It is now 18 months since Chromebooks were first introduced to Palmerston North Boys’ High School. In my previous role of Director of E-Learning at the school there was a real desire by many staff to utilise 1:1 devices with students. However, the school of over 1700 students was hampered by the IT infrastructure and lack of resources, so a significant upgrade programme was put in place. The installation of a new wireless network along with the availability of free ultra-fast broadband throughout the school enabled the purchase of two class sets of Chromebook laptops which were booked by teachers in July 2014. One of the computer rooms was dismantled and the other three upgraded.
The Chromebooks, internet only devices which operate through the Google Chrome Browser, enabled students fast logon access to their online tools such as Google Apps, Lucidchart, and the school’s Moodle LMS. The HP 14” was chosen because of its durability, larger screen and keypad. Most importantly, its 9 hour battery life allowed teachers to book a set (or half-set) for use in their classrooms and then have students transport them between lessons to the next teacher who had them booked, and returning to the charger stations at the end of the day.
Reasoning behind Chromebooks as the device choice
Devices in classes was a first for the school and this was seen as a trial, not only for Chromebooks, but to test the benefits of 1:1 devices to improve student learning and engagement. We could have gone down the tablet route, however there was a desire for students to not only type their work, but also to access the same cloud-based applications from anywhere, anytime, and on any device. The Chrome Browser makes this possible as it can be installed on any device allowing for a similar user experience. There was another underlying reason for choosing Chromebooks, rather than other windows or apple laptops. Not only were they cheap and easy to use, but it further encouraged staff and students to use Google Apps collaboration tools, as these were the only document, spreadsheet and presentation tool that could be used on the Chromebooks. Staff and student use of Google Apps increased dramatically as the popularity and use of the Chromebooks spread throughout the school.
Student and Staff Feedback after two weeks
I gathered feedback from a range of staff and students after the Chromebooks had been in use across a range of subjects after only two weeks.:
Mr Steven Vindriis, a Mathematics teacher, said that “using the Chromebooks with my Year 9 Maths class has worked very well. It allows the students to use technology to work independently at their own level within their usual classroom environment. This also allows me to use the whiteboard and teach for parts of the lesson and then incorporate the technology for other parts. The students were engaging in the mathematics. The disadvantage of taking a class to a computer room is that because of the physical environment, the whole time often needs to be computer based and there can be other difficulties that occur.”
Tom, a Year 12 student, said that “the Chromebooks are pretty efficient. I have used them in English for essay typing and in History for research. We write our reports and essays on Google Docs. They are much quicker to use and load web pages, and turn on than normal laptops”.
Dr Gerard O’Connor, HOD English, commented that “My Year 10 have been using Chromebooks recently for writing narratives. They enjoy writing on them. This conforms with what English teachers in other schools report – that one noticeable thing about computers in junior English is that the attitude to writing changes markedly. They are much more likely to do screen editing and proofreading as well!”
Further developments in 2015
The school invested in another 6 sets of Chromebooks at the beginning of 2015. They were deployed throughout the school including in the Library and Careers Support Room. Having myself left at the end of 2014 to take up another position, I paid a visit to the school mid-year to see how the 1:1 learning environment had progressed. I was pleased to see that the uptake of Google Apps, Google Classroom, Moodle and other tools had increased dramatically and that there had been a managed school-wide roll-out of new tools such as Zaption (an interactive video edit/presentation tool) and Turnitin (plagiarism checking). The Mathematics and Science Departments have even taken part in a New Zealand Qualifications Authority trial of online computer based assessment with Education Perfect, something that would have been impossible only a year earlier.
It is important to note that the choice of Chromebooks was only to enable better access for everyone to digital learning tools. The school acknowledged that student owned laptops was an inevitability going forward, but they wanted to justify their implementation with improved learning and engagement outcomes during a rigorous trial period. Evidence was gathered by the way of teacher and department led inquiries into these gains. Senior students were invited late in 2015 to start bringing their own laptops to lessons. The other benefit of rolling out Chromebooks was that it introduceds students to another type of laptop option which they would likely never consider without prior exposure.
In less than a month the introduction of two sets of Chromebooks into a large high school, supported by the necessary improved infrastructure, helped lead to the quick adoption of digital learning tools and applications. This set the school on the path to a rapid uptake of more devices and applications to deliver enhanced quality learning and other opportunities that would not have previously been considered.