Chromebooks are creating somewhat of a stir in the education sector, and not just when it comes to IT solutions. With fully integrated and extendable educational tools, with a range of services reigning from G Suite, Chrome Store and the android application market, Chromebooks are forming the new frontier for technology deployed in education.
We spoke with Harry Elliott, IT Support Manager at Queen Elizabeth's School, about his experiences since deploying Chromebooks in the learning environment.
By default, and regardless of manufacturer, Chromebooks all come designed for education first-and-foremost. Both affordable and scalable, with models ranging from as little as £179 or as much as £999, whatever a school's budget, the base hardware and specs are always of a minimum required standard, as defined by Google.
In practice, this means fast, easy-to-use, lightweight systems - taking full advantage of cloud storage for substantially shorter loading times, and system programmes stored in eMMC flash memory, Chromebooks are fast and responsive both on the go and to start-up, taking a prompt 8 seconds to boot. Lack of traditional HDDs also means more room for power, which translates to a machine capable of keeping up with the learning timetable, an 8-hour average to be precise, so there's plenty of leeway for those extra-curricular classes too.
"Chromebooks are considerably less than a good Windows laptop, meaning we can purchase more for students and staff to use. They're also cheaper to replace if they do get broken, and as a result, we are more likely to refresh the Chromebooks over a 3-year period, since they're less capital expenditure overall.
And another benefit is the faster starts to a lesson. In the past, most of our time would be spent waiting for the older laptops to boot up and login. Now it's a case of logging in and within a minute the students are on Google Classroom and ready to go!"
They're also built to be robust, intuitive and fully integrated with access to Google educational tools right off the shelf (all under the umbrella of G Suite) and at no additional cost. Coupled with the vast range of applications available via the Chrome Store and android application market, this makes Chromebooks far more compatible than other industry alternatives, with the option to easily integrate other non-Google apps that schools may already be using successfully in their existing set-ups, such as Moodle, Milk and various other VLE applications and educational tools.
Not only are Chromebooks enhancing learning for students, but they're also empowering teachers too. Using apps like Classroom allows educators to provide instantaneous feedback, track student progress, set tasks and assignments with due dates, manage curriculum and grading, as well as upload useful resources, and all in one place. Plus, with the ability to work online or offline at any time and on any device, Chromebooks offer teachers the tools to encourage collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking amongst their students.
"I would say we are still finding new uses for the Chromebooks every day. The main thing for us though, is Google Classroom; all of our staff use it and love it. It used to be that we print off everything and the class would write it down in textbooks etc. Now, we are starting to get students to fill out documents, shared to them on Google Drive. It is so simple to share and mark work for whole classes and even year-groups. It really is fantastic!"
With built-in accessibility features like ChromeVox, a screen reader, options for a touchscreen, plus support for many devices and peripherals such as braille keyboards, styluses and more, Chromebooks are offering both teachers and students at all levels, a more intuitive and accessible learning experience. One that, in previous years, would have been almost unimaginable.
"We are still getting used to the whole Google concept but are getting there. We have used and experimented with the voice typing feature of Chromebooks, which is great for students that are not confident with their writing, since they can more efficiently get down what they're thinking on the page."
Chromebooks have proven to be easy to implement, easy to use, and easy to manage, with IT administrators able to set up new devices in a matter of minutes, with all the controls they're used to. They can allow and restrict specific services, sites and applications, manage programmes and software across all devices by simply enabling them with the touch of a button, and create groups with different policies and restrictions - no individually configuring each and every device for each and every student - they can simply list a login under the group, and all the settings are applied on sign-in. And, with automated, cloud-based management, processes are more streamlined, giving IT staff the valuable time they need to stay on top of more pressing tickets, with the knowledge and confidence that all of their users are up to date. Device updates are run automatically and in the background, approximately every 7 weeks, and can even be randomly 'scattered' to help with those larger institutions that need to be mindful of bandwidth usage.
"User experience has been good. People are used to Google, so are already comfortable with it before they have even tried the Chromebooks. We were able to deploy almost 400 Chrome devices in a month with a team of 4. This included setting up trolleys and mounting Chromeboxes to monitors. I would say that's pretty quick for a team that have other schools to support too!"
What's more, with Individual Google profiles, students don't need to be assigned a dedicated Chromebook - with their profile comes all of their personal settings, accessibility set-up, and extensions, so they can start learning on any Chromebook they log into, whether they're in the classroom, the library, an IT suite, or at home.
"We actually use trolleys of Chromebooks for each department, which they book out using Google Calendar. We have around 18 in total meaning each department can use those trolleys for whole classes at a time."
Possibly the most important feature across every available Chromebook, Google's 'Best-in-class' security is keeping students safe online and in the classroom, with specific features such as Sandboxing: a sort of virtual safety net that keeps each and every web page or application in a restricted environment, known as a 'sandbox.'
In the event that a Chromebook is directed to an unsafe page, everything else is protected - other tabs, apps or anything on the machine for that matter. Equally, 'persistent enrolment' monitors devices and checks that they are always enrolled to the institution's domain, and should a Chromebook ever become lost or stolen, the device is also protected from data theft - it can be remotely disabled at any time, and the 'ephemeral mode' will wipe user data upon logout. Plus, every time a Chromebook is switched on, it performs a 'verified boot,' meaning that even if malware somehow made it out of the sandbox, it would be eradicated there and then.
With all of the free services and support on offer with Chromebooks, it would be easy to assume that advertising would come as part of the experience, as is typical for other Google products and services. But Google has stated that 'G Suite core services do not contain advertising, nor do they use information in those services for advertising purposes. Plus, all G Suite for Education core services support COPPA and FERPA compliance.'
"Overall, Chromebooks are great. To really get the most of them, I would recommend getting into the Google ecosystem, but other than that, they are simple, require little to no effort to set up and can be managed easily. That is sort of the dream for any educational establishment...
I would recommend them to anyone in a heartbeat!"
Thanks again to Harry for his time and contributions!