How to manage Google devices in K-12 schools: 5 tips

Chromebooks dominate the edtech landscape. Here are tips for IT administrators on deploying and maintaining the devices.

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Google devices dominate the K-12 education market, with Chrome OS currently holding close to 60% mobile computing market share in this space. Since Chromebooks became available in 2011, their relatively low cost, productivity tools, and easy third-party platform integration led them to surpass sales of macOS devices in 2016.

Many schools use the G Suite for Education productivity suite, since it is device agnostic for BYOD environments, said Eric Lawson, director of technology for the York School Department in Maine and a Google certified innovator and trainer. The low cost of Chromebooks (which start at $119) has been a major factor in the device's dominance in the K-12 education space, Lawson said.

"I would say Chromebooks are leading the charge just because of price, but also lately, because of the Chromebook convertibles, which flip into the tablet mode," Lawson said. "The dual integration between Chrome apps and extensions and Android apps and extensions have been a game changer in education." Google also recently unveiled the Acer Chromebook Tab 10--the first education tablet made for Chrome OS.

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Chromebooks have also been a game changer when it comes to management and instruction, according to Jason Saltmarsh, an education technology consultant and director of IT services at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, New Hampshire.

"On the instructional side, it's really started to level the playing field," Saltmarsh said. "We don't have to worry about who can afford to buy the Office Suite or what version we're on. We're all on Google Docs, and it allows lots of collaboration not only between kids, but teachers and kids, and students and students from other schools."

The devices also require very little maintenance and management, Saltmarsh said. "The OS is basically reset every time the device is powered on, so everybody is up-to-date, they're all using the same tools--it's very uniform," he added.

Winnacunnet High School has about 1,100 students in grades 9-12, all of whom have a Chromebook assigned to them that they use for all four years, and keep after graduation.

"We found that Chromebooks have a lifespan of about four or five years, so that keeps our inventory fresh," Saltmarsh said. "By that time, they're pretty banged up, at least if they're in the hands of a student for that long."

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Here are five tips for IT administrators managing Google devices in their school or district.

1. Buy spare parts for in-house repairs


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Purchasing spare parts that are most often damaged by students can also reduce costs, Saltmarsh and Lawson said.

For example, Winnacunnet High School's IT team purchases a number of spare screen replacements and takes care of those in-house. "It's easy to do, an it's about half the cost it would be if I sent it out for the same type of repair," Saltmarsh said.

2. Create organizational unit structures

Many vendors set up device enrollment for schools, so when you purchase the devices, you need to have your domain settings in place, Lawson said.

"We did quite a bit of work with creating organizational unit structures so that we can easily provision permissions and apps and extensions down, straight to either the device or to the users themselves," Lawson said. "Then, it wouldn't matter which device they're in, so for instance at our elementary where there's carts, that makes a lot of sense."

When the IT team unboxes and enrolls a Chromebook, they then can place the device in the correct organizational unit, and it automatically takes all the privileges and permissions that are already set up in the back end on the Google admin console. The IT department can set up the Chromebooks to automatically update, or can restrict updates, Lawson said.

3. Schedule the logistics of annual collection and maintenance

One of the most difficult parts about any 1-to-1 school device program is the logistics, Saltmarsh said: Planning for the collection and distribution of more than a thousand devices at the end of the school year is tough.

But summer break is a good time to collect, clean, and repair the machines each year, Saltmarsh said. One summer, the school let students take the Chromebooks home, and had them come back clogged with sand and sunscreen.

"We did learn our lesson that year, and now we collect them each year, and make sure that we clean them up and get them ready so that when they come back in the fall they're all ready to go, with no downtime for the students and teachers," Saltmarsh said.

4. Find a content filtering product

Google does not include the ability to filter internet traffic in Chromebooks. Both Saltmarsh and Lawson's IT teams use a free service called Securly that allows the schools to filter traffic on student Chromebooks whether they are on or off of school property.

"That's made our parents quite happy, and it's hopefully helped keep the students pursuing academic things rather than getting too distracted at home," Saltmarsh said.

5. Model device use

IT staff should model Chromebook use before deploying the devices, Saltmarsh said. Before rolling out the devices to every student at his school, Saltmarsh purchased one for himself and used it exclusively for a year, to prove that it was capable of getting work done.

"I think the best thing you could do is just model it, and be willing to use the tools that you're giving out to your students and teachers," Saltmarsh said. "That's the way that you get the understanding to make the program successful."

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Image: Google