Why Aorere College went Chromebook

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This latest blog post sees Stuart Kelly (@stuartkellynz) gives us his perspectives on a whole school move to Chromebooks. Very much in contrast to Urvi’s last post, this gives a lot of food for thought:

In being asked why my awesome school went Chromebook, I really had to sit back from think “Why did we?” and “Did we make the right choice?” Now 18 months on from this massive decision, the reasons are still the same and thankfully I believe we made the right choice, the really right choice.

So here’s our story, naturally written on a Chromebook (Lenovo Thinkpad) and in a Google Doc!

18 months ago, we found students were using a range of digital devices in our classrooms from laptops to iPads to predominantly smartphones. I should also point out that at the beginning of 2015 Aorere College underwent a massive upgrade in Wi-Fi capacity and capability (beyond the gate) and had just completed a whole-school 500mb fibre upgrade. We had set up a Year 9 Digital Pilot Class and we really wanted the learning to be cloud-based. At this decision time, I don’t recall Windows cloud devices such as the HP Stream being available or certainly not at the price point we were targeting for our community. By this time, I had also got the school to be Google Apps for Education approved so we were all set to go on the GAFE front. Lastly ¾ of our students had android devices so we came to see Chromebooks as a natural fit to our students and our new status as a GAFE institution.

Coming back to 2016 and our school is awash with Chromebooks and android alternatives. The Chromebook trial by staff and students was so successful that while all students were expected to have their own digital device, the only device we encouraged was the 11 inch Chromebook. Why only the 11 inch you might ask? In the various trials,although the 14 inch then and now has a bigger screen, we believed and still do that it wasn’t as portable as the 11 inch and not as practical.

We have also found that the very fast load-up speed, battery life and Wi-Fi connection ease was vastly superior to anything we had tried. The Chromebooks in our school have been so successful that we are now looking at replacing our laptop COWs with Chromebooks and also potentially many of our desktop PCs with Chromeboxes. Even when students have brought their own Chromebooks in, the setup is minimal and quick.

To be blunt, the range and cost (zero) of the Google Apps also convinced us to go with the Chromebooks as did the lack of ability for our students to store anything major locally. In using the unlimited GAFE cloud storage, students couldn’t leave their work at home. All they needed was an internet-capable device and there was their work. I should also probably point out that all our teachers are expected to use Google Classroom as their main learning conduit along the rest of the GAFE suite. In this respect, the natural GAFE and Chromebooks synergies makes great sense.

The in-built virus protection and automatic updates also meant that the operating system of our Chromebooks never really gets old or is rarely down. The same goes for our student Chromebooks. Outside of the students forgetting their Google password, there’s been no issue with their device use. The students who chose to bring laptops have been another story. From difficulties using Google Drive effectively  to struggling to access our Wi-Fi due to Windows 10 driver matters, our laptop users have been a highly tolerant group of students.

The final reason we went Chromebook as a school was due to striking a highly affordable purchasing arrangement with a major technology retailer. In doing so, Chromebooks became a viable purchase for our community, even those families with multiple children at our school. For the price of these Chromebooks, we would have only got the most basic of laptops.

Pedagogically, there has also been very few problems due to the whole staff being GAFE-trained over a number of Professional Learning sessions. Furthermore everyone of our students has Digital Citizenship tuition in their timetable to ensure that they have the basic competencies to use Chromebooks (whether theirs or ours). The one disadvantage of the Chromebooks has only visible in circumstances where a student at home does not have the internet. Having said that, students are able to work off-line with their Chromebooks and then re-sync when back at school.

The biggest problem we had to overcome was getting students and staff understanding and feeling at ease with the GAFE ecosystem. It did help that in the middle of 2015 we cut over to gmail (without a hitch, phew!) and that all staff and student notices went digital via Google Slides. Once staff realised how similar Google Docs was to Microsoft Word and so on, many fears were quickly and permanently allayed. To be honest, we all did wonder initially where the hell the save button was on the GAFEs!

In looking back at my school’s  decision to go Chromebook and the timeframe involved, the only change would’ve been for us to move sooner. Never mind as they say, better late than never!

 

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