Mobile Devices – Part 3 – Our Setup
Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Author:

I blogged before about how we have setup our Android tablets so that we can manage them and how we have installed Meraki to do this. I have had questions about what we have done next. There has been an interesting learning curve, it hasn’t been difficult, in fact it’s been rather enjoyable. Someone comes to me asking how they can achieve a certain goal, I then set about trying to accomplish it.

Before the children (or staff) got their hands on the tablets, there were a few things I needed to install. My plan is to blog about each app separately and will add to the list as I find and use more key apps, but we basically needed tools for the following:

These core apps are then installed onto every single tablet. Teachers can install their own later on or ask me to deploy some, but I needed these as a basis. It also helped with staff training for the less confident! These were all installed via Meraki.

I also needed to setup a “homepage” so that the children could get to key links such as Sumdog, the school blogs, Educaiton City or whatever without having to constantly type in the address or remember a login for each one. We have used Airhead to create a page that contains links to the sites that we use. The address for this page is then put into to make it shorter. This is not essential, but when you are typing it in on 100 tablets, every letter will save time! Once we visited the page we wanted, we added it as a shortcut and then put this shortcut on the main page of the tablet.

You can see below that the “blue head” icon is on our home page. This will take the children to a page containing the links that they will need. Incidentally, along the bottom are the other key apps that I mentioned above.


To ensure that we could access the sites that we wanted to use, we have installed FlashFox. This is a Flash-enabled browser which unlike Chrome, will give us the ability to load Purple Mash, Education City and other tools that are still Flash-based.

As I said above, I will blog separately about the different apps we have installed, but this is how our default tablets look at the moment.


Which Blog Plugins?
Saturday, November 01st, 2014 | Author:

There is an old post where I listed the plugins that we use on our school blog to keep it ticking over and after a few emails with different people recently, and considering it has been three years since that post, I thought I should update it.

At school, our blog site is and we use WordPress Multisite and this post goes into a bit more detail, but it means that I can install small pieces of code, known as plugins, that will help my site to run in a different way. Some of these are vital, some are cosmetic, some are free and others are paid-for.

If you have any questions about blogging, or if you think I have missed something obvious, please let me know. I am always trying new plugins to see how they work and how they can improve our blogging experience.

Akismet – This should, in theory, catch all of the spam and prevent it from reaching your comment page. Some does occasionally get through but it does a good job of stopping most of it.

Custom Meta – Very simple but on the normal WordPress page there is a small menu giving 5 options such as log in and the RSS feeds. With this plugin, I can choose which of those 5 to show and for most of the time, it’s just log-in so that teachers and children can easily get to the sign-in page.

Diamond Multisite Widget – A huge discovery. So much so that I blogged about this plugin when I found it. When you have 20+ blogs as we do, it can be hard to curate a menu of the links to them all. What if someone accidentally find a a Year 6 blog, you’d like a link on there to other blogs in your school, right? This plugin does that. It puts links to all of your blogs on the side of each blog ensuring that there is always a list of the blogs that are active across the whole school. Before this plugin, I had to manually edit a list of links on each blog. Urgh.

User Role Editor – Another favourite. With WordPress you can different levels of user e.g. administrator but there are times when you only want children (or staff) to be able to do limited things such as write and edit their own blog posts. This plugin lets you create a role for the children and assign different capabilities to that role.

Unfiltered MU – Occasionally when a user wants to embed a video from a site such as Animoto or some sound from Soundcloud, WordPress was removing the HTML embed code. This plugin helps to prevent the code being removed.

Feedjit – This is a simple display of the last 10 or so people to visit your blog. This is great when showing it to a class as more often than not, at least one will be a non-UK based visitor leading to a discussion about where in the world that city or country might be.

WPMU Dev Dashboard (Paid for) – I have subscribed to the WPMU Dev package as it provides me with a range of plugins and themes that I have setup on different blogs within the school. I have also made a few blogs for other schools too so having extra, high-quality themes is very useful.

Easy Blogging (Paid for) – This is an amazing plugin. It is part of the WPMU DEV package but you can also buy it separately. What does it do? To put it simply, it can be set so that users of a certain level e.g. children, only see certain options when they sign in. So I have this set to allow children to only see “New Post” and “My Posts” and that’s it. They won’t get to see the comments or any of the other options that are potentially available to them. When combined with the User Role Editor, this becomes a very useful plugin. There is also the option to turn this on when logged in as a teacher meaning that the less-confident teachers can log-in, click “Enable” and be presented with a cut-down screen with just the things they need. Awesome.


