Reflecting on Teaching with Chromebooks

In 2012, I wrote a post on
Chromebooks in the Classroom where I was attempting to predict which features of Chromebooks would make them a great tool for teaching. I actually wasn’t that far off, although I did over exaggerate the idea of pushing out apps to all students and I undervalued the role the students Google Profile has. Since that post, the number of Chromebooks has increased dramatically. Three years later, at the time of this post, we are at 26,452 Chromebooks in EPSB. That is one Chromebook for every 3.3 students.

This summer, I used Chromebooks with my students.  I decided I would try to be a paperless as possible and use the Chromebooks as often as I could. In fact, each day the students took a Chromebook as they came into class and would return it to the cart at the end of the day. It gave me a chance to try out a few ideas and discover some new things about them.

The Cons (and some solutions)

Time off task

I use my cell phone for almost everything, and I encouraged students to use their cell phones as learning devices. However, as mentioned above, they also had a Chromebook with them all class. Rarely did they ever need both screens. As a result, some students
were too distracted by (or attracted to) their phones. Depending on the task, I found I could solve this problem by allowing students to choose the screen they wanted to work with. If they choose their phone, they had to put away the Chromebook. If they choose the Chromebook, they had to put away their phone. I am not naive. I know that they were still distracted by their phones, but it made the class management much easier and the incidences of being “obviously off task” diminished.

It is also very easy for students to go down the rabbit hole that is the internet when they are looking up information or completing work. I did have to make sure I used proximity a lot for certain students. I used Google Apps as well and I was able click into their assignments while they were working on them to check up and provide some formative assessment, which helped them to stay focused. I could combine  proximity and the benefits of shared docs by using the Google Classroom App on my phone while I moved around the class. I also think there is a place for the teacher to have web tracking software. When a student is struggling with the lesson or having difficulty staying focused, it would be nice to have a record of their web history that can’t be erase. Its great to be able to use this undeniable evidence to lead a discussion about search skills, web reading skills, and how to deal with distractions. To be clear, I am not suggesting screen monitoring software, but rather web tracking software like GoGuardian.

The Pros

Time on task – No, this isn’t a contradiction. 

The things that impressed me the most was the time on task. The short start time and the speed (Acer 740s) meant that they could get to work fast. The first time students log into a device can always be tricky; students mistype, they forget their password, or there might be an error with their profile. Fortunately, with Chromebooks we were able to identify the problems immediately. We didn’t need to wait for the login window to spin and spin before it bounced back with an erroIMG_20150723_124621r. All the issues were password related, which I was able to find in Powerteacher to quickly get the students up and running. As much as these tools can be a distraction which leads to time off task, their speed and simplicity mean that there is less down time. Students could have a sleeping Chromebook up, online and working in less than a second.

Reducing Paper

Chromebooks and Google Classroom are a great combination. Classroom is a fantastic tool for handing out digital activities, sharing links and posting information. The collaborative nature of Classroom means that everyone on a Chromebook can quickly access the information, tasks and assignments. There are a myriad of ways to do this with other tools, but the pairing of Chromebooks and Classroom through the students’ Google Profiles is quite powerful. I had some handouts that I scanned into PDF that I handed out in class, and I also took the opportunity to chuck out some old material and found links to new material that was much more relevant. For example, I used to talk about artificial majorities in Canada with an article that was well written, but referred to the Reform Party of Canada (which no longer exists). This year I was easily able to update it to talk about the NDP in Alberta. Every election in Canada will have a story about artificial majorities, and because I am not bound to paper copies, I can update the content of the lesson without running off stacks of new, paper articles. I also liked sharing docs and pdfs in Classroom because I never had too many or too few copies. Truthfully, this process could have been done on any digital device, but the ease and low cost of a Chromebook ensured that everyone had access to the lesson materials.

Feedback from Students

Not every student enjoyed using the Chromebooks. Three students in my class said they prefered paper. For the record, I did not force them to use the Chromebook and they were more than welcome to take notes however they wanted. Some used the Chromebook exclusively, a couple used paper exclusively and many used a hybrid of paper notebook and Chromebook. That being said, the majority of students liked how easy and efficient Chromebooks were. As often as we worry that the computer can be a distraction, some of my students said the Chromebooks actually helped them stay focused and better organized. Our students are becoming more digital, not less, and I can only imagine that their attitude and desire to learn on the internet will increase over time, and that students will become increasingly more comfortable with Chromebooks or other cloud-based devices over notebooks.
In the end, I don’t think I could teach without Chromebooks or other fast, inexpensive cloud based devices. Please add the things you love or hate about teaching with Chromebooks in the comments below.


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