Friday, December 11, 2015

Classroom computing gets smaller

It's no secret that I follow technology and computing trends. As an IT leader, I need to watch for new ways that technology changes the landscape. Our standard computing model today may change in only a few years. We need to be ready.

Over the last few years, we've all seen the increasing trend to smaller computing devices. With more computing load transitioned to "The Cloud," our desktop computers no longer need to be CPU workhorses. They can be simpler, relying on Cloud systems with web interfaces to support the major office workloads.

The Google Chromebook is one such example of new computing models. The device itself stores very little data, which means a narrow opportunity for data loss in the event of a lost or stolen computer. (Chromebook also encrypts local data, but I'll leave that for now.) Chromebook achieves this by moving all applications to the Cloud; rather than a local copy of Office, users access Google Apps. The first major success for Chromebook was arguably the Samsung Chromebook, which implemented a low-cost ARM CPU, similar to that in the Raspberry Pi (also an interesting entry in new computing.)

We purchased a Chromebook several years ago that we still loan out to those who want to try it. The Chromebook is a great little laptop that's easy to carry around to meetings.

For those who need a desktop machine, there's the similar Chromebox. Basically the same as Chromebook but in a desktop configuration, you add your own keyboard, mouse, and display to get to work. As our campus computing needs shift to more Cloud-based options, I anticipate our classroom computers may one day be fulfilled by a Chromebox. That is, if we continue to use instructor workstations.

An interesting twist is the recent addition of the Chromebit. At around $85, the Chromebit is basically the Chromebox "on a stick." Plug the Chromebit into an HDMI display, add a keyboard and a mouse, and you are ready to go!

I foresee many interesting options for the Chromebit. While I am leaving higher ed, I can still comment on higher ed technology. Imagine replacing our classroom computers with Chromebit devices, connected directly to the projector or Smartboard in each classroom. A remote keyboard and mouse allows the instructor to use the Chromebit to access Google Apps, including presentations via Google Docs.

Higher ed faces continuing funding issues. Every university and college across the US is challenged to reduce the cost of education while expanding opportunities and investing in academic technology. This is a difficult challenge that requires creative problem-solving. The Chromebit may provide the flexibility and leverage that this campus needs to do this.

It will be interesting to follow this trend of shrinking computing, low-cost technology as ways to supplement and even enhance instructional technology. Classroom computing gets smaller, and we should embrace that.
image: Google

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