“The #1 change has been authentically-engaged students” – Chris Thompson, Chief Information Officer, School District of Elmbrook
Chromebooks are taking education by storm. School districts and educators constantly evaluate ways to enhance the curriculum with educational technology, subject to the budget constraints of the community. Much of their attention goes to student devices, because of its impact both on teaching effectiveness and cost. Google Chromebooks have found the magic student device sweet spot in terms of capabilities, speed, boot-up time, durability and price – as indicated by the 20% and growing market share they have suddenly claimed in education.
Although Chromebooks are not new, having been introduced back in mid-2011, their sales dramatically ramped up last year as school districts adjusted to the new concept. There had been a fear that Chromebooks would suffer the same fate as Netbooks, under-powered devices that booted up far too slowly. Quite the contrary, Chromebooks boot up instantly, are remarkably responsive, and will run an entire school day on a charge. IDC estimates that about 2.5 million of them sold last year, with shipments expected to leap 68% this year. Google says 10,000 schools are using them, double the number of last September.
At Extreme Networks, we have a large number of pioneering K-12 school districts who have already achieved success rolling out Chromebooks, including Apache Junction Unified School District, Kimberly Area School District, School District of Elmbrook, and Winneconne Community School District. Two threads have emerged from the districts that have been successful with Chromebooks: the implementation of Chromebooks, and indeed all new educational technology, should be based on the needs of the curriculum and; the successful roll-out of Chromebooks requires a robust WiFi network and dependable support from a network vendor with Chromebooks experience.
What exactly is a Chromebook?
Chromebooks are designed around the concept that WiFi access to the cloud is now almost universally available. No longer does the device itself need to be burdened with the cost and weight of a complete, standalone computing and data infrastructure. The devices run the Chromium Operating System, rather than Windows or iOS. Although data can be stored locally, they typically do not have a hard disk drive. They are capable of running some local programs offline, but the assumption is that most of the time, there will be a solid connection to the web and the cloud. Unlike some mobile devices, Chromebooks can even run Flash.
Google apps that Chromebooks can run offline include docs, sheets, slides, drawing, photo editing, and note taking. The full Chrome Web Store now includes almost 35,000 apps, and a good percentage of them can also run offline.
The Chromebook devices themselves are sleek, lightweight, and have a solid feel. Screen sizes range from 11 ½ to 14”. While prices start as low as $199, to get the durability and ruggedness needed for the lower school grades, a mid-range or higher end model starting at $279 is required. Here is a comprehensive 2014 Chromebook comparison guide.
Chromebooks have several advantages over tablets. Teachers call out, “lid down” and “lid up” to let students know when their attention is needed at the front of the room. The built-in keyboard makes it much easier to create content than with a tablet. Newer models even come with a touchscreen.
Cloud-Based Centralized Chromebook Management – Easy to Install and Maintain
One of the major benefits to districts using Chromebooks is their centralized and simplified management. Updates are automatic and transparent. The students’ work is always backed up in the cloud. Each student has a Chromebook user profile, which can be centrally managed. This user profile concept pairs well with the Extreme Networks style of network policy enforcement which can be integrated with Active Directory and other LDAP servers.
The issue of device management has previously limited the use of technology in the classroom. The iPads in particular do not have built-in, centralized, remote management. As a result, some schools have limited their usage of iPads in the classroom. The centralized Chromebooks management with automatic updates, combined with Extreme Networks policy-based network management means that even a small IT staff can administer thousands of Chromebooks deployed throughout the school district.
Solving the Network Challenges Presented By Chromebooks
First and foremost, the successful deployment of Chromebooks depends on excellent WiFi coverage, bandwidth, and reliability. Before a Chromebook can become active, it must phone home for updates and authentication. This means that the network must be capable of allowing unidentified devices to access a special URL, in this case clients3.google.com/generate_204. Extreme Networks products are designed for this and, as a result, Chromebooks quickly boot up every time.
A Technology Platform For Online Assessment: Chromebooks and Extreme Networks
The importance of online assessments has ratcheted up recently with the onset of Common Core and other state standards. Chromebooks, with built-in kiosk mode, are becoming a preferred device for online testing. They are officially PARCC and Smarter Balanced compliant. Google provides these step-by-step instructions for using Chromebooks for online student assessments.
