Deploying class sets of Chromebooks

chromebooks

This is the first in a few posts I plan to write documenting our process for deploying various devices into school. It’s an area I get asked about frequently so thought that a post that gets updated with latest practice could be helpful. Do add to the comments if you do something different / have questions.

With the Chromebooks it’s simple. If you’ve been doing similar with iOS devices you’ll notice how much shorter this job list is. With the right preparation it only takes a few minutes to go from unboxing to classroom use.

Before purchasing

There are two pretty critical steps here.

You’ll want your school to have a Google Apps for Education setup. You can log on to a Chromebook with any Google account, but you don’t get the device management features if you’re not part of GApps.

Make sure you get the Management Licenses. Your reseller will be able to provide them (when we purchased £19.99 / device), and it gives you all the admin functions you’ll need.

In our experience this took longer to activate than expected. We had the Chromebooks but had to wait a few days before they could connect to our apps installation. Not a huge problem, but do be aware of this is you have tight timescales – chase your reseller when you order.

Unboxing

With your management licenses in place you’re good to go. We labelled our devices and powered them up. Join a wireless network (& add your proxy settings), but when you get to the login screen don’t log in.

Instead, hit ctrl-alt-E and you’ll be get the enterprise login screen. Enter your GApps admin credentials.

Once logged in your Chromebook joins your apps installation. You can log out and it’s ready to go. From now on it will default to the enterprise login so your users don’t need to remember the key combination.

MDM

management

With all the Chromebooks added to your domain you can have a look at the Google management tools.

Log in to your Apps domain and go to the admin area (the ‘manage this domain’ option in settings). Pick ‘device management’ and you should see your devices.

You can drill down to an individual device level and get useful data like recent active times and users. ‘Last policy fetch time’ is a useful piece of information for when you start to deploy apps/settings.

You can assign Chromebooks to different ‘Organisations’ within your setup. You could assign them all to the top level org, but using sub-organisations such as staff/students/yeargroups/etc will allow you to set up groups of devices in slightly different ways. Different permissions/apps for teachers compared to students seems like an obvious way to use this.

Back on the device management page the network & chrome management settings are useful. On these pages you can control settings for your devices, based on those organisations mentioned above. Google have full docs on these, but some key settings are:

  • Preconfigured wireless networks (and proxy settings)
  • Wallpaper
  • Allowed app types
  • Homepage
  • Bookmarks
  • Privacy

Possible trip hazards

Couple of things to watch out for that when setting up your Chromebooks. Nothing major:

  • The Chromebook has a guest account that gives Internet access without a login. We had trouble getting this to work reliably on networks with a proxy as it doesn’t remember the ‘allow proxy on shared networks’ preference between sessions. Our current options on this are either disable guest account or setup transparent proxy. Working on a better idea…
  • Be careful with your management settings. Make a typo in the network settings and save them and they’ll deploy. If that results in the devices not being able to connect it gets a bit harder to deploy a correction.

And that’s it, you’re good to go. In the next post on the topic I’ll cover deploying apps, and how you could delegate app deployment to your teaching staff.

Can my school buy a Kindle?

Earlier this week our librarian popped in to see us. They purchased a Kindle but had since been told that the license agreement wouldn’t allow them to use it with students. This didn’t seem right to me (& it seemed a shame not to let them open the box…) so I decided to have a look in a bit more detail. A call to Amazon & a bit of Googling later this is the current position in the UK.

Can a school purchase a Kindle?

Yes. Just like you buy anything else from Amazon.

Who do I license it to?

The Kindle needs to be licensed to an individual, not a company. However, this doesn’t stop a school purchasing them. When you get your Kindle it has to be set up to connect to an Amazon account for purchasing books, so this needs to be a person. The way I see it there are 2 options:

1) The school librarian sets up an Amazon account and links the Kindle to this. 2) School bursar (or whoever you call your finance person/people) has an Amazon account and links the Kindle to this.

Personally I think I would swing towards option 2 (linked to the purchasing books question below), but either is possible, and Amazon don’t have any problem with you doing either.

How many can we have?

There is no limit to the number of Kindles you can register on one account. The reason why you would want to register them all on the same account is so you can share books between the devices. If the school purchases a book it would be good to be able to put it on any Kindle it owns. There are however rules about the number of devices that can have any one book on. More on this below.

It is worth noting this can also include the Kindle app for Mac/PC/iPad/etc.

How do we purchase books?

From the Kindle store. There are a few different ways a school could approach the purchase:

1) The librarian could purchase the books and get this money refunded by the school.

2) The school could purchase Amazon gift certificates for the librarian to use to purchase books.

3) The bursar could purchase books using the account they set up when licensing the device.

I think option 3 might be the neatest here. If the device is registered by the finance team it makes sense for them to purchase books in the same way they deal with all other school purchases. The advantage I see to this method is it provides more control, more accountability. With option 1 or 2 the audit trail of what has been purchased isn’t so tidy.

Interesting parallels here with the iTunes Store, another current purchasing problem area for schools.

What are the rules about these books?

This is a slightly different approach to how you would use a paper book, so worth expanding on. When you purchase a book from the Kindle store you are buying a license to read it rather than the physical book itself. You purchase the license to read the book and choose to put it on your Kindle. Generally, a book can be on up to 6 devices (that are registered to you) at any one time, but this varies depending on the publisher. Some will be less, some will be unlimited.

Amazon help you manage this- if you try and put a book on too many devices it tells you so you cannot accidentally break the license agreement. Before you purchase a book the Kindle store provides information on the number of devices it can go on.

