Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chromebook As a Tool for Churches

Because of the flexibility and the price of a Chromebook it makes for an ideal tool that could be utilized by churches if they have the imagination.  I would imagine that churches would be drawn to the $250 price tag while they would probably shy away from the change in thinking that would have to happen in order to make the use of a Chromebook in their situation.  I would like to put forth a few potential uses that I can see for churches that would like to add Chromebooks to their ministry tool kits.  As with all tools there are certain things that the Chromebook is well suited to and there are certain things that it is not well suited to.  Churches should consider their own ministry needs and their congregational identity when they assess how a tool will fit into their ministry.

A Note About Management:
One of the things that makes the Chromebook an ideal tool for ministry is the way that a deployment of many Chromebooks can be easily managed.  Google offers a web-based management console where a company, school, or church can manage a deployment of Chromebooks in any size.  This tool makes it easy to install or block apps over many Chromebooks, view the usage of your deployment, configure network access for many Chromebooks.  If you are looking at using Chromebooks in your ministry I would highly recommend that you check out the management console.

Potential Uses for Churches:

Tutoring Programs - When I was younger, my mom ran a tutoring program at our church for local inner city kids.  As a part of this program, a bunch of people donated their old computers and we had a suite of academic DOS programs and games that the students could play with their tutor during a period of the tutoring night.  The Chromebook is an excellent tool for younger students to learn on.  The ability for each of the students to create a Google account means they will have all of their individual apps on any Chromebook (or on any computer with a Chrome browser for that matter).  If your church wants to invest even more in local youth you could give a Chromebook to some local inner city kids or even have a checkout system for students so they can check out a Chromebook to work at home.  The price tag means that if a Chromebook gets lost, stolen, or broken it is not the cost of a full computer to replace it.

Church Staff - As I have mentioned previously, I am a huge fan of the Google Apps Suite.  Google Apps for business are an easy and incredibly powerful way to manage your domain and increase productivity.  Google apps allow easy sharing of documents, collaboration and easy storage of everything online.  The way of doing things with Google apps takes some getting used to if you use traditional desktop computing apps, but with a little bit of training and encouragement Google apps can change the way a church runs.  A Chromebook can be a natural extension of the Google apps suite.  The Chromebook can be given to staff members as an additional computing device alongside a desktop computer, or could even be the primary computing device for certain staff positions.  The close Google apps integration can keep the staff connected and collaborating on the go.  If a church wanted to go with a slightly more radical model they could give each of their staff members a Chromebook and have a couple of communal computers for those tasks that require a more traditional computer.  This could be accompanied with a more open model of church offices where there is a lot of open working space and some conference rooms.  In this environment staff could be portable and just find a place to plop down and work.

Volunteers - The price point of the Chromebook also could allow it as a tool that could even be given to volunteers as a tool to accomplish their work for the church.  This is not that much different from the way that a Chromebook could be used with the church staff, but a Chromebook could be a way to honor volunteers by giving them a tool to help them do the work that they do for the church.  This is nice because it can empower volunteers to be more productive and it won't break the bank for the church.  Obviously, this wouldn't work for all volunteers at a church but it could be a way to honor and empower a few key volunteers.

Internet Classes - This might be a nice ministry opportunity for the older members of a congregation and the community around.  Most older people are aware that their grandchildren and in many cases their children live and communicate on the internet.  A Chromebook provides a very simple interface to the web and with a little bit of instruction it could be a good way for older people to stay in touch with their younger family members.

