Choosing the Right Chromebook for Schools and Districts

Across Illinois, schools and districts are starting to make plans for Fall 2021 – including how they intend to spend funds on acquiring new and upgraded edtech. For many of these institutions, Chromebooks are at the top of that list, given their versatility and relatively affordable price when purchased in bulk.

Illinois schools aren’t the only ones with an eye on Chromebooks. Since Spring 2020, Chromebook demand has been at record highs, with many manufacturers still working to fill their backlog of orders. As such, some districts have begun changing course and looking at other Chromebook models to fill their school’s ongoing remote and digital learning needs.

But which Chromebook model is best? Which model offers the best value? In the long run, these answers depend mainly on your school’s intended use cases. Fortunately, Google has put together a reliable 4-step process that can help you decide which Chromebook models are right for your school or district.

Why Choose a Chromebook?

Before going too far, take a moment to answer one major question – “why should I choose a Chromebook?” All things considered, these compact laptops are popular for a variety of reasons. For many educational institutions, they can meet both their functional and technical needs effectively while still providing an affordable option that encourages buying in volume.

Here are just a few of the benefits Chromebooks possess compared to other education-centered device solutions:

Functional Benefits

Even before schools transitioned to remote and hybrid learning, Google’s suite of education-centered programs has been a standard for digital learning across all grade levels and subject areas. Chromebooks are built with that entire collection at its core, meaning that Google Drive, Docs, Slides, Forms, and more all work effortlessly out of the box. In addition, students can also use these devices to browse the internet and check email through built-in Google Chrome and Gmail support, respectively.

Going forward, many schools may also need the capacity to facilitate hybrid and remote learning on a regular basis. Chromebooks make that possible by offering access to Google Meet, Google Classroom, and Zoom (through Zoom’s Chrome Extension). With processor upgrades, many of the newest models even support calls of 15+ participants, making it easy to bring a full class together for activities and discussions.

Technical Benefits

From a technical perspective, Google Chromebooks are fully capable of meeting a school or district’s desired use cases. To that end, many current Chromebooks offer zero touch enrollment, making it easy to manage and update every device in the fleet with the latest software and security patches.

Speaking of updates, Chromebooks offer schools an opportunity to keep their primary learning devices productive and functional for many years post-purchase without needing to shell out extra upkeep funds. That’s because ChromeOS can always be updated for no added cost within a certain multi-year timeframe. These support periods tend to last around 5 years, with some current models even allowing for a 6.5 year support lifespan.

Also, Google has recently announced several new models that provide built in LTE or 5G wireless internet access. Given that most Chromebooks currently require wi-fi for many of their primary functions, this latest upgrade option may help rural districts or students without adequate at-home internet access participate more fully in the digital learning process. 

4 Steps for Choosing a Chromebook for your School or District

There are a wide variety of Chromebook models on the market today, including options from manufacturers Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung. All of these models are not built precisely alike, though, meaning that you’ll need to do a little extra work to determine precisely which model or models best serve your school or district’s needs.

However, if you utilize this 4-step process outlined by Google itself, you’ll find this selection process more efficient and satisfying than simply going at it alone. Be sure to keep these steps in mind as you begin down the path toward purchasing or upgrading your district’s new fleet of Chromebooks:

Step 1 – Identify Your Primary Use Cases

Before you even crack up your Chromebook catalogue, you’ll want to start the purchasing process by identifying your school or district’s intended use cases for its new Chromebooks. In other words, your school or district’s various edtech stakeholders need to work together to determine who will use these new devices, when they will be used, and what they will be used for.

The LTC’s Lead Regional Educational Technology Coordinator Ben Sondgeroth recommends starting this step by considering grade-level integration. To that end, schools should determine if the new devices will be used primarily by K-2, 3-8, or 9-12 students. This can inform how long those devices should be expected to last, as well as what kind of display they utilize.

