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Posts Tagged ‘chromebook

This blog post by Gary Stager was an uncomfortable read, but in a good way.

It is easy to buy in to ideas and practices that have not been processed critically with rigorous research or reflective practice. It is much more difficult to question what passes for wisdom simply because it is widespread.

I do not think that Stager was against Chromebooks per se. He seemed to be against their uncritical acceptance and use.

In terms of technical affordances, he critiqued Chromebooks for their limited capabilities, particularly in contexts where wifi and pedagogical bandwidth were low.

If someone asked me to summarise his blog post, I would say that Stager critiqued the implementations of Chromebooks as reaching for low-hanging fruit, touching them, and then touting that accomplishment like Trump (Yuge!).

Stager’s critique reminded me of Chromebook competitors rationalising their popularity in the USA due to their use for standardised tests [1] [2]. The devices are cheap and easy to administer.

Their relatively low cost is the most often cited reason for buying them en masse. This is accompanied by the rationalisation that it is better to have some form of 1:1 technology in the classroom than none at all.

While that is true, this does not address Stager’s argument that we need to do better because we can and must do better. I deconstruct his argument another way — it is about acknowledging the paths of resistance.

The path of least resistance is often administratively driven. Chromebooks are low cost, relatively simple, and easier to control via hardware and software settings. This path is about regulation and schooling while giving the appearance of progressiveness.

The path of most resistance is trying to change what teaching already is — command and control, standardised content, reliance on an expert or restricted sources. This other path is about avoiding the shift to what learning could be — independent exploration, uncovering, creation, critiquing.

Administrators and teachers take the path of least resistance because it is easier and avoid the more difficult option. In Stager’s own words:

Making it easy to do school in a slightly more efficient manner should not be the goal. Making the impossible possible should be.

But here is how our opinions fork in the road. I agree that the administrative approach is easier and more common. However, this does not mean that there are no efforts that focus on the professional development of teachers so that they leverage on Chromebooks in the service of learners and learning.

Sure, the Chromebook is underpowered compared to an alternative like a MacBook. But the practical realities are that 1) cost is a critical barrier, 2) kids need to learn how to learn and work in the cloud, and 3) specialised programmes can buy and use the cheap alternatives (Rasberry Pis) that Stager mentioned. The savings from the cost of devices could be channelled to connection to the cloud and specialised alternatives.

This is like a meta application of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). When applied to a learner, it is about designing a challenge that is just out of reach of that learner and providing scaffolding to help him or her get there. In the case of schooling systems and teacher education, it might be also about providing a surmountable, not impossible, mission for teachers to change their old habits.

The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones. -- Todd Rose (In “The End of Average”)

In August, Google enabled a PIN option for Chromebook logins in the developer OS.

That option is available now in the stable OS for anyone who does not appreciate the first world problem of having to type in a long Google password.

If you want this experimental feature, do these to enable the Chromebook PIN:

  1. Update to the latest version of stable Chrome OS.
  2. In the URL bar, enter chrome://flags/#quick-unlock-pin and enable this option.
  3. Then enter chrome://md-settings, enable the PIN option by first typing your Google password.
    “Password” will be the only initial option. The PIN option will appear after your type in your Google password.
  4. Set a PIN and test that it works (log out and in).

In a previous reflection, I noted how there seemed to be a phantom power draw by my Toshiba 2 Chromebook when I used it in presentation and facilitation mode.

The lowered battery life seemed to be due to my use of an HDMI-to-VGA dongle to project my screen during workshops. This was odd given how the Chromebook was a relatively passive device.

Recently I used my Chromebook for 6.5 hours straight in active use. I was grading learner performance with Google Forms and fact-checking in Chrome. I did this over a day in one morning and one afternoon session. I still had a little over two hours of battery life left when I responded to email at a cafe later.
 

 
All this seems is counterintuitive: Use the device passively to project the screen and the battery runs out, but use it actively and it is an all-workday device.

The difference is the HDMI dongle which seems to sap battery life. I estimate it reduces battery life in my Chromebook Toshiba 2 by about half.

It might be an understatement to say that I have put my Toshiba Chromebook 2 through the wringer over the last few weeks. I have tested its ability to:

In further testing the Chromebook for facilitating events, I have discovered that its battery life suffers.

When I facilitated workshops in August, I tested my Chromebook’s ability to use a USB LAN dongle and an HDMI-to-VGA dongle.

The Chromebook detected the LAN dongle automatically and switched away from wifi, but I kept getting “page not found” error messages in Chrome. This did not happen to me at home, so I guessed there might have been something wrong with the cable or LAN point at the venue I was at.