Worship - The Chromebook as a tool in worship is a little bit more out there.  For those churches that are interested in trying new things in worship it could provide some very interesting opportunities.  For instance, you could set up a station where people can tweet their prayer requests.  This could even be tied in to a projection system and tweeted prayers could then be broadcast on the screen for members of the congregation to pray.  This also is a cool way that the congregation can connect to the greater world.  If you are not comfortable with the twitter integration you could do a modern twist on the more traditional prayer station where you have a google form where a person can submit their prayer request.  Theoretically, a Chromebook could be used at any place in a service where paper is used.  It is obviously not practical for all of these applications, but it could be an interesting way to incorporate technology into the service and in the right setting it could be very effective.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Chromebook in Practice

In my previous posts on the Chromebook I expressed how excited I am about the Chromebook, I gave you an honest (but certainly biased) review of the Samsung Chromebook, and I told you that I would like to work the Chromebook into my personal work flow.  Today I would like to express how I see the Chromebook fitting into my personal workflow.

As I have mentioned in my previous posts, I consider myself a power user when it comes to computers.  I do a fair amount of Computer Aided Drafting, as well as Video and Sound Editing.  As such, I thought I would always need a powerful, high end laptop to be able to work on projects on the go.  The one thing that made the Chromebook a feasible part of my work flow is the fact that there are multiple ways to remote control another computer from a Chromebook.  To be clear, I don't think that I could use the Chromebook as my only computer, but I can do 90% of the work I have to do on a daily basis on a Chromebook.  For the rest of the work I have to do I can remotely control my home or work computer to complete the tasks.  I will point out here that I recently found out about a number of apps in the Chrome app store for video, audio and photo editing as well as a solution for coding in chrome.  I haven't played with them yet, but these apps have the potential to let me do most of what I need to do without a complex work around.  There is also an app in the chrome web store for programming, so if you are a programmer and that is a deal breaker for you there is a solution for that.  For a list of cool apps to check out look at this article.

I have just purchased a Samsung Chromebook (in fact it arrived in the mail yesterday!)  I will keep my Macbook Pro until it finally dies (It is about 4 years old right now), but I will likely keep it plugged up on my desk most of the time.  When that computer finally dies instead of buying another laptop, I plan to build myself a computer.  I just built my first "hackintosh" and I am planning on building a really powerful "hack pro" as my primary computer.  I will point out here that a hackintosh is a great project for someone who is comfortable working with a computer and tinkering to get things working.  A hackintosh is not a good solution for someone who who wants a solution that will work out of the box.  If you need a desktop at home, but do not have the skills or comfort level to build your own machine I would suggest the iMac.  The iMac is an incredibly powerful all in one computer but it is also reasonably priced for a mac.  I would highly recommend buying a desktop computer of some kind for your "main" computer because you generally get more bang for your buck with a desktop computer.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been searching for a good solution to remote control my computer.  There is a version of VNC viewer in the Chrome web store, but it is not compatible with the processor in the Samsung Chromebook.  I found Chrome Remote Desktop in the chrome webstore and it could not have been easier to get up and running.  This installs from the chrome web store on the Chrome browser on any computer, but installs as a utility (at least on the mac).  Once it is installed and set up to be accessed you assign a pin to the computer and you can control it by signing into Chrome Remote Desktop on any computer that has a Chrome web browser and access to the internet.

The internet issue is one that can be challenging.  If there is no access to the internet, then a Chromebook becomes all but useless.  It is still possible to work on a Chromebook offline, but you are very limited in what apps and documents you have access to.  Most likely you have wifi at home and at workand there are many restaurants and businesses that offer free wifi to customers.  Hopefully this will cover a great majority of your everyday life.  This Chromebook offers free sessions on GoGo inflight wifi, so if you are traveling you will be able to access the internet on planes.  If you fly a lot, GoGo offers a few subscription options, so you might consider subscribing.  That just leaves anywhere on the ground where there is not free wifi.  There are tons of options from your cellular provider, they make wireless hotspots and most smart phones can also be used as a wireless hotspot.  My solution for this problem is an Android app called FoxFi which will allow any Android phone be used to connect to the internet.  Most phones will support a wifi hotspot through FoxFi, but even if your phone won't work as a wifi hotspot you can connect via usb or bluetooth.

These are simply my thoughts and suggestions on how I can make a Chromebook workable for me.  How would you make a Chromebook work for you?