The Classroom Tech Choice: Chromebooks or iPads?

The move towards student-centered, inquiry based learning experiences has made technology a ubiquitous part of the modern classroom experience. Instead of flipping through expensive (and continually outdated) textbooks, students can use digital tools to navigate a limitless trove of information as well as create amazing products. This shift mirrors the demands of the modern world where so much depends upon technology and the skillset required to make the most of it.

As such, more and more school districts are revamping their approach towards technology. The days of the isolated computer lab are fading away, and instead, technology is integrating seamlessly into the day-to-day routines of the classroom. In many cases, districts have gone as far as creating 1:1 environments where every student can have access to their own device to use.

Sure, a piece of technology for every student sounds amazing, but what tools make the most sense?

The Major Players

At the risk of oversimplifying things, the frontrunners in the world of classroom tech really are Apple iPads and Google Chromebooks. Sure, there are districts where laptop PCs and MacBooks are the norm. That being said, they are expensive; the high costs tend to make them unrealistic options for most districts looking to take the 1:1 plunge. By contrast, iPads and Chromebooks have emerged as much more affordable options.

For years, it was believed that tablets (like the iPad) were the epitome of classroom tech thanks to their versatility, portability, intuitive touch interfaces, and abundance of free applications. Many classrooms (including mine) made them the cornerstone of their technology toolset.

However, over the last few years, Chromebooks have taken a firm grasp of the educational tech market. These durable laptop look-alikes rely heavily on Google’s free suite of publishing and organizational tools to allow students to create, explore, and learn about content.

On the surface, the biggest difference between Chromebooks and iPads is the fact that Chromebooks, like their laptop cousins, come with a complete QWERTY keyboard rather than relying exclusively on touchscreen typing or aftermarket wireless options. In reality, there are other key points to consider when it comes to differentiating between the two options.

My Classroom Tech Journey

I have spent the last five years teaching a 7th grade social studies course with a classroom set of iPads. They have allowed me to create content-rich learning experiences for my students that would have otherwise been impossible. My students have had the ability to branch out creatively and inquisitively thanks to the access and functionality of the tablets. I even digitized my classroom workflow so that everything that happened in the classroom could be accessed outside of class by students and parents – true transparency and accountability.

Since I started using the iPads, however, my district has made a push to bring Google Chromebooks into classrooms. So, while I was no longer the only 1:1 educator when it came to classroom tech, I remained the only one working with a classroom full of tablets in a building full of Chromebooks. Despite being offered the opportunity to switch devices, I held out for the past few years, clinging to my iPads along with the content and workflows I have worked so tirelessly to hone.

Among my peers and administration, the fact that students were using a different type of technology in my room was viewed as a positive thing. Since there is no telling what technology students will have access to outside of school (now or in the future), teaching them to use a variety of digital tools responsibly makes sense.

Nevertheless, something happened this past spring. Despite all the time I have invested into the iPad platform and the inherent value of “device diversity”, I relented.

I was approached once again with the opportunity to trade in my aging iPad 2s for a cart of shiny new Chromebooks. I took stock of my students’ needs and the ways I am hoping to further enhance their experiences this upcoming school year. After some careful deliberations, I decided to finally move on from the iPads and join my colleagues as a Chromebook classroom.

The Choice Is Yours

Choosing between iPads and Chromebooks for classroom use is largely a matter of taste. Both are amazing pieces of technology that can empower student learning and creativity in a myriad of ways.

I created an infographic to illustrate how I have weighed the choice over the years. Rather than prioritizing insignificant differences like battery life (both devices can make it through a school day on a single overnight charge), the decision tree focuses on selecting the most effective device for students to use. It is my hope that it will help other teachers and education professionals should they face the dilemma of choosing between the two current frontrunners in classroom tech.