TL;DR version: I recently tested using my Samsung Chromebook as the only computing device at an institute I helped facilitate over the summer. This blog post is about what I learned during this "acid test" and my thoughts about using the Chromebook as my sole computer.
A little over two months ago I received my Chromebook and have helped launch the Instructional Technology & Digital Media Literacy (IT&DML) program here at UNH. As part of the IT&DML program, we’re focused on use of free digital texts and tools to build our own learning environments, and this brought us to using the Chromebook for all class materials and activities. I’ve learned a lot helping students and faculty in the program get up and running using Chrome and Google Apps for Educators (GAFE) products.
On a personal level I’m challenging myself to use only my Chromebook for all of my work. This is usually not a problem as I’m almost always around a wireless network, or can use the hotspot on my phone if needed. The main challenge for me is that I need a portable solution that I can use on the road in schools and conference rooms for talks. I love my MacBook Pro, but would appreciate the ability to only bring my Samsung Chromebook on the road for conferences and talks. As I stated earlier, I have already started…and completed…my “30-day” test of only using my Chromebook. The real “acid test” of this would include only bringing my Chromebook on the road for a conference or teaching institute. To test this out I tried only using my Chromebook for the week at the New Literacies Institute. What follows in this post is a collection of my general thoughts, successes, and failures over the course of the week.
Materials are already in the cloud
The first thing that I need to share is that my mileage and results may vary from typical use. As I’ve stated here many times, I don’t use Microsoft Office any more. All of my docs, handouts, videos, teaching materials, and “powerpoints” are already in the cloud. Everything that I build for class, or a talk I build in Google Docs, Presenter, or upload to YouTube. To that extent, it’s not that difficult to walk into a room, plug in, and present to a group. The nice thing is also that I can log in to Google Drive on a separate computer and present from there if I have problems connecting to the wireless network. I can also use the “offline” mode in Chrome, or download a local copy of the Presenter file if I’m worried that I won’t be able to connect during the talk.
No problems with projecting
I do have to say that presenting from the Chromebook went very, very well. Since all of my materials were built in Google Docs and Presenter, I was able to easily access and edit them from my Chromebook. There wasn’t any real issue connecting to the wifi in the Microsoft NERD Center. Amazingly, the HMDI to VGA adapter that wasn’t working before I left…suddenly worked perfectly when plugged into the VGA connector for the projector. Sometimes it took a couple disconnects and reconnects to get the VGA to properly adjust…but it all worked well. Additionally, I think the layout and resolution of web pages looked nicer on the Chromebook, than on my MacBook Pro.
No problems with a “low power” computer
I love my MacBook Pro. I do some very taxing computer applications daily and need to have the extra horsepower to edit video clips, video conference, edit gDocs, all while screencasting. I was a bit concerned about the ability to do much of this from my Chromebook. Most of my presentations consisted of teaching how to edit GAFE products, or use SoundCloud or podcasting. I also had some more challenging work in trying to teach participants how to use Mozilla Popcorn. Popcorn is a great program that allows you to remix and mashup digital content. For the most part…the Chromebook performed without a hiccup. I did have to reboot once or twice during the week as the browser would get hung up on certain tasks. One of these “tasks” included trying to start up a “Hangout on Air” during my talk on Popcorn to allow participants to later view the session. This didn’t go very well. 🙂 Despite needing to reboot after trying to push it a bit, the Chromebook performed well. I wasn’t slowed down, or hamstrung in any of the talks.
Need a better solution for screencaptures and screencasts
I did need to bring in my MacBook Pro for one day of sessions. The reason for this was that I needed to record a couple of screencasts for tutorials and post to YouTube. I regularly record and share screencasts and need this functionality in my computers. I’ve tested out the work around using Hangouts on Air a couple of times, and would prefer an easier, more professional way to record these movies. I would also appreciate a more polished tool for screencaptures and annotating. A Chrome app or extension that mirrored the functionality of Skitch would ROCK!!! Until these apps or extensions come around, I’ll continue to prepare my materials ahead of time and post them online.
It should be noted that I usually have these screencasts and screencaptures completed and uploaded before these sessions. One of the challenges was that I was showing participants how to use Screencast-o-matic to create multimodal tutorials. For that reason alone…I needed to use the appropriate tools and haul in my MacBook Pro.
Need a better Evernote app
At the New Literacies Institute, I once again sung the praises of Evernote. In my presentations on Evernote I start by showcasing exactly how I set up Evernote when I start. For this part of the session I needed to use my Mac to show how to set up the computer app. I think Evernote is much easier to initially set up on the Mac or PC app. After that I primarily use Evernote on my phone, iPad, and through the Clearly clipper. I would love to see Evernote develop a better web app, or at the very least a “packaged” Chrome app that will allow me to edit, save, and search my notes when not online. I understand that I can use Google Docs, Google Keep, or Pocket instead of Evernote for my “multimodal notebook.” The major challenge for me is that Evernote currently does everything that I need it to do…and has done this well for a long time. I’d love to keep this working well on my Chromebook.
…overall a smashing success
At the end of the week I reflected back on my use of the Chromebook as my “daily driver” and I think it was a great success. Yes, I’m not the typical user of this device. I already live in the cloud and am living la vida Google. Yes, I’m not normal in the topic and tone of my presentations. I not only present on literacy, technology, and education…but teach teachers how to use these digital texts and tools. Yes, I’m a bit abnormal as I have been pushing the boundaries in terms of teaching, learning, and using technology for a long time…and this could be viewed as one more step. Yes, I did bring my MacBook Pro and iPad in as the “backup plan” in case things went wrong in my presentations. Despite all of these accomodations…I think my experiment went well.
As I prepare for the upcoming conferences in the fall I’ll only pack my Chromebook and my iPad. The iPad is primarily for reading/media…and to connect to the VGA in case my HDMI to VGA adapter goes wonky again. Nevertheless…I think I can remove the safety net and present at upcoming conferences using only the cloud…and my Chromebook.
Image CC by wikipedia