of 2014 had 39% market share! The number of all types of computers sold almost doubled in these 2 years, mostly driven by public school districts’ rapid acceptance of Chromebooks.
So what exactly about Chromebooks led to this?
Chromebooks are dominating U.S. K-12 because of their speed, simplicity and price. They boot in 7 seconds, run the fastest browser in the world (Chrome), and can cost less than $200. The simplicity of running entirely in the browser has made life easier for both education IT professionals, via the Google Admin console, and students, via G Suite for Education. The total cost of ownership for Chromebooks is 1/6th of PCs and Macs, and will continue to diverge with the accelerated development of free, web-based tools and curricula built for the Google ecosystem. For those that understand and live this, it’s no surprise that Apple & Microsoft are getting thrashed, and superintendents, Chief Technology Officers, school site techs, teachers, students, parents and taxpayers are increasingly opting for G Suite and Chromebooks.
G Suite for Education
Education technology is often focused on the newest hardware, bleeding-edge software, the latest AR, VR, AI algorithm, blah blah blah. But the only thing that matters to CTOs and K-12 leaders is helping kids be better students, employees, entrepreneurs, and ultimately citizens! Better at taking tests, graduating, extracurricular activities, community service, getting jobs, and going to college. Google recognized this, created a comprehensive library of tools and resources for teachers and students - many of which are unique to Google’s ecosystem - and made it totally free. It includes things like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, Google Forms, Google Calendar, Google Expeditions, and perhaps most importantly, Google Classroom, which helps teachers and students manage assignments and coursework.
The Google Admin Console
School district IT departments are not always front-and-center in the way that teachers and principals are, but they are the crucial backbone that keeps all technology running, from the network infrastructure, computers, and classroom technology, to the central office, ERP and security systems (recently, I spoke with one IT Director at a rural, socioeconomically disadvantaged district who even handles his district’s HVAC system, and coaches the wrestling team to boot). Out of necessity, most IT professionals learned in the last couple of decades how to manage heavyweight Windows & Mac environments, with a large operating system (OS), constant OS updates, a multiplicity of desktop applications, computer refreshes, security threats and increasingly, digital assessments. There weren’t any other good options.
The Google Admin console made it incredibly easy and quick to set up large numbers of Chromebooks, manage them securely, and update them automatically, in the background, from the cloud. No more day-to-day OS updates or issues with version compatibility! The only cost: a $30 Chrome Management License to manage each Chromebook.
Furthermore, the Google Admin console’s “Kiosk Mode” enables IT to lock down computers to a single browser-based app, for student assessments, in a fraction of the time it takes on Windows & Mac computers. Nearly every US state's department of education has a roadmap for digital transformation (http://www.state.nj.us/education/techno/localtech/tpdl/tpdl.pdf), a cornerstone of which is often a transition to digital student assessments. Digital assessments yield faster reporting on test results, while reducing the operational overhead of analog, pencil-and-paper assessments. Faster assessments align with superintendents' and Curriculum & Instruction departments' objectives for quick feedback so they can iterate and improve on the fly and year to year, thus compelling them to switch to Chromebooks. The end result: Google for Education has amassed market share, namely by expanding the market to segments that could not previously afford to run complex assessment routines and could not make a swift transition to assessing digitally.
At the end of the day, all of this transformation for administration and IT meant a better experience for teachers, and therein, a better experience for students.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
The first thing I learned when I began working with public school districts 4 years ago was that money is tight...scratch that - very tight. Paying to get the best teachers, curriculum, district support personnel, facilities and IT resources adds up, and districts don’t always get more money if they help kids better. More often than not, school districts are in a constant battle to make ends meet, and keeping up with technology for students is one of the first things to get cut. I spoke with a CTO of a 50,000+ student district this week whose budget was slashed 50% from last year!
But superintendents are increasingly aware that their students need access to technology to perform on digital tests, graduate on time, get decent jobs, compete for admission to college and become well-informed, well-rounded citizens that positively contribute to their community. Without adequate computer access, students are at a serious disadvantage, like in Baltimore City Schools, where the push for digital assessments combined with the lack of computer access for low-income students has hurt those students' test scores. Six years ago was when this awareness began spreading most strongly, and Google introduced the Chromebook right on time.
With the least expensive models priced at $179, Chromebooks are undisputedly the most affordable computers for students and teachers. When buying in bulk with a Chrome Management License, white-glove setup, shipping and all other burdened costs, districts regularly pay $250 per Chromebook, much less than the standard Windows setup, which regularly runs double (or Mac, which easily runs quadruple).
IDC even did a study showing that Chromebooks have a 61% lower TCO over a 3-year period as compared with Windows computers, as a result of the 49% lower cost of Chromebooks, 68% more efficient IT support workflow, 91% lesser need to reboot, and whopping 93% faster deployment!
Google has also invested in Neverware, where we help school districts repurpose their old computers as Chrome devices, speeding them up and providing the same experience as Chromebooks, for as little as $1 per student per year. And they’ve sponsored services from companies like Amplified IT, so school districts can get their IT staff, Instructional Support staff and teachers the necessary training on Google tools and the Google Admin console with the purchase of their Chromebooks, and so teachers can jump right into teaching and focus on helping their kids with these tools. Again, all this for free!
Free Web-Based Tools & Curricula
The final key to Google and Chromebooks’ rapid adoption in K-12 has been content and apps. Below are just a few examples from the broad ecosystem they’ve fostered:
Google Expeditions, empowering students to travel and learn (virtually) across the globe
Google “Digital Tools” like Scholar, which enables students to search scholarly articles
Google Computer Science, a large initiative to encourage and facilitate CS education
3rd-party apps and tools to facilitate classroom instruction, IT administration and more
Google Training Center, with professional development resources for teachers
All of this led to continued growth of the K-12 device market and Google’s share of it, and by the end of 2017, Google owned almost two-thirds of all K-12 computing, and by way of its ecosystem, even more of EdTech mindshare as a whole. If superintendents, CIOs and CTOs weren’t already thinking this way, Google’s made it easy for them to decide, by mobbing them at the ground level with teacher evangelists that are well-versed in Google’s ecosystem and the resulting benefits for students.
And unlike Microsoft and Apple, who’ve had this position in the past (albeit not quite as dominantly), Google’s not letting go. They’re the first to make it easy for high school seniors to transfer their Chrome profiles over for college, and to eventually follow them into the workplace.
Taking all of this into account, it’s no wonder that some experts are estimating that 80% of new computers sold into U.S. K-12 this year will be Chrome devices. More and more districts are going 1:1 (targeting a student-to-computer ratio of 1), and almost none of them can afford to do so with anything else. Nor would they want to. Superintendents realize that the heavyweight, costly Windows & Mac computers just aren’t needed, and that the money saved can be invested in helping kids be better instead.