Chromebooks in Our Schools — One Year Later — Part Three

Chromebooks in Our Schools — One Year Later — Part Three

CCMS students with Chromebooks

This is part three of a series. Part one is here. Part two is there. The coda is here.

(I’m a big fan of unboxing posts and videos, especially this one. But, I always want to know how things are a year or two later…. Did the device hold up? Is it still in use after the shininess and newness faded? Still meaningful? What were the people and machine surprises? This three part series is my effort to answer my own questions.)

Part Three – The Classrooms

One student. One laptop. In Crook County, we have been on the road toward this vision of learning for over five years now. In part one of this series, I wrote about the investment in the people. It’s first for a reason. We want to make sure the 1:1 program is a learning program, not a tech program. (Over the years, I have gotten a little more upset each time I’ve read this New York Times article about 1:1 programs. It’s a primer on what not to do.)

In part two, I wrote about prior-year issues that were answered by the Google Chromebooks at Crook County Middle School. The Chromebooks are a great size. They’re fast. They require very little up-front attention from our tech staff. They have been a good addition to our classrooms. We take care of and try to protect them (Mr. Fleming’s football strategy).

The Chromebooks have been fairly low maintenance. We weren’t sure this would be the case; we have the original Cr-48 test units, not the Samsung or Acer production models.

The biggest issue we struggle with is the wireless connection dropping at random times. We’re not sure yet if this is our wireless infrastructure or the laptops. (Andie read this and called to let me know that the wireless issues seem to be resolved. Wahoo!)

This summer, we also had a large number of machines throw what we affectionately call the frowny face error. Andie Sangston, our technology support person at CCMS, solved this problem with her super genius skills (and some help from the Chromebook gurus at Google).

The students would tell you the trackpads were really flaky at first. Ben Fohner and Andy Warr, Google Chromebook team members, got an earful of that exact complaint when they came to observe last March. Andy’s name is still mentioned with reverence in the hallways because of just this issue. When talking with some of the students and listening to their gripes, he ran the latest update on their machines. The trackpad issues disappeared. Most CCMS students still believe he was magic. (Some students and teachers still don’t like the trackpad, but we have students every year who prefer a USB mouse over a trackpad.)

Each time we have encountered something like this, Google has responded quickly. We appreciate that. Andie does, especially. She keeps the whole program afloat. Teachers and students turn to her with questions and requests for help.

Andie Sangston, CCMS tech support, on rollout day

Andie Sangston, CCMS tech support, on rollout day

We have been checking in with those teachers and students regularly. The Chromebooks are used often each day. They are used for traditional tasks like writing and researching, but also for unexpected projects like fitness tracking and stats analysis in PE class. The start-up speed continues to impress everyone. The Chromebooks are ready when the students are. (This is much different than our first years.)

The worries about the laptops being cloud machines, web only, or offline bricks didn’t amount to much. I think of them as adult problems (similar to first-world problems). The students live comfortably on the web and in the cloud.

I could write more, but these are already long posts. Perhaps the best way to summarize our experience is that we are buying more Chromebooks. We’ve bought hundreds more for classrooms across our region. If we could afford to purchase more, we would.

We would buy more not because they’re bright, new shiny tools. We would buy more not because we think they will solve all our education woes. We would buy more because of where this all started…. We try to improve our device selection each time we purchase a batch of laptops for students. We want the best match for the classroom and our students. The Chromebooks are it.

Our most recent rollout day; fourth-grade students in Redmond School District

Our most recent rollout day; fourth-grade students in Redmond School District

Next: the coda. It’s here.

Delightful Design and the New, New Delicious – #edcampPDX

Delightful Design and the New, New Delicious – #edcampPDX

#edcamppdx 2012 participants


Edcamps are pretty cool. They’re a low-stress, high-energy day of sharing. My session this month was on design. I’m not a designer, but I know good design when I see it (or something like that). I like things to be pretty and usable. Robin Williams (not that Robin Williams) wrote The Non-Designer’s Design Book. It’s like my Elements of Style for flyer creation. I cribbed her big ideas for our conversation.

After a quick ten-minute intro, we crowdsourced our favorite design resources. We did it via a Delicious stack. It was totally cool! It was the first time I used the new stacks in a live group. It will not be the last. To quote a friend, “awesome sauce.” Nice work, new new Delicious.

P.S. As a long time Delicious user, I was a little concerned with the shaky redesign a few months ago. I’m not any more. The AVOS team has been beyond responsive. And I’m loving the new features.

Chromebooks in Our Schools — One Year Later — Part Two

Chromebooks in Our Schools — One Year Later — Part Two

CCMS student and teacher, Casey Callan, during rollout week

CCMS student and teacher, Casey Callan, during rollout week

This is part two of a series. Part one is here. Part three is there. The coda is here.