I could not test the battery drain of the LAN dongle as I went back to using wifi for the sessions. I suspect that it will take a toll on battery life as the dongle is also a travel router that creates an ad hoc wireless network. The dongle felt warm to the touch just after a minute of being plugged in, but that was the extent to my investigation.

Chromebook HDMI-to-VGA dongle.

However, I was able to test the HDMI-to-VGA dongle to project what was on my screen.

Each workshop I conduct is three hours long. A full work day is seven hours with a lunch break in between. I reset my online resources during lunch, so there is hardly a break for my Chromebook.

With the HDMI-to-VGA adapter plugged in, my Chromebook is no longer an all-day device. It will last the morning workshop and lunch, but it cannot make it through the afternoon one. The Chromebook battery is almost exhausted by the first afternoon hour.

From the start, I bring the brightness level of the screen to just one above dark, the wifi is constantly on, and the Chromebook is largely a passive device for showing resources (e.g., Google Sites, online timer) and collating contributions (e.g., Padlets, Google Docs).

I have used the Chromebook for hours at libraries, cafes, and other wifi spots where I can get work done. At home I use it for streaming YouTube videos or Netflix shows. In both cases, the battery rarely goes down past the 50% charge mark. This puzzled me because such uses seem more active than relatively passive workshop use.

The main difference was whether or not I was projecting my screen. At the moment, this seems to be the battery guzzling factor. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to mitigate this issue.

I brought my new-ish Chromebook with me on consulting and teaching gigs. What both efforts have in common are:

  1. Connecting to the Internet for shared resources, e.g., Google Slides, Google Sites, other web resources.
  2. Sharing information by projecting it on a large screen.
  3. Highlighting or zooming in to specific information.

Like any laptop computer, a Chromebook is used differently as a facilitation tool compared to when it is used for browsing or creating content. I share how I set it up for facilitation.

Connecting to the Internet
Most organisations offer guest wifi that is as easy as to join as your home network. Institutes of higher learning (IHL), on the other hand, typically offer secure wifi. Their access points have names like AP-SECURE or APx.

Assuming you have been provided a valid user ID and machine-generated password, it might still not be as straightforward as typing these in when prompted. Unlike Mac or Windows systems, Chrome offers a rather intimidating connect dialogue box.

Chromebook join wifi network dialogue box.

I have found that selecting “PEAP” as the EAP method and “do not check” Server CA certificate seems to do the trick, but your mileage may vary.

The IHL might have a technical support site that provides this information, but you need to get this information in advance. Some information may be out-of-date. One site I visited had information for up to Windows 7 and way back to Windows Vista and XP!

Projecting information
My Chromebook has a very high screen resolution (1920×1080) and used to default to extended screens when hooked up to a projector. This would result in a small fuzzy projected image that you could only see if you pulled windows to the extended screen.

Chromebook display settings.

The way to get around this is to lower the projected resolution by trial and error. Each time you compromise between projected screen real estate and detail of information.

In earlier scenarios, I had to manually set the projection to mirror the laptop display each time I connected. Later on, the system defaulted to mirrored mode. This seemed to happen after I made the setting change for zooming.

Highlighting/Zooming information
I tend not to use a laser pointer because most people jiggle the dot to the point of distraction.

Instead, I use the computer cursor to highlight areas of interest, e.g., blocks of text, and/or zoom in to focus areas.

My bugbear when moving from a Mac was how awkward the simple task of zooming in and out is on a Chromebook.

One option is to simply increase the font size and everything else with CTRL+ (zoom in) and CTRL- (zoom out). However, this just makes everything bigger and you cannot focus on something, say, at the top right quadrant of the screen.

I tried a Chrome extension, but it did essentially the same thing.

Chromebook accessibility settings.

Then I found this workaround:

  • Enable accessibility setting: Settings > Show advanced settings > Select the box next to “Enable screen magnifier”
  • CTRL + ALT + brightness keys or CTRL + ALT + two finger swipes up and down on trackpad

The zooming in and out is not as smooth as on a Mac as it jumps in steps instead of pulling in and out like a zoom lens.

The Chromebook can sometimes lose focus too. For example, I zoomed in on a table element in a Google Doc that was embedded in a Google Site. The Chromebook scrolled the display back to the top left of the Google Site.

The main reason I persist with the Chromebook is how light it is when travelling. I do not need to bring the charger along and that saves on the weight I lug around.

I might decide to use my Mac when some presentations and facilitations require a smooth, seasoned look. I will need my Mac at an upcoming keynote as I plan on showing apps on my iPhone via my Mac to the projector.