Mobile Devices – Part 2 – Setting up Tablets
Saturday, November 01st, 2014 | Author:

In my last post, I wrote about setting up Meraki to manage our Android tablets. In this post I thought I would go through the physical hardware side from unboxing the tablets to having them setup and ready to play with.

As soon as the tablets are turned on, there is the first choice of choosing a language and then selecting your WiFi.



From here, clicking on “Advanced Settings” will provide the option to setup the proxy settings for your WiFi, if you need to. The tablet will then spend a few seconds connecting.


You will then be asked if you have a Google account. I’m not sure of the best way of organising this, but we have created one account e.g. (Our Google domain) and then every tablet device is “owned” by this account. We have six tablets per class and have no plans for moving towards 1:1 so the devices do not belong to the children and will probably not need to sign in to their own Google accounts either so having 1 account for all devices seems to be the best option.

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There are then various different terms and conditions and options before your device will be setup. In total, I would say 2-3 minutes per device. Of course having a few lined up to setup at once will always speed things up 🙂


Now, the next part involves customizing the tablet for your school. First things first, we downloaded the Meraki Systems Manager app. This was mentioned in my previous post.

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Luckily, by searching for “systems”, you find Meraki first on the list. Install the app and it should appear on the home page, if not, look on the apps menu and it will be there instead. I found that 95% of the time it made a shortcut on the home screen.



Once you open Systems Manager, you will be asked to enroll the tablet onto your Meraki domain. Enrolling will ensure that the profile you set up on the dashboard gets installed on the device. This will include the WiFi information and other settings you have decided on. Although enrolling is where we found a major problem. It appears that you can’t enroll the device if you are connecting through a proxy server. So there are a few options:

1) Take all of the devices home and use your home WiFi to enrol them all. Cons: Carrying them all home. Do you really want to do this at home??? Pros: Setting them up whilst watching TV.

2) Get your phone out, turn on the option to act as a WiFi hotspot and connect them through your phone. Pros: You can do it in school (providing you have decent phone signal of course) Cons: If you have a lot of devices, you might find you have to do them in small batches. I could only do 3 at a time, more than that and the WiFi speed slowed down. Also, it only uses a teensy bit of data, but I did find that I went over my monthly allowance of 750mb after setting up 100 tablets.

To be perfectly honest, neither option is ideal and I hope that Meraki can fix it to make life a lot easier, but hey, it is what it is at the moment.

Another thing to be aware of is that when the tablet connects to a different WiFi e.g. your home one or your phone hotspot, you will be asked to sign-in to your Google account again. I think that this is a safety measure, but it’s something to be aware of. I took the first 30 tablets home, set them up and gave them to teachers and they were being asked to re-sign before downloading apps. Oops.

Once enrolled, the device gets added to the Devices page on the dashboard and it can then be renamed as required. We have renamed all of ours according to the class they are going to and then stuck a label on the back of the tablet. This helps people know which device they have used and helps me know where things are!

So, once you’ve gone through the enrolment process, now what?


Connect to your school WiFi, load Systems Manager and scroll right to find the Managed Apps page. This will be a list of the apps that you have setup via the Meraki Dashboard. From here, you can click on an app and you will be taken to the Google Play page for the app. Click install and it will then download. You can queue up lots of apps but you still need to go back to Systems Manager, click on them, click install and so on.


Once setup and enrolled, if you add an app via Meraki, it will send a notification to each tablet and by clicking on this, you will get taken to directly to the app page so that it can be installed. This is nice, but you would then be relying on teachers/children to find the notification and install each app.

I would like to see some improvements in this process. It would be great to install remotely so that instead of there being a notification, the app actually installed instead. All in al though, for a free product, Meraki is great. I’d be keen to hear on how you have set up Android tablets so please let me know in the comments box.




Mobile Devices – Part 1 – Meraki
Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Author:

Since posting about our tablet devices, I have received a range of questions about their management so I decided to write two blog posts about how we have set them up and managed them within our school. These are similar steps for our Apple and Android devices. We currently have 10 iPads on our domain, 8 being used for monitoring children via the 2Simple Profile app in our pre-school and Early Years and 2 iPads used for SLT for various monitoring tasks and for observations. We also currently have 108 Android tablets for use by children from Year 1 to Year 6.

