Sunday, 27 November 2016

Why choose Chromebooks for students in Aotearoa / New Zealand?

Just recently I was asked this question again, and it was interesting for me to reflect on it from a teacher's point of view, in addition to my ideas as facilitator. This is the time of the year where many schools are thinking about their devices requirements for the next year. Here are my thoughts:

Firstly it is important to know what your vision is: What is the school vision, and how does this translate to the vision inside your learning environment? Much could be said about how to develop such a vision, but for this exercise, let's just assume, I want to 'raise self-directed, connected, life-long learners'.

The next step is to look at your pedagogy: How will you go about working towards this vision? Again, a topic that requires lots of thought and can lead to much debate. In this instance I have decided I want to give students agency and choice over their learning, I will use the UDL principles when planning our learning plan our learning and students will have choices within a must do / can do programme.

Out of this and my school's focus I will be able to develop the actual curriculum and activities.

Nowhere in the above does I talk about using technology; however, in a future focused learning environment effective use of devices is a must to work towards a vision like the one stated. With the multitude of devices available, where do Chromebooks fit in?

Chromebooks are laptop type devices set up to work within the GAFE environment (though saying that, two of my own sons use Chromebooks at their O365 high school). These devices are relatively cheap, they are quite hardy, especially with their SSD (rather than a spinning hard drive), and easy to manage by your GAFE administrator. Chromebooks can access any site on the www (unless you restrict access), they are many useful Chrome apps and extensions to allow you to get more creative - all provided you have reliable and reasonably fast internet access.

Schools use various approaches when it comes to devices: My current school has purchased all devices and students from y3 (and some y2s) are assigned their Chromebook to use at school. Other schools have parents supply a device to bring to class, and other schools again follow the Manaiakalani idea and establish a community trust to support parents purchasing a particular device. All these approaches have their own merits and can work when the local community are on board. There are also lease options which I have not looked into myself; in my opinion Chromebooks need replacing less frequently than the desktops / laptops / netbooks of the past, so I personally see little point in paying for lease - but I am happy to learn otherwise if you would like to share your experiences.

There are a range of small and large suppliers of digital devices: Large, nationwide suppliers might be able to offer a good price, but purchasing locally ensures that money stays within the community. Large suppliers now tend to have a special education team to help you choose the most suitable device and support setting up etc. Local suppliers might be able to help you at short notice as they are close by etc. Check with your usual suppliers, or contact companies advertising in publications such as the Interface Magazine.

There are few (or rather no) devices out there that can do everything you want to do at a reasonable cost. I feel strongly that a mixture of devices is beneficial but this requires additional managing by someone with technical know how. In our y2/3 ILE we have 28 chromebooks, all of them assigned to individual students (y3 students, and y2 students working at the beginning of CL2). We also have 13 iPads with various educational apps, as well as six Win8.1 touch screen laptops. In the back of the cupboard we have a set of old Android tablets which we have talked about but not used recently (they would still work well for recording students read etc.). The Win8.1 devices are favoured by our y2 students, but due to age of the device (and age of the users?) I have a lot of trouble with the touchscreen flickering which often though not always comes right after giving the screen a thorough clean.

Whatever devices you choose, it is important to think about device management. Who sets up the GAFE accounts and the Chromebooks, and how? Who manages device settings within the GAFE Admin Console? Who sets up individual student blogs, and how do teachers best manage online work? If you are using a mixture of devices, this task gets more complex. What usage agreements are in place, do your students understand them? Who pays when something gets broken? Saying that, since we have assigned our devices to individual students, we had basically no breakage though our children are only 6-8y old.

For managing digital student work, I thoroughly recommend using Hapara Teacher Dashboard for anything GAFE related, it makes a teacher's life much easier, and children appreciate the feedback / feed forward comments on the Google Docs etc. A lot of online programmes (such as XtraMath, Reading Eggs, Typing Club etc.) offer online dashboards for teachers, but how do students view their progress? In our ILE we use solutions from simple post-it notes on A3 card to printed out avatars which the students move along the printed out Reading Eggs maps - digital is not always better.

With devices comes sound: Think carefully what headphones you need for your devices. Despite my best intentions our headphones are still not assigned to individual students, and my guess is that this is partly to blame for the breakage of headphones we experience. Have you every had twirlers and chewers in your classroom? However, after a very serious talk with our 38 lovelies, we have seen marked improvements.

How does your classroom setup support using portable devices? Our ILE consists of two rectangular classrooms with a wide opening between them. We have flexible furniture arrangements, my side of the room has desks at 3 different heights with chairs and stools as well as benches / kneelers and 3 comfortable low seats. My little beach tent is waiting to get unpacked again. The other half of the ILE has mainly kneelers, ottomans and low seats as well as lilly pads. We have a covered verandah along most of one long side of the classrooms, and the children use outdoor beanbags to do their work out there. We deliberately removed the old desktops from the classroom as they would have restricted our ability to rearrange furniture when we needed to.

Device storage and charge are important points to consider: Some schools invest in purpose built cabinets, others rearrange exisiting furniture such as cupboards or filing cabinets (remember to leave enough gaps for air circulation). All storage areas should be lockable. Prior to being back in the classroom I had not regarded charging as a big issue, but now I personally make sure everything is plugged in over night so we are ready to go every morning.

Please feel free to ask any questions, I am happy to help if I can!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Google Sites: Permissions for Folders and Documents

Several years ago +Helen King taught a group of us about setting up folders within Google Drive for documents to be shared on a Google Site. With a little help from the fantastic +Fiona Grant (and a little doctor enforced rest for a very sore back), I finally got this little tutorial completed. Please let me know if anything requires further clarification, I look forward to hearing from you!