The network plays an especially important role with Chromebooks and online assessments. Students who are taking online tests absolutely must have a rock-solid Internet connection to the test servers with all the bandwidth they need, regardless of the size of the pipe that the district has to the Internet. With Extreme Networks, you can throttle back areas of the school, such as the cafeteria, that are not actively involved in the testing, and in conjunction with a web filter such as iBoss or Lightspeed, it’s even possible to block off bandwidth-consuming web sites like YouTube and Facebook during testing. That is what Winneconne, for example, does to insure their pipe provides the bandwidth needed for the students who are actively engaged in online testing.
Curriculum Needs Drive New Educational Technology
The ease of use, appeal to students, built-in collaboration tools, and Google Apps associated with Chromebooks are fostering changes to student learning behavior; so teachers and parents need to be ready. Teachers are discovering new ways to track how each individual student is progressing via the formative assessment techniques inherent in Google Apps. This has valuable benefits for personalized teaching, but also puts new demands on the teachers.
You can learn how the School District of Elmbrook successfully brought Chromebooks into their curriculum and classroom from CIO Chris Thompson at our webinar: Implementing Chromebooks for Innovative K-12 Learning and Assessment, live on June 17 at 11:00 AM -12:00 PM ET. Elmbrook has watched their student achievement improve steadily since their Chromebook implementation. “Our primary goal,” said Assistant Superintendent Dana Monogue, “was to spark innovation at the classroom level. Our teachers, and more importantly, our students have far exceeded our expectations! There is quite a buzz among staff about future opportunities to learn more about next generation learning.”
At Apache Junction Unified School District, Director of Technology Jon Castelhano explains that the Google management console makes it all work. The teachers enjoy the freedom and flexibility to choose the software apps that are most appropriate for their classes. The Chromebooks functioned well during their PARCC online testing. They simply pushed the PARCC Chromebook profile out to each device prior to the testing. Castelhano cannot say enough about the Extreme support and how knowledgeable and helpful the Extreme GTAC was through the process of bringing their Chromebooks online.
The Kimberly Area School District began their rollout back in 2011 with a single Chromebook cart for one classroom. The next step was to rollout to every fifth grader and they are now steadily progressing through the grades. They quickly found that the initial devices were not durable enough for the younger students, and have since moved to slightly more expensive, but more durable models. The school WiFi is provided by Extreme access points in every classroom. One of the results of the successful implementation is that the teachers love the way the Google apps let them closely track individual student progress.
George Sorrells, the technology director at Winneconne Community School District, describes how his district implemented Chromebooks as a supplement to their BYOD program. The Chromebooks proved so popular, however, that students began to “forget” to bring in their own devices to school just so they could borrow a school-owned Chromebook. George traces the district’s adoption of Chromebooks back to 2010, when they signed up for Google Apps for Education, even before the Chromebooks themselves were available. He recommends that districts work closely with a wireless vendor, as he did with Extreme Networks, to insure the network is all in place first, so they can concentrate on the devices themselves during the rollout. At Winneconne, the Chromebooks have now changed the focus of classrooms from lecture-based to student-centered.
The usage of Chromebooks in education will undoubtedly continue to rapidly grow, even into the lower grades as touchscreen versions proliferate. There is now a battle shaping up with Apple; Chromebooks have already over-taken MacsBooks for education.
Phil Maddocks, market analyst at Futuresource, sums up Chromebook cost benefits: “While savings can be made on the cost of the hardware alone, the majority of the cost savings originate from within infrastructure and device management. As Chromebooks are cloud-based devices, the security, device management, and even core content creation apps such as Google Docs are run in the cloud, which reduces the costs of both managing and setting up the devices, as well as software licensing costs.”
Most importantly for education, Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education, in conjunction with high quality networking from Extreme Networks, are creating a more personalized education environment.
For support from others involved in Chromebooks for education, be sure to follow the Chromebook forums, Google+ communities, and twitter hashtag #chromebookEDU. It helps to have Google-certified teachers or trainers in the district, as they have access to restricted online forums.
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Photo at top of blog shows students at Winneconne Community School District using Chromebooks for school work and collaboration.