To manage the devices, we have used Meraki from Cisco. This is free and is available here: This post will show you some of the things that Meraki can do and what we have set up so far.

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The first thing to do is to visit the website and click Create Account. It will ask you to verify your email address and then you can login and access the dashboard.

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Once logged in, it will ask you to create a new network.

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We gave it a name and then chose MDM for Mobile Device Management. I’m not sure what the other options do!

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You are then given the option to add devices. You can add IOS, Windows, Android or Chromebooks. Our Chromebooks are managed by the Google Apps dashboard and I haven’t tried adding Windows devices.

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There are two ways to add an Android device. The first is to download the Meraki Systems Manager app from Google Play. Once open, you click enrol and enter the 10digit code. Alternatively, visit the mobile website and enter the code on there. This will then ask you to install the app anyway. Please note, this isn’t our real code, this is a mock account for the purpose of this blog post.

For IOS devices, this works in a very similar way. There are a few certification steps along the way where you have to verify things with Apple, but it is easy enough to add a device using the steps provided.

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Once some devices have been added, it would be useful to create a profile. For IOS this gives you the ability to lock certain features e.g. turning off Siri or Facetime or blocking apps from installing. It also allows you to set a passcode for all devices.

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For us, the most important part on the profile page is to setup the Wifi. We were able to assign the Wifi name (SSID) and the password and proxy settings. This was then pushed to all devices within our Meraki domain. We set this up and then added all of our devices, once enrolled, they automatically collect the settings. If you have added devices already, simply click the sync option on the app and it will re-download them.

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Once the devices have been added, they will show on the Monitor>Clients page. From here, you can click on each device and rename it. You can also see the serial code, useful for inventory purposes and it also shows other information such as which version of the operating system is running, which apps are installed and which are missing. It also shows a map to give a rough location of the device.

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From the MDM>Apps page, you can choose which apps to install on the devices.

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For Android, you simply click Add New and then search the Google Play store. Pressing add and then save will send a link to this app to all of your devices.

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You can also click on an app you have used previously and re-push it to any devices that haven’t installed it yet.

For IOS devices, the process is similar but you will need to register for VPP (Volume Purchasing Program) so that you can buy the apps at a discounted rate and then install them on multiple devices. This can take a little while to go through as when you register for VPP, Apple will check your identity and that you belong to a real school. Once this has all been done, you can add the information from your VP account into Meraki. Free apps work in a similar way to the Android apps above.

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For Apple devices, the Organization>MDM page will highlight the various certificates and approvals that you will need to get things working. It doesn’t take long, but it is another step in the process.


We have only just started using Meraki, but it seems like a fab free tool for managing lots of devices. There are lots of things that it can;t do e.g. setting up each device to look the same or updating the operating system, but for the basics, it does them very well.

This next post looks at how to enrol the devices onto the Meraki domain.


Setting up Chromebooks – Part 2
Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Author:

Following on from Part 1 where I talked about the physical setting up, this post will talk look at the Google Apps Dashboard and the settings that are currently available. Be  aware, this is Google. They change regularly. If it changes a lot, I will update this guide.

First off, you will need to login to your Google Apps Dashboard – for example.

You will see an icon for Device Management. If this is not there, click More Controls at the bottom to bring it up.

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Then you will see Mobile and Chrome. Next to each, there are links to Devices (takes you to Devices below, Settings (takes you to Device Settings) and Shipments (takes you to Advanced\Shipments).  For this guide I am looking at the Chromebook setup rather than the Mobile one. I haven’t used the Mobile pages on Google Apps yet so I’m not sure how they work.

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Clicking Chrome will show this screen:

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The top number on this page shows the amount of active users within the last 7 days. Below I’ll try to explain each page of the menus is for and what it can do. I will also say which options we have turned on or off and which we have left. Obviously you can choose your own settings, but this is what we have done. If the settings aren’t mentioned below (there are a lot) then we have left them alone. I have tried to just mention the main ones.


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This page gives you the choice of various options for the users within your domain. You can choose a default wallpaper for example.

>>>>Pre-installed Apps and Extensions – Chrome has apps. Lots of them in fact. Now there is a way of managing some of these by pre-installing them onto the devices. Simply click Manage and then search for apps to install onto every chromebook.

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>>>>Security – We have chosen to never lock the screen when it is idle and to disallow incognito mode but these are minor things for us. We also don’t save the browser history either. We have prevented users from proceeding to malicious sites and allowed sites to detect users’ geolocation just to prevent sites from asking! I’m not sure if this is the best option, but it stopped a few errant pop-ups.