(I’m a big fan of unboxing posts and videos, especially this one. But, I always want to know how things are a year or two later…. Did the device hold up? Is it still in use after the shininess and newness faded? Still meaningful? What were the people and machine surprises? This three part series is my effort to answer my own questions.)

Part Two — The Chromebooks

In part one of this series, I stressed the importance of professional development for any technology program in education. Crook County Middle School did that part really well. The teachers invested in and continued improving the original plan long after changes in my job took me away from my weekly visits to their classrooms. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

Another thing that wasn’t perfect on the first try was our laptop selection. (We purchased a laptop for each incoming sixth-grader, three years in a row.)

With the original 1:1 grant for Powell Butte Elementary, we purchased Gateway tablets. These were really nice machines, but much too large for sixth-grade students. They were also expensive.

When we expanded the program to sixth-graders across the district in the second year, we selected Lenovo ThinkPads. They were nice machines too, but still a little too large for sixth-grade shoulders and backpacks. We also began to realize that our students needed only about 10% of the capacity of these full-bodied laptops. The ThinkPads were approximately $1000 each.

The recession hit. We learned really quickly that this was also too expensive — our education budgets were devastated.

In addition to cost, we struggled with configuration issues. The original Gateways and Lenovos were Microsoft XP machines that connected to the CCSD network. Each student had a directory account. Startup times were a killer in the classroom. After a frustrating autumn, teachers realized they had to think ahead and have students start up their machines at the beginning of class if they hoped to use them by the middle.

Rocky Miner, CCMS Principal, with student
CCMS Principal Rocky Miner helps a student login during rollout week

So, we iterated. Our third year of purchases was netbooks. The smaller form factor was great…until it wasn’t. The keyboards were too small, as were the screens. We were like Goldilocks in the cabin of the three bears.

The thing that did work well that year was a switch to Ubuntu for the operating system. Startup was faster and the netbooks were able to be used more flexibly than the other laptops.

And then we met the Chromebooks….

Let me recap the issues we struggled with for years: cost, size, speed. And I’ll add an additional one: hands-on time by the tech staff (between imaging and updating, it was a lot).

CCMS student receiving her Cr-48 box (Chromebook)
CCMS student receiving her Cr-48 box (Chromebook)

Those four issues were addressed within days of the Chromebook rollout:

Cost — We are still in the midst of real budget strain in our districts. $1000 machines for each student are out of the question. As I write this, the Chromebooks are priced at under $500 off the shelf. We have not figured out how to purchase one for each student in this recession, even at that price, but this moves us much closer to a sustainable model. (We are purchasing hundreds of them across the region for classroom sets.)

SizeThis is one of my favorite parts. The 12″ screen, full-size keyboard, and lightweight shell are the perfect size for students (and adults!) of all sizes. The Chromebooks fit easily into a backpack or messenger bag. They also fit school desks well.

Speed — Google says it’s eight seconds for startup. It’s rare that it takes that long.

Technology Prep Time — The photo above is a pretty good representation of how we rolled out 750 machines in February 2011. We gave them directly to the students…in the unopened boxes. They unboxed the machines. They installed the battery and set up their accounts. Within thirty minutes, they were logged in and online. The longest part of the process was taking the account picture.

CCMS student at the important account picture stage
CCMS student at the important account picture stage

In case I need to state this explicitly, the tech staff didn’t touch the machines ahead of time. We were in love. And we’ve stayed in love. I’ll recap the rollout year in Part Three of this series. Stay tuned.

(full set of Chromebook pilot photos here)

Repeat: the longest part of the process was taking the account picture.

account photo

Last time: the longest part of the process was taking the account picture. (All the “kids” had fun with the photos.)

CCMS student at the important account picture stage
CCMS teacher Ryan Cochran photobombs this student’s profile pic

Next: part three. It’s here.

Chromebooks in Our Schools – One Year Later (Part One)

Chromebooks in Our Schools – One Year Later (Part One)

CCMS teachers learning about Chromebooks

CCMS teachers coming up to speed quickly on the Cr-48 pilot machines in early 2011

This is part one of a series. Part two is here. Part three is there. The coda is here.

One year ago today, we had a special delivery and announcement at Crook County Middle School. The school had been selected to pilot Google Chromebooks. The students and staff were thrilled, as you can see in the video highlights of the day. I’ve talked about that day, the pilot, and the machines several times since then, but have waited to post my thoughts until now.

