TL;DR version: Chromebooks provide a great opportunity to use the power of the cloud to communicate, collaborate, teach, and learn using a variety of free digital texts and tools. This blog post provides an initial primer to get you started.
We just rolled out a fleet of Chromebooks for our IT&DML program. As a result, we’re all trying to quickly share the best tips, tools, and strategies to get up and running. The Chromebook is a type of netbook, or laptop that only runs on the Chrome OS. This means that everything you do has to be in the Chrome browser…and you may need to be online for most uses. You also need to know that (usually) there isn’t an internal hard drive for storage that you can count on. Once you can get used to these facets…you understand what it means to use a Chromebook and live in the cloud. Please note that this blog post is developed for individuals that are setting up their own personal, or work Chromebook. If you’re using one from a school district, most of this is already handled for you. This post is also an initial primer just to get you started. But, once you get off and running…soon you’ll be “living la vida Google.”
Start Using Chrome Everywhere
Usually I suggest that people start using the Chrome browser for most of their online browsing. This is an absolute (IMHO) for individuals using Chromebooks. I suggest that you install Chrome on your computers, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. Once you have it installed, and sign in across the devices with your Google Account, it will sync your passwords, apps, documents, and history everywhere you use online information. Plus, it’ll make it easier for you to adjust when you only can use the Chrome browser.
Substitute Google Apps & Extension for Everything
There are already a number of great apps that are available in the Google Chrome store. It’ll take some time, but you should be able to find an app that will replace (or extend) work that you currently use other programs for. I’ve detailed my workflow in this blog plenty of times already. If you’ve been following along, you know that I don’t use Microsoft Office any more. I use Evernote for writing, saving, archiving, and searching everything in my online multimodal notebook. When I need to write I use Google Docs. I’ve totally switched over to Google Slides for presentations. Some of the other apps that I use daily in Chrome are Feedly, My Chrome Theme, Tweetdeck, Pixlr Editor, Pixlr Express, WeVideo, Voice Comments, Timer, Dashlane, Gmail Offline, and Chrome Remote Desktop. This is of course in addition to all of the Google Apps that are available in Chrome…download & use them all (Docs, Slides, Google+, Drive, Calendar, Sites, YouTube, Play Books). For music you can use Google Play Music to upload your own music to the cloud…or Pandora, or Spotify. I personally use SubSonic and 8tracks.
One last point…Chrome apps and extensions are FREE!!!
Maybe Install Google Drive on Your Computer
Once you start using Google Apps and Chrome for everything…you’ll start to look back longingly at the gigabytes of data you’ve compiled over the years. It is possible to download Google Drive for you computer, and move these files over. Before you go rushing off to download the app, install, and then upload everything…back up your computer. After you have a copy of everything, you can install Google Drive and upload the materials you’ll need to the cloud. Google will do its best to convert your materials to Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Slides, etc. You’ll have to work your way through your documents to convert some of them over by hand (within a click or two it’ll be done).
The reason I titled this section with the term maybe is because there is an opportunity that you could lose data if you don’t backup ahead of time. You also should dull down your resources and organize it a bit better before uploading. Finally, you should consider the size of all of these documents before uploading. My advice is that this process takes a bit of time…and should be well thought out before starting. Create a new folder on your computer that you’ll be uploading to Google Drive. Document by document…folder by folder start moving materials over to this folder. When you’re complete, check on the size of the folder with everything in it. Make sure you can fit it into the size limits of your Google Drive. Keep in mind that you get a free 100 GB of Google Drive space for the first two years by clicking on this link from your Chromebook.
Once you have it up and running…play with your new Chromebook. Test out the tools that I detail above, and try out others. Expand your horizons by following other blog posts like this, and this, and this, and this, and this. Test out, and add to the list of Chrome Apps that we’ve compiled on our Digital Texts and Tools site. Use Twitter as a resource by following the #GAFE and #ChromebooksEdu hashtags. Also be sure to join the Chromebooks, Chromebook EDU, Google Apps for Education, and Using Google Apps as a Free LMS Communities on Google+. Finally, please reflect openly online about your experiences by writing it up in a blog post, or sharing to a a social network.