Google Chromecast: awesomely fun and awesomely cheap, but not ready for the classroom

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Photo: Erica Joy, CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo: Erica Joy, CC BY-SA 2.0

The new Google Chromecast is a dirt-cheap ($35) device that lets you wirelessly beam video from a computer, tablet, or smartphone to an external video device like a TV or projector. It’s similar to an Apple TV in its functionality.

The device itself is a tiny dongle that connects to a TV, monitor, or projector via an HDMI plug. It can draw power through the HDMI plug if your device supports that; otherwise, it’s powered through a Micro-USB port.

You use the Chromecast by pressing a little “cast” icon inside of your Chromecast-supported web browser or smartphone app. Once the button is pressed, video either streams from your device to the Chromecast (e.g., if you are mirroring your web browser) or directly from the Internet through the Chromecast (e.g., for Netflix or YouTube videos). In the latter case, your device becomes a remote control to pause the video, raise or lower the volume, toggle subtitles, and so on.

Using Chromecast on Android. From left to right: Netflix's browsing interface with the new "Cast" icon near the top right; the "Cast" selection screen; and the remote control interface.
Using Chromecast on Android. From left to right: Netflix’s browsing interface with the new “Cast” icon near the top right; the “Cast” selection screen (my Chromecast is named “pajamas”); and the remote control interface with volume control, subtitles control, pause and stop buttons, scrubber bar, 10-second rewind button, episode selector button, and cast button.

I’ve been using a Chromecast at home for a few weeks now. I love it as a consumer device, but as of late summer 2013, I cannot recommend it for classroom use.

The bottom line is that the number of supported apps is still laughably small. You can stream a laptop’s Chrome browser window (albeit in a somewhat laggy and buggy fashion) and thus cast a Google Drive presentation to an external monitor, but tablets and smartphones are limited to just YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play streaming. Thus, it’s still impossible to cast a presentation, photo, or document from a tablet to an external monitor via Chromecast. I would love to be able to take a quick photo of a student’s work and wirelessly project it to the classroom monitor, but that’s currently impossible with the Chromecast. The lack of such basic functionality is a total dealbreaker.

In addition, because the video streaming is wireless, the device requires WiFi to function. If your institution is as finicky about WiFi access as mine is, that’s also an enormous administrative hurdle. I would not be capable of testing out my personal Chromecast in the classroom even if I wanted to due to the WiFi access issue. And because the device currently has no security, any student who has access to the same WiFi network can cast any media to the Chromecast at any time–which is an acceptable risk in a classroom full of adults, I think, but it’s an obvious non-starter in a primary or secondary school.

Right now, the Chromecast is a neat toy and an awesome consumer device, but until its software matures enough in terms of security of access and in terms of what materials can be wirelessly projected to your display, it’s essentially worthless in a classroom context. And even then, if your district or institution is anything like mine, it would take a considerable administrative push to get the device implemented in the classroom due to the fact that it requires WiFi authentication.

I love the idea of the Chromecast, and I love owning one. I just can’t imagine a compelling way to use it in the classroom. The device has so much potential, but as it exists right now, it’s weighed down by too many limitations to be worth implementing.

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