(I’m a big fan of unboxing posts and videos, especially this one. But, I always want to know how things are a year or two later…. Did the device hold up? Is it still in use after the shininess and newness faded? Still meaningful? What were the people and machine surprises? This three part series is my effort to answer my own questions.)

Part One — Professional Development

I’m going to start my story in 2006, long before Google was thinking about Chromebooks. I was hired that December as a project manager for a 1:1 learning program at Crook County School District. The district was the recipient of an Intel 1:1 grant. The grant provided laptops and professional development for the sixth-grade classroom at Powell Butte Elementary School. The district decided soon after to scale the program out to all sixth-grade classrooms.

After some debate, we decided we would start this the right way, with a full year of professional development before the machines arrived. We hosted a kickoff camp for sixth-grade teachers that summer and began a weekly series of Tech Thursdays that fall. Rocky Miner, CCMS principal at the time, had crafted the school’s schedule to allow team time each day, in addition to individual prep time. It was a great environment for making real change.

We chose a three-year professional development path. In year one, I would be almost solely responsible for the content and facilitation of our weekly sessions. In year two, the teachers would volunteer to lead half of our sessions. In year three, I would step back as observer and the team would hopefully be self-sustaining. The original eight core teachers included:

  • two who had never used a laptop (and used computers very rarely as a part of their day)
  • two tech rockstars (they learned applications and sites quickly)
  • four who were somewhere in between the two extremes

All eight knew their stuff. They were strong in curriculum and classroom management. All we needed to do was figure out how to integrate laptops with those strengths in a meaningful way. We started with the power button and track pad…. Seriously.

We spent a year figuring it out. Together. We moved slowly at first and then more quickly as we got our feet under us. A year later, the rollout was a success. The teachers were ready; they were still standing at the end of a stressful first week. They are still standing today, years later. And they are still using technology only in ways that make sense in their classrooms.

CCMS teachers at the end of 1:1 rollout week

So, what about the Chromebooks?? I know some of you are feeling ripped off after reading this far with still no mention of them.


That’s just it.

Put the professional development first.

If you can’t pay for it or plan for it, stop reading now. Do not go to part two. Reengineer your program design. On an enterprise (or school) level, we do a disservice to our teachers, students, and budgets when we drop machines in classrooms and expect the machines to make a difference on their own. The people make the difference. (This ASCD Educational Leadership article provides a balanced recap of 1:1 learning programs and highlights what we discovered in our own microcosm.)

Because of the good, sustained work of the teachers and administrators at CCMS (we added a grade level each year to our PD rotation), it was easy to recommend the school as a perfect one for Google’s Chromebook pilot. Our people were ready and could focus on the suitability of the machines themselves.

More about that in part two.

(Self) Selection Bias and Big Data

(Self) Selection Bias and Big Data

magazine rack

City Java magazine rack by Ken Jenkins on Flickr (Creative Commons)

11.11.11…tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, Corduroy Appreciation Day, and edcampPDX.

I pitched a talk for edcampPDX: Selection Bias v. Self-Selection Bias. I want to explore the similarities (or differences) of association and selection in our online world with those in our physical world. My thoughts around this topic have been accumulating for a few years. They intensified last spring at the ACPE conference. I really enjoyed debating with Mike Cullum there. We were sitting together with a few others one evening, talking about the amount of data being collected on each of us by companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and the like. We meandered. We talked about:

  • targeted ads — good? bad? neutral?
  • Dunbar’s Number — what? you have how many friends??
  • filter bubbles — how did they know I like Nutella??
  • broadcasting v. narrowcasting — wide, birdshot audience? narrower, engaged audience?

This narrowcasting idea is what led us to discussion of echo chambers. Mike shared a fear: if we’re able to dial our reading and following preferences too precisely, we’ll miss a broader world view and contrasting opinions on the events of our time. He’s right, of course. The idea of the echo chamber is real. Anyone who grew up watching Sunday morning news shows knows this was true even before CNN, 24-hour news, and certainly, the Internet.

Real? Yes. A danger? I’m not sure. I think we, as human beings, self-select our bias more effectively than any algorithmic selection. Mike worries that if he clicks on too many Fox News articles or befriends too many Tea Party members (sarcasm), his exposure to differing views will lessen. I think he’s right, again. But I’m not worried. Here’s why….

Walmart versus Whole Foods

When I choose to go to Walmart for my groceries, I quickly track myself into certain selections and options. My brand choices and produce selections differ from those at other retailers. I’m presented with products people at Walmart are likely to buy.

Walmart store

Walmart Store Exterior by Walmart Stores on Flickr (Creative Commons)

The same is true when I choose to go to Whole Foods. I’m again presented with certain options. Brands and produce are different, of course, but I notice the biases most when I’m in the checkout line. At Whole Foods, there is not a tabloid or People magazine in sight. There is, however, Mother Jones and Yoga Journal and other delights.