But for basic presentations and facilitations where I can afford to try something different, I will opt for my Chromebook. This is a nice first world problem to have.

I have been using my Toshiba Chromebook 2 for almost two months. This model is not available in Singapore and I took it off my Amazon wishlist after a year of waiting and reading reviews.


Video source

These were my initial reflections on using it in my first week:

Since then, the Chromebook has accompanied me to a few minor consulting gigs. I use it practically every day that I go to my office, i.e., a library or a coffee joint.

After using it for several weeks, I have a few pet peeves and made some discoveries.

1Password
I use 1Password remember and use my passwords. Unfortunately, the makers of 1Password do not plan on making a ChromeOS app.

My workaround was to let the Chrome browser manage some passwords. While this synced the passwords with browsers on my other devices, I still prefer a password management system that is not cloud-dependent.

All-in-One Messenger
I am a macOS and iOS user, so I use the Messages app for texting. I like being able to receive and send Messages on a desktop or laptop while I am working on one instead of reaching for my iPhone.

I am aware that if I used an Android phone, I could use Pushbullet to redirect SMS, but I do not.

I use a Chrome app, All-in-One Messenger, to keep tabs on texts I might receive in WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Google Hangouts. Unfortunately, Messages is not among them.

The peeves are not deal-breakers, but neither are the workarounds complete solutions.

Chromebooks require compromises, but not necessarily in performance. I appreciate how long the Toshiba’s battery lasts, how good its 1080P screen is, and how it does not lag. The compromises are in utility and that is partly a function of human behaviour. Adapt!

Disclosure: I have not been asked to write about or promote the products mentioned here. I am not paid in any way except with the knowledge that leaving this digital artefact might help someone later on.

This is Part 3 of what I am learning with and from my new Toshiba Chromebook 2. Click these links for Part 1 (first impressions) and Part 2 (setting up a VPN connection).

The Chromebook might not be quite the workhorse like my MacBook Pro — it is more like a workpony — but it gets work done if it is given the right extensions.

By extensions I mean peripherals, Chromebook apps, and Chrome browser extensions. As I conduct courses and workshops that have strong ICT components, I share what I use to trick up my pony.

Peripherals
I tested two remotes — a Logitech presenter and a generic air mouse — on my Chromebook with Google Slides. They worked as flawlessly.

I also connected a USB dongle (Asus WL-330NUL) that serves as both a LAN cable adapter and a portable router. That, too, worked like a charm.

Peripherals.

The Chromebook’s HDMI video port is great for modern flatscreen TVs but quite useless in most conference halls and classrooms. So I have an HDMI-to-VGA converter I purchased a while ago. I mentioned in Part 1 that the video outputs default to extended screen. I did not mention that the video might not retain the right aspect ratio and this requires manual correcting.

To keep my one USB 2.0 port and other USB 3.0 port free for peripherals, I rely on a 64GB Sandisk microSD card in an adapter in the SD slot. The microSD is great for holding videos or backups of presentation files.

Even though rarely print on dead trees, I learnt how to add a cloud-linked printer to the Chromebook. While printing a confirmation letter, I discovered that the default paper size was oddly set at 4″ by 6″.

Chromebook extensions
I use most of the same extensions in my Chromebook’s browser as I have on my desktop and laptop. However, I installed a few extras to help with presentations at seminars, classes, or workshops.

  • Keep Awake: Prevents the Chromebook from going to sleep.
  • Zoom: Functions like a proper magnifier instead of just increasing font size. While good for zooming in, it is not good for showing what I type because the zoom point misaligns the type prompt.

I have also installed Gmail Offline because I do not always have an Internet connection. My Google Drive is also offline, but I think only about the last 100 files are synced at a time.

Chromebook apps
So far I have installed just two must-have apps.

  • VLC: This media player handles just about any media file format, even those that the Chromebook’s default media player cannot.
  • Evernote: At the moment I have the app that seems to have been ported over from Android. There is a web version I have not yet tried.

I also use Apple’s iCloud version of Notes, which I keep as a pinned tab in Chrome. The other pinned tabs are: Gmail, Google Calendar, Feedly, and TweetDeck.

Reflection
I practice what I preach. I tell teachers that learning how to use technology is often a matter of adapting to the new normal and transferring previously learnt skills.

While I am almost always connected online, the Chromebook has reminded me how to strategise and economise, e.g., when and how to work offline. To maximise what it offers, I transfer what I already know from other instruments and platforms, e.g., setting up a VPN, getting a better video viewing experience, or projecting technically clear presentations.

By adapting and transferring, the learning is not steep and is actually fun to do.


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