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Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

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Chrome will bring about the ICT revolution in schools.

Google's netbook rent deal could be the clincher

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Google Chrome netbooks are being targeted directly at education and for good reason. Initial press reactions to the Chrome-book are enthusiastic ... with two caveats. These are: ‘it’s a bit expensive for an empty book isn’t it?’ and ‘great concept … maybe too soon?’.

Nonsense, the Chrome books will save education an absolute fortune and render existing ICT models obsolete: here’s why.

Less hassle and easier to use.

Through Android, Google has broken the ‘OS familiarity’ barrier, a phenomenon that effectively enshrined ‘MS Windows’ for the older generation’s desktop. Through its suite of free web-applications, and generous file storage Google has rendered both desktop Office suites and the infamous shared P: drive redundant. Finally with the instant-on Chrome-book the domain-logon palaver looks like the anachronistic time goblin it is.

With auto-saving, no more losing of USB sticks, no more 12 min network bootups, the ability to share files and fewer confusing features most of the hassle of ICT in schools is eliminated.

If you teach you will know the pain that lays behind all of the words in the preceding list. But, and here is the question for modern UK education, can you do more and save money by adopting these net-books?

Some things are so much cheaper with net books.

No software licences, no maintenance technicians (no viruses no, disk quotas, no application/file servers, no software images).

If the magic fairy replaced all of the non-specialist desktop PCs and Laptops a school owned with Chrome books the average secondary school would save over £50,000 per year on licences, support and electricity.

So far so good. Schools have long needed a new technical model but the real potential comes from the need for a proper finance model.

The complicated bit: renting not buying.

School ICT write-down costs are done on a 5 year cycle, or should be. So, given a stock initial capital valuation of £100,000 that would represent about £20,000 per year depreciation. Of course historically few schools budget ICT this way and now have a shed load of near obsolete kit with running XP with no capital to replace it but needing an army of technicians to keep it going.

Google may have found the solution by offering a rent deal on their net-books. It all depends on the final monthly price offered to education (what price a generation of Chrome lovers?) and how long you have to pay before you get it to own it whether or not this is going to work.

But even so, taken in the round moving to rented netbooks should save enough per year to rent quite a few and at the same time free schools of the awful burden of maintaining let alone replacing complex ICT inventories.

I estimate real TCO reductions are in the order of £70k for a school of a thousand pupils.

My calculations tell me that, if Google can do this, a £11 per month rent and 18 months to ownership would enable schools to change to a sustainable, simpler and better way of computing.

Conclusion

Drivers for change have to be strong especially in education which is inherently conservative.
The Free Open Source community found out the hard way that simply saving money on software licences did not cut it even though schools were hard up. The solutions were not perceived as solving problems but adding to the existing ones.

Worse, schools needed big names, big reputations and above all familiarity with the software and OS ... not much of an ask!!

Running Google Chrome and Sketch-up on what is effectively a thin-client is a radical as a thin-client running The Gimp from a Debian-LTSP servers … it’s just that it doesn’t seem that way as we have got used to Google Apps and Android OSs

So what’s better? To dig deep into empty pockets to keep the current model limping along or change direction? My prediction is another 3-4 years of XP networks then a complete collapse of that model.

I pity the schools that next year take the ‘offer of a lifetime’ plunge and go to Win 7 and Office 10..they will be trapped for another ten years.

Now read: Bail out school ICT ... Euro-style

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