But…wait! I can’t find The Economist at either location. Walmart and Whole Foods have both pegged me into a hole.

They have. They know what I like to buy by the simple fact that I’ve walked through their door.

But…wait! Who made the decision to walk through the door?

Oh. Me. Right….

Who has the free will to go to a different store? Me.

This analogy can be spun out in several varieties — think urban versus rural versus suburban preferences; think Nascar versus IndyCar; think same-city newspaper battles á la Chicago Sun-Times versus Chicago Tribune; think Fox News versus MSNBC. We self-select early and often. By choosing where to live, where to shop, what to read, and what to watch, we select ourselves right into those same lanes that are created virtually by Google and peers. We narrow our exposure to different experiences and ideas.

Collectively, we have been doing this for centuries. I’m not too worried because of just that. I can currently back out to a broader or different set of options both in my physical and online world. If there comes a time online when narrowing our exposure is replaced with eliminating our exposure (to products, thoughts, ideas), I’ll write a follow-up post.

Whole Foods store

Whole Foods by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr (Creative Commons)

N.B. This post touches the surface of an issue that is miles deep.

Consumerization in K-12 Education

Consumerization in K-12 Education

In April, I presented two sessions on Google Apps for Ed at the Southern Oregon Ed Tech Summit. It was a great event, co-hosted by Southern Oregon University and Southern Oregon Education Service District, with support from Oregon Virtual School District.

I had a free hour between Esther Wojcicki’s thoughtful keynote and my first session, so I sat in on The Journey to Google Apps, led by Andrew Krug & Daniel Defreez. The session was a technical one, focused on domain management and configuration options. BUT, the beginning of the story held the spark for this post. And for much of my work this past year and the next.

The beginning of the story…. Southern Oregon University needed a new email system. Their existing hardware and software were due for a major refresh. After the IT department narrowed the options to three solid choices, the university turned this decision out for a campus-wide vote. Over 90% of students and faculty chose GMail. Ummmm…. Plurality.Simple majority.Super majority.Almost unanimous. (By the way, the also-rans were not unworthy competitors or choices.)

SOU tech engineersAndrew Krug & Daniel Defreez

I tweeted this little tidbit and picked up a new term, consumerization. (Thanks, @thesethings.) Before that day, I had heard the word, but I hadn’t put it in context of what I see around me. During the next week, it reverberated through my brain, louder each day. I’ll synopsize the Wikipedia article on consumerization — consumer tech has eclipsed work tech; hold on tight. The phrase was first coined a decade ago, but I think we hit a tipping point in education sometime during the past two years with the confluence of shrinking budgets and the suddenly-ubiquitous iPad.

In April, in another of those freaky convergences, I was transitioning to a new role as the CIO for the High Desert Education Service District in Central Oregon. We provide technology support for the Bend LaPine, Crook County, Redmond, and Sisters school districts. Consumerization is impacting our schools, teaching, and learning. Every day. I see it as an opportunity, but it’s a challenging one from an IT perspective.

When this year’s high school seniors were in kindergarten, there were a measly 50 million users on the Internet. By the time they graduated this spring, over 1.3 billion users were surfing and creating content. Computers evolved quickly during that decade too, changing from the dusty boat anchors in the corner of offices and classrooms to mobile communication tools that fit in a backpack or even a pocket.

We have teachers, students, and parents who are carrying more tech on their persons than we can provide in our schools with our beleaguered education budgets. And we have students who have been using this tech for learning and communication for years before they walk through our door. This changes how we look at K-12 technology at an enterprise level. The IT department is no longer the sole arbiter of useful technology in the classroom. (I would argue that even the idea of an EdTech department is approaching its expiration date, but that’s an argument for another post. This one’s too long already.)

If we are no longer the chiefs, what are we? My hope is that we become the sherpas for our teachers and students in their choices. We still provide infrastructure and backbone (wireless networks in every building is top priority). We still try as hard as we can to keep our students safe on the Internet without stifling the amazing learning opportunities that it presents. We build apps, explore and manage tools in the cloud, and connect our users to the resources they need in the friendliest, easiest way possible.

In short, it’s going to be a messy decade, but one where we get to help address equality of access for our most vulnerable students; policy and safety for all our students; and tech skill boosts for our teachers. The IT department doesn’t become less important or less needed. In fact, I believe it’s the opposite. We make the trek to the summit possible.

Over 90% of Southern Oregon students and faculty chose a tool they were already using in their personal lives. Over 90%. Get those 90% using a tool that they’re already happy with and start tackling more exciting things on the to-do list.