Can I loan the device to a student?

Yes. Giving the physical device to a student to read in the library/wherever is fine by Amazon. In much the same way I could loan my Kindle to a friend, they are happy for the librarian to give the device to a student. You might want to think about insurance implications for the school, but that isn’t really specific to this one device.

Can I loan a book to a student who already owns a Kindle?

This is currently a no. The books the school purchase can only go on to devices the school owns. I do expect this model to change though- the US Kindle store allows loans (with a whole other set of rules), and organisations like Hampshire Library Service have a system in place to loan eBooks. One to come back to.

Thanks to Colm at Amazon for all the help, and credit to the fantastic I Love my Kindle website for some of the detail. If anybody knows any different to this do add to the comments, but this appears to be our current position.

Ideology vs. commercial success

We’ve recently been learning how mentors can help and/or hinder our progress through the startup maze. Here’s what we’ve discovered about picking and choosing their advice.

Like many other early stage tech companies we have mentors helping steer our work in the right direction. If you’re in a similar position I’m sure you do too, or if you’re thinking about getting in to the startup world I’d recommend you get some. You can’t be an expert at every aspect of your business, but you can find people who’ll help you learn pretty fast.

That said, I’ve become increasingly conscious of the need to pick and choose the advice we take; it’s easy to be awestruck by ‘older & wiser’ influences and to forget the reason you started the company in the first place.

Specifically, the advice I’m currently struggling with is that you should split what you believe to be right from doing what will make you the most money.

Whilst I appreciate our mentors are there to guide our company to success, I strongly believe that success is about more than just a big number in a bank account.

I’ll give you an example from the software license world. From a purely commercial perspective annual contracts are preferable to rolling monthlies. Your accountant will tell you it’s about financial security – once the customer is in you know you have that guaranteed income for the year.

But, there are countless examples of successful companies who ignore this advice. FreeAgent and 37Signals to name just two- great products that our team couldn’t do without, excellent company ethos, businesses doing very well. In short, the kind of company we would want to emulate.

The real way to keep a customer is to make a product they love, and offer it on terms they aren’t challenged by. For us that equates to free trials, and easy entry/exit routes. It doesn’t mean they have to promise to pay you for a whole year even if it turns out they decide your software wasn’t right for them after 3 months.

Making your customers sign for a year may mean you don’t lose money if they hate it and stop using it early, but what you do end up with is a customer who can’t get out of their contract so are stuck complaining about paying for something they don’t want.

To my mind, designing a contract to keep people even if they want to leave is a negative starting point. Of far greater value than keeping one client for the minimum of a year is losing one early that is still positive about their experience with you. This particular product wasn’t for them, but others may be and the experience was still good enough for them to recommend you to others.

If, like us you’re starting-up or doing the freelancing thing, one of the main reasons you chose this route was to not have a boss and to run things the way you want. You don’t always have to agree with your mentors.

 

Google Apps is making our 1-1 Trial Easy

At the moment we have a pretty large number of students helping us to answer some questions we have about 1-1 deployments. More of that to come as the data starts to appear.

What I have seen now we’re a couple of weeks in to loaning devices to students is just how easy our life has been because we are a Google Apps school. A couple of scenarios for you:

Android Users

A student given an Android tablet to trial logged in using their school account, all their documents are already there and available. If they edit content from Drive on the tablet it’s there when they log in to any other machine in the school. Easy. Same goes for their mail/calendars.

Over on iOS the GDrive app achieves the same thing, but setting up mail/calendars is not as easy.

Loan Kit

One of the big challenges with loan devices is they are not set up with all the content a user needs. Or, when they come to finish the loan it all has to be manually moved to the next device. No problem with students using GDrive – their content is in the cloud so it doesn’t matter what device you use.

Lessons for 1-1 Deployment

What we learn here isn’t that Google Apps is a must (although it’s clearly our tool of choice), but that file storage that is available anywhere, and on any device is. If we want students to move seamlessly between devices/locations then we can’t tie their data to a single place.

Follow up activities for us:

  1. Look at Google Vault (or other services) for backing up content.
  2. More testing of offline Google Drive. It’s improving all the time.
  3. Compare GDrive against Evernote.

MDM as a force for good

Mobile device management seems to be the hot topic amongst organisations we work with. But, every conversation begins along the lines of ‘X can stop users from doing Y’.

MDM is about much more than this. Do it right and it’s an enabler. Users will choose to install profiles on their devices rather than figure out ways to get round it.

1) The gift of content

Got a great app you’d like your students to use? Push it out to their devices. This is the constructive opposite of the usual ‘can I stop them playing Angry Birds?’ question. Ditto useful bookmarks, etc. Make your content interesting and you won’t have to block the distractions.

2) Stop remembering settings

Use MDM to deploy specific settings to your users. They won’t have to remember your weird VPN config, you can push updates if you need to. How many tech support tasks would you save if users didn’t need help connecting?

3) Use the data

You can learn from the information in your MDM software. Which apps are popular? How is the battery life looking? Where are the devices being used & is the wireless there good enough? And so on.

4) Go beyond your gates

From a an IT support perspective you can be outside the gate managing devices. Or, send the devices off-site and you could easily deploy different profiles for feeder schools when they borrow them.

Beyond school owned devices, make a useful enough profile and your users might even choose to install it. MDM can be used to block Angry Birds on your school set of tablets or make every student look at the same PowerPoint, or it could be a tool to extend the good work you’re doing inside the classroom to the mobile world.