Along the same lines, schools should use this step to appraise how their new Chromebooks will be utilized in the learning environment. In other words, stakeholders should determine if the new Chromebooks will remain at school at all times (either in a single classroom or as part of a ‘fleet’ offered through the school library) or if students will take their new device home on a daily basis. This can inform if the chosen Chromebooks need to provide certain apps or functionalities – particularly for districts that may use their Chromebooks for remote learning.

  • Here are just a few more questions you can consider while outlining your intended Chromebook use cases:
  • What grade level students will use these devices the majority of the time?
  • Will these devices be used daily or only on as-needed basis?
  • Will the students using these devices need certain interaction support, such as a touch screen?
  • Will these devices be part of a school-wide or single classroom fleet?
  • Will these devices be taken home with students on a regular basis?
  • Will these devices be used to facilitate remote or hybrid learning, even on an occasional basis?
  • Will students using these devices need at-home internet access support, either through a hot spot or built-in LTE? Do those students live in an area with reliable LTE connectivity?

Step 2 – Research Device Specifications that Meet Your Use Cases

Once you’ve worked with your key stakeholders to outline your primary Chromebook use cases, you can begin to research what kinds of specifications you’ll need to meet those use cases.

This can start at a basic level, and should take into account that all Chromebooks come installed with ChromeOS, as well as the Google Workspace for Education suite of apps. For example, to carry out basic Chromebook functions, Google recommends a model with 4GB of on-board RAM.

Meanwhile, schools and districts looking to use their Chromebooks as distance or remote learning devices will need slightly beefier specifications to make the most of today’s digital learning apps and tools. In addition to the 4GB RAM requirement, for example, Google recommends that institutions invest in a Chromebook model with one of the following GPUs:

  • Intel – N4020, N4100, N4120, N4500, N500, N5100, N6000
  • AMB – Athlon
  • MTK – 8183, 8192
  • QC – 7c

Also, districts should plan their Chromebook specifications based upon the internet access needs of their students. Several models now on the market feature built-in LTE connectivity in addition to their wi-fi access capabilities. These models offer more options to students living in rural areas and students whose at-home internet access is not reliable enough to facilitate consistent digital learning.

Finally, when it comes to charting out Chromebook specifications, you should try to differentiate between minimum and ideal specifications. In other words, you should identify two different sets of specifications that are designed to meet your use cases at a basic and at an optimized level, respectively. This can help when it comes to comparing model options in later steps of this process.

Step 3 – Determine Which Models Meet or Exceed Your Desired Specifications

With your desired specifications in hand, you’re now ready to crack open a Chromebook catalog and determine which models are a fit for your school or district’s needs. This can be done simply and easily using this resource from ILTPP vendor partner CDW-G, which outlines each of the current models and their specifications (arranged by common use cases).

During this step, it is recommended that you again identify models that meet your use case needs at both a basic and advanced level. This can make it easier to consider your options during the purchasing phase, particularly in light of ongoing delays in Chromebook ordering and delivery.

Also, during this step, many administrators and tech directors choose to loop in the teachers who will end up utilizing these devices once they arrive. Communicating with an in-district technology committee can similarly help establish expectations and identify feedback that may influence final model choices.

Step 4 – Compare Models Across the Device Ecosystem

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of prospective Chromebook models, all schools and districts are encouraged to take some time and compare those models wherever possible. This can include comparing certain specifications and how well they will serve the institution’s identified use cases. Prices can also be compared at this juncture and balanced against functional demands, especially if your school or district is working from a set purchasing budget.

CDW-G has produced a helpful resource for making this comparison step more straight-forward. In it, you’ll find each Chromebook manufacturers’ current offerings side-by-side, allowing you to quickly pair their specifications and determine if one is better suited to your needs or budget.

Be aware that the specifications and models outlined in the CDW-G resource above are current as of April 2021. Google regularly refreshes its lineup of Chromebook models and may be introducing new offerings in the near future to meet ongoing demand. For the most current Chromebook lineup, check out Google’s current online hub.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about Chromebook Purchasing

If you have questions about purchasing Chromebooks, you’re not alone. Here are some of the most common questions asked by educational institutions today when it comes time to select new Chromebook devices:

When will my Chromebooks arrive?

