Thursday, 17 November 2011

What went wrong with the Chromebooks in Year 3?


It was perhaps a mistake to let year 3 use the Chromebooks before I had fully tested them and passed on a list of 'Dos and Don'ts' to my colleagues. However, the ICT suite was otherwise occupied, the Chromebooks were available and the Year 3 teacher has a proven track record at being highly successful at teaching ICT.

It was with a small degree of apprehension then,  that as I walked into the classroom towards the end of the lesson, the teacher was almost turning the metaphorical tearing her hair out into literal follicle damage. Essentially a third of the children had failed to log on, and it appeared to be the Chromebooks fault.

The trouble with Chromebooks is that they only connect to the internet. This means there are 4 barriers to young children using Chromebooks in schools
  • They must connect successfully to the school's wifi;
  • They must connect through the school / district proxy server;
  • The children must remember (and be able to type) their username;
  • The children must remember their password.
Of course when you've got 30 seven-year old children in front of you, each of them making some kind of demand on your time, all you can see is children who can use the Chromebooks and those who can't.

It's my job, as ICT leader, to make sure the barriers above are minimised. I've tried to introduce usernames and password that balance security with ease of use. I've enrolled and setup each Chromebook so that it works properly with both our wifi and proxy server. Or at least, I thought I had. So what went wrong on this afternoon?

Firstly there were 4 children who didn't have logins at all - two of these were new to the school and two were children who had slipped under the radar in the previous year. A further child had changed her password and forgotten what she had changed it too. 4 more children had problems typing their usernames. Now I had introduced the Google Apps domain 2 terms earlier and the classes containing younger children had used it far less than older children - these children were a lot less experienced at logging on to the Google Apps. I should point out that Chromebooks use the children's Google Apps logins to work. In addition because of less usage, the teacher last year had not noticed the two children who didn't have logins - maybe they had presumed it a glitch in the system and so the problem had not been recognised.

Another child was a mystery - she was properly setup and seemed to by typing in everything properly, but her Chromebook just didn't login. I restarted the computer for here and tried again. This time it worked. It seems that for the odd Chromebook, when 30 are all trying to connect to the system at the same time, one or two don't quite get through - they need a second chance. This was also a problem with the laptops that we had previously used in classes - they too would on occasions not connect properly to the wifi and would need to be restarted. Somebody at Google told me it was about being stuck in a 'portal subnet' - but this just sounds like I'm on an episode of Star Trek, and not wanting to go to manual override, reverse the polarities or indeed change the dilithium crystals, my solution is just to restart and hope. It worked this time.

You see, the good thing about Chromebooks is that they only connect to the internet. And they connect using Chrome. They restart superfast - it takes less than 2 seconds to shut them down and only 8 seconds to start them up again. This meant that in the remaining twenty minutes of the lesson I was able to call each child over to me, identify their problems, sort their problems out restart their Chromebooks and still give them a go.

Next time all of the Year 3 children will be able to use the Chromebooks.

What lessons have I learned in terms of deploying Chromebooks?
  1. Make sure all the students have working Logins to the Google Apps domain.
  2. Make sure that the students are familiar with logging on to the Google Apps domain.
  3. Be prepared to restart the odd chromebook just because it doesn't pick up the wifi network on the first go.
So maybe it wasn't a mistake after all - I owe a big dept of gratitude to the Year 3 teacher for being prepared to experiment with the new technology - she certainly will have made the experience of everyone else in the school more successful.

No comments:

Post a Comment