For technology companies, the education space is one of the single most important markets to capture. Students who learn on a particular platform or technology are likely to continue using those same tools throughout their academic career and, with the rise of BYOD, throughout their working career as well.
Google has worked hard to capture the education market with Chromebooks and in 2014 there have been multiple signs that Google is gaining a foothold. A report earlier this year said that Chromebooks captured 20% of the education market in 2013.
The latest data point detailing the momentum of Chromebooks was a new blog post in which Google announced that schools had purchased more than 1 million Chromebooks in the second quarter of 2014. The announcement comes in tandem with the announcement of Bridgeport Public Schools bringing 9,000 Chromebooks to their school system. While 9,000 is a large deployment, it pales in comparison to the 32,000 Chromebooks being deployed at Chesterfield County Public Schools.
"With the advance of the web, a lot of the learning material, traditionally only available at library or bookstores, is now available at the fingertips," said Ken Lin, an engineering manager for the Chrome education and business team. "We are seeing a huge trend for classrooms to adopt technology, because it helps teachers to teach better, and enables kids to access knowledge like never before. We are very excited for Chromebooks to be part of this trend."
These deployments are merely two in a series of multi-thousand unit Chromebook deployments in schools throughout the country, leading to the question of why Chromebooks are gaining so much traction in the enterprise.
There are two big reasons why the use of Chromebooks is growing in the education space, deployment and management. Let's break that down.
When considering a new machine deployment, much of what attracts schools to the Chromebook is lack of machine imaging and how easy it is to get users up and running.
"As we became more familiar with the Chrome OS and the enhancements offered from its frequent release cycle, the number of items requiring intervention prior to distribution dwindled to merely asset tagging the machines, and logging in one time to join them to our organization," said Adam Seldow, executive director of technology for Chesterfield County Public Schools. "All of the device and user settings flow to the machine instantly upon the user's initial login."
Seldow said that his school systems saw this play out as their efforts for configuration shifted away from the individual device and towards the Google Apps control panel. The control panel makes it easier to manage the devices both before and after the rollout.
Lin and his team at Google worked with the Play for Education and Chrome Web Store team to make Chrome applications available on Play for Education portal, and to allow IT admins to bulk deploy Chrome applications to students. Easy bulk deployment of apps means that schools can avoid limiting service agreements and some of the fees associated with them.
While rollouts can go more smoothly now, some of the initial deployments were limited because some network administrators underestimated the stress that would be placed on their servers.
Another factor for school deployments is the low cost. Lin mentioned that the device manufacturers have been working hard to keep the device costs low, and the low prices are helping with education adoption as well.
"They are inexpensive," said Gartner analyst Angela McIntyre. "They are in the sub-$300 notebook segment which makes them attractive from a hardware standpoint for hardware buyers in education."
On the user side of things, the ubiquity of experience is paramount. While this isn't something that is exclusive to Chromebooks, it is something that Google does quite well. By building out their web apps such as Drive, they were able to offer students the ability to work on the same content at home as they are working on at school.
"Controlled accessibility is important for the teachers, because you can create this school environment that is just there for the students," McIntyre said. "They can access their content whether they are at home, or whether they are at school."
When it comes to maintaining and managing the devices, Chromebooks have a potential to gain points with schools there as well. The devices don't require much in the way of management from the IT support staff.
According to Lin, administrators can use a "central web-based management console to check the health of the devices, push applications, set policies." Meaning that the deployment of a new web app to an entire student population could be as easy as a few clicks. Once again, this isn't something that is proprietary to Google, but it is a feature that Google does well with the Chrome OS devices.
When asked about what he thought the best things about using Chromebooks in his schools were, Seldow mentioned "The seamless, frequent, and feature-rich updates. The Chrome OS update cycle is rapid and with each update comes improved functionality and security. Best of all, the updates do not interrupt productivity and can be staggered over time for large organizations."
While security is still a big concern, Google has taken steps to address it by permanently removing data mining for ads on all Apps for Education services, as well as permanently disabling ads from being able to be turned on for those services. According to McIntyre, another big aspect of security is keeping students from going where they shouldn't be going.
"One concern when you have students online is that they will access websites that have inappropriate content, and the IT managers are able to block certain websites from student use," McIntyre said. "They also have a record of every website and all of the content that a student is accessing, so they can be given alerts."
While Chromebooks are entering the market with vigor, there are still some challenges that lie ahead. Lin, whose team works on developing the infrastructure to manage the lifecycle of Chromebooks, said that he sees the challenges as part of a journey and not a finite set of problems. According to Lin, he sees two sets of problems that his team is looking to tackle in upcoming projects:
1. Save people time so they can focus on teaching and learning. For example, Lin mentioned the concept of using computers to help make grading tests and homework faster and more simple.
2. Using technology to connect people, by getting relevant materials and content to students and teachers quickly.
Chromebooks are not the archetype for all devices in education, but the adoption numbers and market share clearly show that Google is becoming a force to be reckoned with in schools.
- What's holding back Chromebooks in the enterprise? Three things
- 32,000 Chromebooks: How a Virginia school system bet on Google's PC platform
- Google shows off new designs for Chromebooks, extends battery life, increases offline capabilities
- Private school's Chromebook program explains why Google's laptops have captured nearly 20% of the educational market
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.