Since Spring 2020, demand for Chromebooks has risen to exceptional levels due to the ongoing remote and hybrid learning needs of many school districts nationwide. As such, institutions looking to purchase new Chromebooks should expect delays when it comes to delivery.

However, different manufacturers are experiencing differing levels of backlog at this time. For the most up-to-date status on your recent or upcoming Chromebook purchase, consider speaking with your institution’s chosen technology vendor.

How long do Chromebooks last?

In general, most Chromebooks are rated to last 4 to 5 years in total. This takes into account both their physical durability and their software support life. This range can differ, however, based upon the amount of physical wear placed on a particular device as well as how late into its product lifecycle it is purchased.

Currently, Google maintains an auto update policy that allows institutions to update their Chromebook’s operating system at no cost for a certain period of time. All Chromebooks are subject to an Auto Update Expiration date, after which point that particular model’s hardware will no longer be supported by new software updates. 

Current models (as of Spring 2021) are subject to remain viable through 2026, based on current estimates of longevity and support.

What type of system specifications do I need for X?

To perform certain functions reliably on a Chromebook, certain technical specifications must be met or exceeded. However, these specification thresholds can differ from app to app. For more information, refer to this side-by-side comparison resource or check Google’s latest documentation

Ready to Meet your Tech Purchasing Needs

Whether you’re just starting to research new Chromebooks or you’re ready to upgrade your school’s entire fleet of devices, the Learning Technology Center of Illinois is here to support your ongoing edtech purchasing needs.

Through Illinois Learning Technology Purchasing Program (ILTPP), for example, schools and districts can obtain access to more affordable edtech prices through pre-negotiated statewide contacts. As an LTC imitative program, ILTPP’s team can also help you compare your edtech purchasing options among its broad collection of certified vendor partners.

Still have questions about Chromebook selection or purchasing? Consider joining the LTC’s online Community. There, you can ask questions and share insights with your peers on a variety of edtech topics – including in our Marketplace community, where you can learn about the latest special buys and get your purchasing questions answered by an ILTPP team member.

Making Microsoft Work for Modern Education

Come learn from Amy Grigsby, a Microsoft Licensing Specialist, about the Microsoft solutions that are available to help you with collaboration, security, data analytics and more. She will add clarity to the differences in Microsoft’s cloud offerings and how they are licensed. You will leave with a better understanding of what you currently own or where you should start your digital transformation with Microsoft.

Summer 2021 Google Level 1 Certification Test Prep Cohort

Reserve your spot today and join a Google Level 1 cohort! In this cohort, we will break down the Google Educator Level 1 exam into smaller workshops while preparing you to pass the Google Level 1 Certification Exam. Each session will cover different Google-related topics, including Chrome and Slides, Drive and Docs, Gmail and Calendar, Classroom and Meet, Forms and Sheets, and finally, YouTube and Sites and test prep tips.

Level 1 certification indicates a fundamental understanding of using Google Tools in the classroom and confirms standard technology implementation skills. Educators who pass the certification test will be able to advertise their status with a personal certificate and badge. Certification lasts 36 months.

This cohort, cohosted by Lisa Schwartz and Holly Kelly, will meet virtually in July 2021 on Tuesdays and Thursdays (see below for dates and times). Don’t miss this chance to learn, make new friends, and grow professionally as a part of this exciting Google Level 1 cohort! The Cohort will provide a total of 9.5 PD hours. PD hours will be provided after each individual session. If you are unable to attend one of the sessions, the sessions will be recorded and shared with those that register (PD hours will not be issued for the individual session missed).

