At Work

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Chromebooks in Our Schools — One Year Later — Part Three

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).

CCMS students using Chromebooks shortly after unboxing

CCMS students using Chromebooks shortly after unboxing

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.