When a colleague and I were tasked to find a way to improve the school’s IT access for Post-16 students every option was considered and debated. A 1:1 laptop rollout, new computing facilities in school, more cabby laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, bring your own device (BYOD), Android tablets…I genuinely do mean everything!
We have 45 laptops dedicated to Post-16 study but this isn’t always enough to support a sixth form of 210 students. After carefully weighing up all of the options, we decided to take the bold and radical step and the dream of every geeky teacher….A 1:1 device rollout.
We proposed a 1:1 Chromebook rollout with our Post-16 students, and we’re now moving ahead with deployment. This decision wasn’t an easy one, or a quick one, so I hope that this post helps to inform anyone who is planning, or considering, a 1:1 rollout strategy. To clarify, we didn’t enter the process with a Chromebook rolloutin mind, or even a 1:1 rollout at first. Instead we went through a careful consideration process. It may be that the outcome of another analysis in a different school would arrive at a very different device.
What were the objectives?
It’s almost cliche advice now, but a 1:1 strategy won’t work if you focus purely on getting a particular device into the classroom. It’s about using 1:1 deployment to solve existing problems and to create new learning opportunities. If your vision is just to give a device to every student, it’s an easy vision to achieve. However, getting the right device used in the right way is a much bigger challenge.
Our objectives, before we even considered 1:1 was to improve the quality and frequency of access of students to IT.
We also considered a range of other factors to help us to choose the right device:
(1) Will it support our ongoing web based strategy of using Google Apps to offer feedback and cloud storage, alongside the use of FrogLearn (our VLE) to support independent learning?
(2) Will it support the text heavy input required for a lot of subjects at Post-16?
(3) Will it support easy integration into the classroom with a short and reliable startup time?
(4) Will it provide quick and flexible access to tools such as Nearpod and Socrative that support easy and effective assessment for learning?
(5) Does it have a battery that will allow it to last the whole of the school day?
Why not Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)?
BYOD relies on students having access to a dedicated device that they can bring into school.
We held a whole school survey which analysed the devices that students had access to at home. Only 60% of our incoming Post-16 students had access to a laptop, or a device with a keyboard. While smartphone ownership, and tablet ownership, was much higher (87% ownership) it was clear that these devices would not meet the demands of a text heavy course at Post-16. Students would benefit from keyboard access, and we knew that students would expect this from any device used in their studies.
Students with their own laptops were also quite unlikely to have a device with a long battery life. The school day is seven hours so it’s very unlikely that students have laptops that will last for the whole day. A teacher won’t want 20 A-level students needing to plug their device into the wall every afternoon!
For these reasons we decided that BYOD would not help to meet our needs, and we decided to go for 1:1. Now, we needed to search for a suitable device.
Why did we settle on Chromebooks?
In order to reach our answer we had to explore a number of options. It was only by carefully exploring all options that we were able to reach a clear answer that was right for us. While it is useful to listen to what other schools have done, it is important to keep an open mind and to remember that a range of schools have had successes and failures with different devices. We were careful not just to purchase Chromebooks and iPads because we knew of other schools who used them well, but because they achieved the objectives that we outlined at the start of the process.
Option One: Windows Devices
This choice was debated carefully, and it was definitely our second favourite option. Since we opened our new building we have had serious issues with Windows devices on our domain. The system is now fairly stable, but domain errors do seem to crop up now and again in ways that disrupt or stop learning opportunities. While these are the result of issues that can be resolved, even if they continue to only happen for 1 in 60 students it causes unneccessary disruption. Our increased use of cloud technology, in the form of Google Apps for Education, means that we are at a point where we don’t need to be tied down to a Windows domain. It seemed a little pointless to make students boot up a Windows device and log into a domain only to be instructed to access Google Chrome and start working in the cloud.
Moreover, if we want to use Socrative and Nearpod to support effective assessment for learning then we need devices that can start up in a few seconds, every time. Staff should be able to get students to hop onand off a device whenever it is required for part of a lesson. We need teachers to think of any device as a voting pad, a word processor or a textbook depending on the occasion. Disruptive log on and log off time, on and off a domain, is not conductive to this experience. I’ve often found that teachers prefer iPads because they are quick and can be inserted into lessons. For a lot of schools, Windows domains and devices aren’t set up in a way that is quick enough for this. I’ve seen very fast Windows domains, but very few in schools. Microsoft should really offer best practice for a speedy domain configuration in schools, and make it easier for IT Support Staff to set up their domains to meet the needs of the modern classroom.
Option Two: Tablets with keyboards
This was definately a popular option. iPads and Android tablets are quick, and would let students get on and work in seconds. Moreover, they’re fairly flexible devices that can be dropped into a lesson, used to access an AfL tool like Socrative or Nearpod, or to bring up a resource on Frog (our VLE). Moreover, with an impressive battery life of 10 hours the iPad was a serious contender which would last the whole school day.
Where tablets didn’t meet our needs was in terms of text heavy input. Sure, there are tablet cases with inbuilt keyboards, and there’s also some really nice external bluetooth keyboards. However, these are an additional peripheral to forget or damage, and it feels like a ‘tacked on’ extra. We needed a device that was built for reliable text heavy input.
Option Three: Chromebooks
Chromebooks therefore offered us the best of both worlds.
They allow us to use Google Apps for Education in order to offer feedback to students instantly, and with the offline sync function they will allow users to work as easily offline as if they were online. Chromebooks have dedicated keyboards so they are optimised for the sort of text heavy input that is requried for most post-16 courses. The devices have a reliable startup time of around 8 seconds, and from standby in around 2 seconds. Moreover, the model that we looked at had a 10.5 hour battery life. It met all of the criteria that we set at the start of the process, so we went ahead with the Chromebook as our device of choice.
Decision Made…Now what?
After we made that choice we decided to go ahead with the Chromebook as it met all of the teaching and learning objectives that we had set. After looking at a range of Chromebooks we decided to purchase the Asus C300 .
We managed to purchase the devices for £150 (excluding VAT). The device had a nice 13.3” screen which was a very good size for our students who had frequently complained about how small our 10” laptops were (they had a very good point here…). There are Chromebooks with a greater battery life than 10.5 hours, but that would have involved shelling out a lot more money. If students charge their device every night, they will have way more than enough charge for the school day.
So we have the devices, updated them to the latest version of ChromeOS, we quickly enrolled them, set some policies with recommended apps. Here we go! Very excited!by