Are we underestimating the power of cloud-books in education? The Mukwonago Area School District (MASD) in Wisconsin don’t think so. They have invested wisely in the roll out of Samsung Chromebooks for their 4,700 elementary, middle and high school students.
For full details of this innovative strategy, read the article in the Ed Tech Magazine.
What could that mean for educators here in Australia?
When considering the requirements for computer access within school environments, the issues of price and storage capacity are usually foremost in selection criteria. More frequently, students will either have access to banks of portable computers or be issued with their own ‘personal’ computer for use in the classroom rather than have the scheduled use of a networked computer lab.
Currently, senior school students in Australia are more likely to be using tablets (typically iPad) or laptops (Mac or Windows variety) for their school work.
Interestingly enough, iPads have largely been positioned by Apple as a companion device to computers however they are being selected by some schools as the main technology device for senior school students. More often than not, professional development is required to train teachers on how to use iPads and how to effectively integrate them into classroom.
The iPad was designed as a personal device with one account. iPads purchased by a school as a shared device are accessed by students using the same login or account. This means that any data stored on the device can be accessed, used, altered and even deleted by all students without difficulty. The process of moving data stored on the iPad to an external storage drive is cumbersome and one that teachers would not necessarily have the time for.
Enter the Chromebook
Chromebooks offer an effective alternative, however, it is a strategy that has not really been taken up by Australian schools yet, most probably due to a lack of knowledge about what the Chromebook actually is. When talking to my friends, many of whom are in education, it is clear that there is a lack of knowledge about the Chromebook and its existence.
A Chromebook is a cheap and light laptop using the Google operating system, named Chrome OS. It was created with the web in mind and was built with the idea that to most users, the most valuable application on a computer is the web browser.
It does not have internal storage so you can not save data or even install programs such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office. Given that, it is not going to appeal to the vast laptop market. So what’s the point of the Chromebook and the Chrome OS it runs? Why would any school consider their students using the Chromebook?
- According to Google, deploying Chromebooks can save schools, on average, over $5,200 per device over three years
- Ease of use
- Boots up in 6-8 seconds
- Long battery life
- Familiar web browsing environment
- Built-in Wifi and optional 3G
- Laptop style with keyboard
- Doesn’t slow down over time – actually, it is said to get quicker with the automatic updates
- Google Apps
- Google Apps Education – free email and collaboration tools for schools – Gmail, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Sites, Calendar, Forms, Hangouts, Groups, Blogger
- Students logged in with their Google account have access to their own desktop, shortcuts, settings, wallpaper and documents
- Certain applications such as Docs, Sheets and Slides can be used offline and will automatically be synced when the user is online again
- Third party free and paid educational apps, tools and extensions can be installed from the Chrome Web Store (web based applications that you access and use via the Chrome Web browser)
- Syncs seamlessly with other devices running Chrome – students and teachers can access their files, bookmarks, apps, and other settings from any other device such as another computer, tablet or a smartphone that has Chrome installed
- Cloud storage – Drive
- Applications, school work, and settings are stored in the cloud, so multiple students can use the same Chromebook and still have their own personalised experience when they sign in
- Ease of administration
- Web-based management console to set up and manage users, groups, apps and policies across classrooms and the entire school
- Pre-install and block apps, extensions and URLs
- Administrators can easily change or update settings for their entire set of school Chromebooks, ranging from modifying user settings, pushing or removing web applications to enforcing managed browsing policies for all users
Using technology in the classroom
Although the use of technology in the classroom can enhance the learning environment, electronic devices such as tablets and laptops can also present numerous opportunities for the less-motivated learner to avoid work – flat batteries, more interesting websites, instant messaging tools.
Professional development opportunities tend to focus on the use of latest software rather than equipping teachers with the skills required to make smart and productive use of new technologies.
Some simple classroom management strategies may include:
- Setting rules for use during class
- Moving around the class to view screens
- Changing the layout of the class to suit the activity
- Having ‘screen-up’ and ‘screen-down’ times to create ‘focus and think’ times
- Looking for a change in eye contact and movement
As teachers we need to ensure that the technical device, be it a tablet or laptop, is used as an educational tool while not forgetting other strategies and resources to support student development. Technology should be used to complement sound pedagogy, not replace it.