Friday, May 13, 2011

The Best Thing About Chromebooks: It's Complicated

by Shelly Blake-Plock

The best thing about Chromebooks has nothing to do with the actual physical devices themselves. It has nothing to do with how much they cost. It has nothing to do with the fact that they are made by Google or Samsung or Acer or whomever. The best thing about Chromebooks is what they suggest about the way we are now thinking about computing.

Computing used to be about hardware and software. Now it's about connecting. So when you hear people naysay technology, you might point out that, to an extent, they are actually naysaying the connection between people.

There is of course the issue of money money money and all the big players who stand to make a buck off our tech needs.

I was talking to a school's IT guy today and he said: "Look, I'm vendor-neutral." And that makes sense to me -- in terms of a way to approach tech. Because when it comes down to the brass tacks, the connection is more important than the device; in the same way that my used car gets me where I'm going just the same as Joe Schmoe's Ferrari. The highway is more important than the car.

But you can never really be vendor-neutral any more than you are neutral when you decide to buy a car. There are no generic cars. There are no generic tablet devices (despite what some of them look like).

There's also the matter of what the devices do and how they connect us socially. That's not generic either, though to maintain those connections, we are somewhat beholden to the general terms and operating structures of FB, Twitter, etc.

Read an article in the NY Times today about backchannels in schools. And it was immediately apparent both in the article and the comments that the majority of the critics of social media in education have no experience actually using social media in education. And as I suggested later on Twitter, that's pretty much like those folks who will protest a movie they've never seen.

At the same time, I understand where the critics are coming from. They are a bit jaded (once again) about the idea of "change" in education and yet nervous about what it could mean (this time) in terms of shaking up their worldview (and their paycheck, to be frank). But I think their criticism would be better levied against the producers of the means -- for example, arguing that the big tech and big textbook money should be removed from the educational landscape and that they should all do business as non-profits or social ventures (fat chance... ie getting the change there, not the levying of criticism) -- rather than against those teachers and students who are re-imagining the ways we connect for the sake of learning in a connected world.

This connection thing is complicated, no?

Thinking about it, the real importance of the Chromebook is not the vendor, it's not the device, it's the fact that it makes the prediction that the Web of the future is not just a place to go look for stuff, or even a place where we can share stuff and network, but rather it's a place where everything is done. And the social technology that the current Web represents is the reality of the world -- it's not auxiliary to our reality, it is completely merged with it. To the point where we don't need a download of a song much less a cd; we just need a connection and access to Cloud based playlists. We don't need to be accepted to MIT to learn about physics; we just need a connection and access to their open courseware. We don't need to wait for the mainstream media to tell us what's happening in the world; we just need a connection and access to the social stream.

And that direct connection to the net: as the place where we do our work, express our feelings and opinions in the public arena, and grow as networks of engaged citizens -- that direct connection is what the Chromebook represents. And it's not like its unique to the Chromebook. It's inherent every time we work on the Cloud. It's just that the Chromebook magnifies that by making it the "sole" purpose of the device.

It also represents the reality that we depend so much on tech companies to provide that access. And as teachers, we depend so much on tech companies to provide the way to make that connection. It's a position I think many of us are plenty wary of. But we are living in an era where the means is so technologically specific and nearly impossible to reproduce without the industry, yet the potential outcome is so great.

We don't get 'On the Road' without the automotive and oil industries. And we don't get the blogosphere without the tech industry.

Again, this connection thing is complicated.

In the end, as we become more connected, we inevitably become more dependent upon the providers of our connections. So we have to go forward vigilantly, not scared of the connection and not naysaying reality, but as truly aware citizens. And we're gonna have to think about what this whole connection business is all about.

Because this connection thing is complicated.

In the practical, as educators, we should be considering the following: how do we help teachers understand the change in the culture of computing and how do we best help them become empowered users?

And in the philosophical, as educators, we should think about this: how does the new idea of computing -- Cloud-based, app-driven, mobile -- affect my relevance and reality as a teacher in the physical world? How does this connection thing complicate my identity?

1 comment:

  1. This is such an important post. It covers so many of the pressing issues in Ed. Today. Thanks!


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