Chromebooks in the Classroom… How Do We Implement Them?

“You’d have a hard time getting my iPad away from me. I love using it as much as I love my Chromebook, but for the classroom – at least as we’ve experienced in our district, Chromebook is better suited to our educational goals, especially when you pair it with Gaggle,” said Amy Stanley, Coordinator of Elementary Instructional Technology for North Carolina’s Johnston County Schools.

“Thanks to Google Apps, Chromebooks provide a very Microsoft Office like work environment for our students, which is really not something they can get on an iPad. Our only concern about using Google Apps was maintaining a secure environment for our students. We tried to use the filtering available through Google, but – having already enjoyed the filtering provided by Gaggle – we knew there was an easier and better way. When Gaggle asked us if we’d be interested in becoming a beta site for their Gaggle/Google/Chromebook integration, we were delighted.”

Chromebooks and Gaggle

Gaggle and Johnston County Schools are long-time partners: Gaggle has provided email services for this district for over 10 years and for the past 5.5 years their account manager has been Heather Durkac, whose official title at Gaggle is Director of Account Management and Training. The duration and quality of this relationship made Johnston County ideal partners for the beta test.

Durkac said, “Gaggle’s goal is to work with our clients to ensure that – whatever route they take to the Internet – Gaggle can go with them, moving the technology and security issues out of the way. When Gaggle can ensure that students are safe and have an easy time accessing technology, the educators can keep their focus on educating.”

Google Chromebooks are cloud-based computing devices. Other than the operating system and web browser, there is nothing else installed. There were some concerns about how the Chromebooks would work when the internet is unavailable, but Stanley was pleased to see applications in the Chrome store that are labeled for off-line use. 50-90% of our students have internet access from their homes. When we’re ready to move to a 1:1 initiative, I don’t think the Chromebooks will be a stumbling block for us,” added Stanley, “no more than the Google email was an issue, once we started working more closely with Gaggle.”

Seamless Integration Unleashes Power and Security

Chromebooks require a Google username and password to use them; Gaggle requires a username and password to access its applications; and Johnston County has its own email domain set up for students and staff. Rather than burden students with three different account and password combinations, Gaggle created a simple solution: Gaggle accounts, created using the Johnston County domain, are linked – behind the scenes – to Google accounts. The result, one Johnston County username that brings up both Gaggle email and Google Apps each time a student logs in to a Chromebook.

“It was great. Gaggle managed the behind-the-scenes magic, and I was handed our user accounts, which were configured, in classes and ready to use. It couldn’t have been easier for us to get our Chromebooks up, running and secure,” added Stanley.

The affordability of Chromebooks makes them a great tool for education. With the addition of Gaggle’s, education-specific features, including our Gaggle Safety Management, the Chromebook becomes a complete learning platform with unparalleled student safety,” commented Jeff Patterson, Gaggle’s CEO and founder.

“The Chrome Web store allows me to distribute an application across our domain. Our iPads require us to deal with applications machine by machine, which is a much more time-consuming solution,” added Stanley.

The district had two small iPad implementations going, but because of the cumbersome management required, the idea of trying the Chromebook was very appealing. Additionally, Stanley believes that dollars go much farther when purchasing Chromebooks. The district was able to purchase during holiday pricing, and was able to secure it’s Samsung units for $199 each.

Currently the district has Gaggle for only grades 3-8, but this will change next year, when Gaggle will provide accounts for everyone in the district. As part of the pilot, the district had tried to implement the filtering using options in Google and a “bad word” list. The aggravation of incorrectly flagged emails makes Stanley eager for Gaggle to be back in place.

Interest in the Chromebooks is high across the district, but there is some hesitation by the schools. Much of the state testing is done on computers, and the Chromebooks have not yet been approved for this use. “The district has already tested and approved Chromebooks for some parts of the testing. I’m hoping that all of the tests will soon be approved and we will see a much larger implementation of this Gaggle/Google/Chromebook solution,” concluded Stanley.