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.

It’s not a shopping list

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that telling people what tools we use might be a mistake. Or, is at least distracting from what is really important.

We’re a frequent host to visiting SLTs and IT departments, interested in the ways we work, the kind of projects we’re involved in as a school. I really enjoy the discussions with others working in the same area, and we always gain something we can add to our own practice from the experience.

What I really want to avoid though is people just walking away with a shopping list of things we own. We do have some great tools here (including the ones we wrote ourselves…), and I would happily recommend them to others in similar circumstances.

But, I’m concerned that the ‘what’ is overshadowing the ‘how’. No tool is as important as the work that goes on around how it fits in to our school practice. Which particular brand of [insert tool of your choice here] is no way near as important as what you’re going to do with it.

If you walk away from any school visit with a set of notes only containing things to buy then you’ve probably missed the point. It’s the practice that’s important.

So, in future I’ll tell you the tool providing you also take something away about the process! 😀

Blogging our CPD

home

home

We’ve just had another round of meetings with our school improvement groups at Wildern. The SIGs are voluntary groups that run as half-termly after school meetings for groups of staff to work together to develop their practice. This year we’re running:

  • Creative classroom
  • Gifted and talented
  • International classroom
  • Language for learning
  • Media literacy
  • New technologies
  • Themed days
  • Wildern TV & radio

Each group has a focus, and each member undertakes an action research project during the year. The research is fed back in to their performance management, their departments, and through our SDP is influencing policy. It’s an opportunity for staff to try out new ideas and measure their impact, and I think a great model for collaborative school improvement.

What I am most pleased about this year is our shift to documenting the projects by blogging. As a blogger I know the process encourages reflection on your own practice, but by including our SIG blog as a feed on staff homepages we are placing new ideas front and centre to staff every day.

By publishing the development blog to the rest of the world we’re also stepping up to share these things, the good, the bad, at a much wider level. We have more ideas in the pipeline, but it is starting to feel like we have a whole school approach to developing and showcasing innovative practice.

Some quick links from the SIG blog to a couple of my favourite posts:

Interviewing IT Technicians

interview

interview

We’ve been learning about the best way to interview edu IT staff in various guises for almost 10 years now. In the last couple of weeks we’ve been advising a couple of other organisations on how to approach technician style interviews as well as doing our own hires, and I wanted to share a few quick thoughts.

  1. Don’t just ask for CVs. You’ll get more applications than you think and won’t be able to easily filter.
  2. Don’t get over-obsessed with questions, conversations are more valuable. We gained more in 15 minute informal chats than have done in previous formal technical tests and interviews.**
  3. Communication skills are just as important as technical ability. Our guys are increasingly working with staff and students on using tools rather than sitting in dark rooms fixing them.*
  4. The education element is really important. What do they think about ICT vs. computer science? What exciting new technology would you like to see us add to our classroom practice? Why?
  5. Ethos is another important word. ‘Do you think we should block Facebook’ is a great conversation starter, teaches you a lot about how an individual might fit in with your vision.***
  6. Talk about the bad. These candidates will have researched your organisation in advance, had a tour, met lots of staff, etc. Ask what they would do to improve the school. Ask senior candidates what they would change when they join. The new hire should make you better.

* I’m not suggesting you hire the chatty one that hasn’t heard of unix, but you see the point…
** I read a post ages ago (37signals I think..), they do similar and start by asking candidates what they did yesterday. Perfect.
*** We also do plenty of work on developing that vision if you’re not sure how your conversation about that particular topic would go..

Bringing our own devices

We’ve been working our way along the development curve of moving the school to #byod. If it’s a new idea to you, what we are trying to achieve is an environment where any user can bring any device they like to school and access all the services they require using it.

It seems to me to be absolutely the correct way forward. In the same way we don’t force every student to study Spanish, why should we make them all use the same computer? It’s about personalisation, and it’s about flexibility.

This is clearly not one of those changes that can happen overnight, and at the request of @eylanezekiel I wanted to try and write up what we are doing. I’m not suggesting this is the best, or only, way to achieve it, and we are learning and modifying this plan as we go. We are always open to comments, questions and suggestions, and we’d be happy to support any others that would like to head down this path too.

What we have done so far:

1) Talk to the students

We did this in plenty of informal situations, but also used our student ICT school improvement group to more formally survey the student population about student owned devices. This group then collated the results, wrote a draft AUP for allowing students to use their devices in school, and then pitched it to SLT, staff, students and governors. These guys are brilliant. You should all have a group like this.