**If you would like more information about apps covered on the exam, please visit Google’s training site: https://edu.google.com/teacher-center/certifications/educator-level1/?modal_active=none

Dates:
Week 1: Tuesday, July 6, 9:00 AM – 11: 00 AM
Week 2: Tuesday, July 13 and Thursday, July 15, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM
Week 3: Tuesday, July 20 and Thursday, July 22, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM
Week 4: Bonus Session: Thursday, July 29, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM

Managing DPAs for SOPPA by Using the ISPA/SDPC Database

SOPPA compliance day (July 1, 2021) is just a couple months away. If you’re still have questions about managing and displaying DPAs (data privacy agreements), then this webinar is for you. In this session, you’ll learn all about the Illinois Student Privacy Alliance (ISPA) and Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) database tools, as well as how those tools can be utilized to manage and display DPAs in accordance with Illinois’ newest student data privacy law.

Get started by joining the ISPA and reviewing the resources over ay the https://ltcillinois.org/services/ispa.

Managing DPAs for SOPPA by Using the ISPA/SDPC Database

SOPPA compliance day (July 1, 2021) is just a couple months away. If you’re still have questions about managing and displaying DPAs (data privacy agreements), then this webinar is for you. In this session, you’ll learn all about the Illinois Student Privacy Alliance (ISPA) and Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) database tools, as well as how those tools can be utilized to manage and display DPAs in accordance with Illinois’ newest student data privacy law.

Get started by joining the ISPA and reviewing the resources over ay the https://ltcillinois.org/services/ispa.

Using the IL-NDPA for SOPPA Compliance

In this session, participants will learn about the structure, functionality, and use of the Illinois – National Data Privacy Agreement (IL-NDPA), which was created through the joint efforts of the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC), Learning Technology Center (LTC), Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), and the Illinois Council of School Attorneys (ICSA).

The IL-NDPA’s goals are to streamline data privacy agreements (DPA) and set common expectations between schools/districts and marketplace providers. The Learning Technology Center of Illinois is the SDPC Alliance Member representing Illinois schools. In turn, this allows any school in Illinois to utilize the resources of the SDPC, including the NDPA and the Illinois Student Privacy Alliance (ISPA)/SDPC database tools.

The IL-NDPA includes an Exhibit G for Illinois state terms in accordance with the Student Online Personal Protection Act (SOPPA) Amendments and other Illinois legislation. This Exhibit G has been reviewed and updated as of March 15, 2021 through the work of IASB and the ICSA’s SOPPA Working Group.

Get started by joining the ISPA and reviewing the resources on the https://ltcillinois.org/services/ispa webpage.

Microsoft M365 and Google

Did you know that Microsoft Teams and Google can actually play nice together? Join us for a webinar focused on how these two widely-used systems can be utilized in tandem. Presented by Eric Orman, Technical Specialist on the USA Education Team at Microsoft, this session will outline how people using Gmail can also use Microsoft Teams, create Teams for classroom workspaces, integrate Google files with Teams, and how to maintain a single login identity for both Google and Microsoft.

Resources and Reminders for 2021 License Renewal

With April now in full swing, many educators around Illinois are making plans to round out the school year on a high note. At the same time, Illinois’ teachers shouldn’t forget about another important professional process that they may need to take part in before the next school year begins – state license renewal.

The Illinois State Board of Education opened the window for this year’s license renewal cycle on April 1, 2021. While Illinois teachers are not required to renew every year, many will need to go through the process this year, depending on when they first earned or previously renewed their license. Educators looking to start the process can visit ISBE’s renewal portal for information on how to login and upload relevant credential materials.

As always, the Learning Technology Center is here to support Illinois educators as they work to maintain their certified status. Throughout the year, we offer a variety of in-person, virtual, and self-guided professional development options – many of which can be counted as licensure PD credit. Read on to learn about some of our current PD resources that can help you round out your license renewal application in no time.

