Chromebook Demand Skyrockets as Classrooms Shift to Remote E-Learning

With schools shuttered due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many teachers are relying on Chromebooks and other devices to keep students engaged while they finish the school year, but not everyone has access to the new tools of the trade. School districts and solutions integrators are stepping up to address the need.

 

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Image credit: Zoom classroom

 

For the better part of a month, much of the country has been following shelter-in-place guidelines to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. One of the largest groups that has been impacted is the nation’s estimated 56.6 million school-age children, who can no longer go to their classrooms to learn. With little notice, schools were closed, and students and teachers are finding their way as they commence remote learning.

What constitutes remote learning can vary from the very analog, such as photocopied paper packets, to the high-tech, such as interactive, online class sessions. Some advanced school districts already have technology basics in place. For the past several years, Google has promoted the use of Chromebooks for educational institutions, and districts that have adopted them are benefitting during this transition to e-learning.

 

The Essential Tool for School: Chromebook

School District 64 in suburban Chicago provides students in grades 3 to 8 a Chromebook for daily schoolwork. Those students now are using their devices at home for remote learning. Superintendent Eric Olson estimates that only about 10 of the 4,700 students didn’t have access to a computer or the Internet for remote learning, and the district was able to accommodate their needs by supplying them with Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots. The district spent about $3,000 to round out its e-learning environment, Olson says.

The district uses Google Hangout, which is free, and purchased a Zoom Pro account to allow video conferencing between teachers and students. The district also uses Schoology, a learning management system, that allows communication between teachers, students, and parents. Schoology adds another level of security as well, so the district can protect against “Zoom bombing” or hacking into the system via Zoom. Chromebooks are also protected using Securly, a cloud-based web-filtering program that safeguards devices in or out of school.

If schools are still remote learning in the fall, Olson says, “We’ll be doing a lot more of what we’re doing—more videoconferencing, more video recording of lessons.” Zoom and Google Hangout work well for the district’s needs, but he expects to see new offerings. “The [number] of tools is probably going to start exploding. They are in the creation stages. But I haven’t seen anything that works better than Google Hangout or Zoom.” A bigger issue, he says, will be getting Chromebooks in the hands of younger students.

The Digital Divide

Not all school districts are that fortunate, and they are scrambling to find ways to maintain learning environments while at home. Chicago Public Schools (CPS), home to 350,000 students, had one weekend to find an estimated 115,000 students a laptop or similar device. CPS has distributed 100,000 Chromebooks so far, and the district says it will buy and distribute more—as soon as it can procure them. In the meantime, the district is loaning school-owned laptops, Chromebooks, and iPads to students in need. The school district recently passed a $75 million coronavirus spending plan, part of which will go toward purchasing devices for students.

In the Detroit Public Schools Community District, administrators estimate that fewer than 50 percent of students have access to a home computer or the Internet. Overall, about 17 percent of U.S. students don’t have access to computers at home, and 18 percent don’t have access to broadband internet, according to an AP analysis of census data.

Access Granted

Having a device isn’t the only stumbling block, however. Internet access is another problem. In California, 78 percent of urban households have internet access, but only about a third of rural households do; about 20 percent of all students can’t access the internet at home. To keep California kids learning, Google announced it will donate 4,000 Chromebooks to students in need and provide at least three months of free Wi-Fi to 100,000 students in rural households. That will bring internet access to about half the students who need it.

Since the San Francisco Unified School District closed schools in March, it has distributed Chromebooks to more than 9,100 students in grades 3 to 12 who don’t have them—that’s nearly all the estimated 10,000 students in need. Los Angeles Unified authorized an investment of $100 million to provide laptops to students and forged a partnership with Verizon to offer Internet access for students.

Some internet and telecommunications companies recently announced service discounts for families that can’t afford internet access. School districts are also finding creative solutions to help their students. The Belleville Township High School District outside of St. Louis is parking four Wi-Fi-equipped buses in local parks, enabling students without connectivity to use them as hot spots. They can drive within 300 feet of the bus and, from their cars, students can access the Internet, allowing them to download or submit assignments.

Channel Support

Distance learning is boosting the market for Chromebooks at a time when sales would typically slow down. Chromebooks from several manufacturers, including Acer, Asus, and HP, are on backorder and others have discounted pricing. Demand for Lenovo Chromebooks is soaring, according to Rob Cato, vice president of North America channels in Lenovo's Intelligent Devices Group. He estimates that the company will fulfill the surge in orders over the next couple of quarters.

Lenovo chromebook

Image credit: Lenovo

Lenovo, in response to its solutions providers, is reinstating a sales rebate for Chromebooks.  Initially set to expire on April 1, Lenovo extended the rebate to help sales reps in the channel. It also eliminated the thresholds required to earn rebates and is providing partner earnings information every 30 days, rather than every quarter, for better tracking and predictability.

The Coronavirus has upended the education system along with everything else. But in these unprecedented times, we’re seeing people and companies come together for the common good.

  • Find out more about Intel®-based Chromebooks for education here.