2) Developed our policies

#byod is a culture change, but the reasons why are clear and you can be controlled about it. This isn’t some big free for all, your lesson isn’t constantly interrupted by ringing phones, etc. It is down to the individual staff member, guided by the department heads to choose which/when/how in a lesson electronic devices can be used.

3) Opened up limited parts network & started the move to the cloud

@jamesyale is the technical genius on the team for those who want detail, but our standard wireless now allows a user to connect any device, providing they enter their school username and password. Access is still restricted and filtered in all the ways you would expect, and the username/password allows us to log use, develop different rules for staff, etc, etc.

We also made the jump over to Google Apps. There are other ways to do this, but it is the start of our development to become platform, as well as device agnostic. It’s that flexibility word again.

4) Built a genius bar!

  <img src="http://tdalton.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/img.jpg" alt=""/>

Well, sort of (photo is from work in progress during the summer)… We are lucky in terms of student devices. The vast majority of our kids carry an array of technology that would make IBM envious. But, equality of access is really very important to us. The new genius bar, among other things, provides the backup devices. Maybe a staff member wants every student in one lesson to have a specific piece of technology- the bar can provide loan kit for these. Perhaps they need a few extra iPods to give to students who don’t have a similar device for a particular task. The bar provides a loan pool with a booking system to supplement student owned devices. It also provides a constant staff presence who can support and inspire users. I’ll post again later in the term about this as it warrants a little more detail.

5) Engaged the staff

Our new techs AST is the absolute key here. @ribbk and the members of our staff ICT school improvement group are tasked with sharing good practice and supporting our others with new technologies. They organise regular learning focused, sessions supporting teachers using the technology and build confidence. And, they are key members in their departments for a lead on new technologies.

The other hugely important thing our staff and student groups do is plan the future. Can you teach outstanding lessons on a tablet device? Will coursework marks be higher if the content is blogged? Can twitter improve engagement in X set in Y subject? And so on. Every year members of these groups take on action research projects, and using measured results we can not only make good purchasing decisions, but help mould our curriculum.

I said it before, but your school should have these groups.

What is coming next:

1) Unmanaged wireless

A bit techy I’m afraid. One of the limitations of the wireless access is it doesn’t allow device to device communication. Good for security, bad for playing each other at DS games and so on. Our current intention is to put up a second unmanaged network to allow for this when required.

2) Building up the genius bar

We are starting to see what is popular, what we need more of. It is also teaching us new ways of supporting and training our users in more informal learning situations.

3) Student loans at the bar

Wouldn’t it be great if students could loan kit themselves? A teacher formally signing out is a step in the right direction. But, as a student being able to drop into the bar at lunch to pick up a camera because I want to document my artwork next lesson and forgot my Blackberry (unlikely, I know…) would be perfect.

4)The 1-1 scheme

This is the big picture, long term goal part. I’m either a genius or mad, but the vision makes complete sense to me.

The clear weakness of stopping where we currently are in the process is while the loan kit props up those without, it’s not good enough.

I’m a fan of the 1-1 schemes that are appearing, some really nice implementations in schools local to us. Giving a student access to a digital tool of some description with the potential to enhance their learning in every lesson is just great.

But I don’t want to tell every student the way they learn best is with X brand of laptop, or even Y type of device.

The 1-1 scheme that we are building is one where (guided by our staff and student SIGs) our stakeholders can make informed choices about the device that best suits them, and we can support them in purchasing this in all the standard ways you see with other device specific 1-1s.

Backed up by our loan pools it means we can personalise student owned devices, but still offer the flexibility of all the other tools if what they have isn’t ideal for that moment in time.

Or, if my battery runs out I can drop mine in to be charged and grab a backup device while that happens.

Or, I could pick up some extra kit to take home because I wanted to challenge my Dad to that maths game we were playing in lesson.

For those working in the area you’ll see the challenges in going down this route compared to the standard 1-1. But, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother.

So, that’s where we are. I’d say we’re about halfway through the process.

The important takeaway if you managed to read this far is we measure. The SIGs test the theory, prove the benefit to teaching and learning (or in some cases the opposite), we move from there. We’re still planning the final stages, and will only go there if our research tells us we should. I’m the lucky one that gets to blah on about vision and go to some very shiny events for inspiration, but the structure alongside is what will get us there.

I’m also lucky enough to be in a position where we can work with others who share our vision. If you still don’t think I’m mad we should probably be working together!