Deadlines & Need-to-Knows

Here are a few of the deadlines and need-to-know details that you should keep in mind heading into this year’s teacher license renewal process:

  • Illinois educators may begin applying for licensure renewal on April 1, 2021
  • All Illinois Professional Educator Licenses (PEL) must be renewed by August 31, 2021
  • No license cycle extensions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be offered this year (as was offered in 2020)
  • PEL with teaching endorsement renewal still requires 120 hours of documented PD, as well a fee ($10 for one year or $50 for a five-year cycle)
  • PEL with administration endorsement renewal still requires 100 hours of documented PD, 1 Admin Academy (AA) credit per fiscal year, and a fee ($10 for one year or $50 for a five-year cycle)

Has Anything Changed for 2021?

In 2020, some one-time changes were made to the ISBE educator license renewal process (including license extensions) to account for education system disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While that pandemic is still ongoing, ISBE is now transitioning back to its regular licensure renewal process for 2021.

As such, current educators should follow ISBE’s standard renewal process if they wish to remain certified by the state. Answers to specific questions pertaining to the 2021 renewal process can be found here.

Professional Development Resources for Educators

Professional development is a key part of Illinois’ educator license renewal process. Those seeking renewal can satisfy their licenses’ professional development requirements through a few different channels, including in-service learning, mentoring, online courses, webinars, and more.

In particular, many educators today are opting to make edtech part of their personal professional development plans. If you’re looking to learn more about the latest education-centered digital learning tools and earn some PD credit along the way, consider checking out some of these free LTC resources:

LTC Online Courses

Fitting PD into your busy schedule can be challenging, especially if you are balancing a remote or hybrid teaching schedule. Fortunately, the LTC offers a variety of free online courses that can easily slot into your schedule. With courses covering topics ranging from Google Forms and Google Drive to Microsoft Teams and Keynote for Mac, you’re sure to learn something new from these carefully curated, self-guided lessons.

All of the LTC’s online courses can be started at any time. However, current class offerings will close on May 31, 2021. Learn more about some of our most popular courses here.

LTC Webinar Series

Throughout the year, the LTC hosts webinars on some of the most popular and pertinent edtech topics. That includes sessions on everything from Jamboard and flipped classroom basics to 3D printing and Makerspaces. Live attendees at these webinars are often awarded PD credit, so don’t miss these chances to learn something new from the LTC’s team of edtech experts.

Customized In-District Professional Development

As a statewide leader in educational technology professional development, the LTC offers educational institutions across Illinois an opportunity to host workshops, courses, and more with the support of our team of regional coordinators. Schools and districts can choose from an existing catalogue of offered courses or work with our team to create a new training geared specifically toward your faculty’s needs.

The LTC’s in-district PD comes at a great bargain, too. As a program of the Illinois State Board of Education, many of our in-district PD opportunities are offered at little to no cost.

Interested in learning more? Visit our “In-District Workshops” page or contact your local Regional Educational Technology Coordinator.

Professional Development Resources for Administrators

In addition to professional development credit, those seeking to renew their Illinois educator license as an administrator will need to also obtain 1 Administrator Academy (AA) credit. AA courses are offered by a variety of organizations in Illinois and can help administrators learn new skills and knowledge relevant to their leadership position.

The LTC’s team of Regional Educational Technology Coordinators (RETCs) can help bring an Admin Academy course to your institution or local Regional Office of Education office. Contact your local RETC to learn more.

Admin Academies are also offered by several other prominent Illinois educational organizations, including the Illinois Principals Association (IPA) and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS). Check out their websites to learn more about their upcoming offerings.

More Resources for Illinois Educator License Renewal

The Illinois State Board of Education has also put together a collection of useful resources geared towards educators seeking license renewal support. You can also find many of these over on ISBE’s license renewal hub:

ISBE has also created several video guides to help educators navigate the renewal process and associated online platform:

Your local Regional Office of Education (ROE) or Intermediate Service Center (ISC) can also be a great resource while working through your educator license renewal. To learn more about your local ROE or ISC’s services or to find your closest ROE or ISC, check out ISBE’s interactive ROE and ISC map.