At Work

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Chromebooks in Our Schools — One Year Later — Part Two

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.

CCMS student and teacher, Casey Callan, during rollout week

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.

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.

Perfection!

Perfection!

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

CCMS teacher Ryan Cochran photobombs this student's profile pic

CCMS teacher Ryan Cochran photobombs this student's profile pic

Next: part three. It's here.