>>>>Startup – We have added the Home button to all chromebooks. This makes it much easier to get to the school website, especially for younger children. We have also set the Homepage URL. We have a page setup – – that has links to various tools that we use so it’s easier to get to that and then navigate to other stuff. We have also set the Chromebooks to load that page and the Google homepage on startup. That covers most things that we the children will use.

>>>>URL Blocking – There is the option to block URLs from being accessed but our filtering does this anyway, so we have left this blank.

>>>>Bookmark Bar – We have enabled this to make it easier for students.


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We haven’t changed anything on here as every user logs in to access the Chromebook so the settings on the menu above will apply.



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>>>>Guest Mode – We have allowed this just in case there is ever an issue logging on (usually an incorrect username or password but so far no-one has needed it.

>>>>Power Management – We have told the devices to remain on if they are on the sign-in screen. We found that this was easier than trying to figure out if the device was off or asleep.

>>>>Auto Update Settings – We have set the Chromebooks to auto-update and these are scattered over a 14day period. This means, unlike Windows, updates will happen slowly rather than trying to update everything all at once. To be honest, we have yet to notice an update cause a problem. When an update gets downloaded, it is installed the next time the machine is turned off and on again. Easy.

>>>>Time Zone – We have set the time zone. It was confusing the children when it was on US time 🙂


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This is where you can add your wireless settings so that the Chromebooks will automatically join the network. Click Add Wi-Fi, add the name, password, proxy settings etc and then save. The Chromebooks will now find the Wifi automatically. Adding the Wi-Fi here means that if you change the Wi-Fi password for example, you just need to tell the Chromebooks one rather than having to do it manually on every device.


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This shows you the serial numbers for all of the devices that you have enrolled within your domain. It also shows if the device has been provisioned, when it was enrolled and by which user. There is also a notification of how many licenses you own and have used.

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Errr…this page seems to show all of the other menus..but in one place. Not sure why it is there. There might be additional options, but they are not obvious! Ok, so shipments is on there. But that’s it.


So that is how we have set-up our Chromebooks. If you have any ideas for improving this, or you think I have missed a setting that is vital or if you have any questions then please add them in the comments below and I will amend this post accordingly.



Setting up Chromebooks – Part 1
Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Author:

As mentioned in a previous post, we have just purchased over 100 Chromebooks. These have been a winner so far and the feedback has been fantastic. I have had questions via Twitter asking how we manage them and what you get for the Chrome Management License fee (it costs £19). So I thought I would write a post explaining the chromebook setup process.

Please Note: This post assumes that you are using Google Apps within your school. This is pretty cheap (under £10 a year and a few hours setup time) and will help to organise everything you do with Google and the Chromebooks. There are many posts on the index page about Google Apps or contact me if you want some help.


After the chromebooks are unboxed and charged, the first step is to turn them on by lifting the lid. They will look for the WiFi and you can then connect, add proxy settings and choose language etc.

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Once connected, the Chromebook will search for the latest version of Chrome and for any updates.

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Once that is done, there is the option to sign-in. This is the crucial step. If you sign-in here, the Chromebook will not be attached to your domain meaning that it will act as a standalone device rather than one you can control and manage. So press CTRL ALT E to get to the enterprise login screen instead.

Here’s a bit more info from Google if you need it.

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Enterprise enrolment screen:  2014-09-29 16.34.35


From here, login as any user within your domain. I always use an admin account, but I don’t think you need to. It’s just that my account is admin, so it makes sense to login as me rather than someone else.


The Chromebook will “enrol” on to your domain. This takes around 30seconds, depending on Wifi signal.

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Success! It found your domain and when you look on your management dashboard, this device will be there.

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You will now be presented by a login screen and if you look at the bottom, it says that the device is now managed by (our school domain).


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You can now log in as any user within your domain and it will pick up the settings you have assigned. Deciding which settings to assign is all explained in this post here.

Introducing Class Blogs
Monday, October 06th, 2014 | Author:

I received this tweet today.

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I’ve been having a few chats over Twitter with Mr Radburn over recent weeks and I am pleased that he is finally at the point where he is talking to staff about blogs.. But he asks a sensible question, how do you share blogs with staff? How can you enthuse them and not just get them to think that it is yet another job on their never-ending to-do list? What are the benefits?

1) Share learning with parents and the wider community – First off, sharing learning with parents is a great way to start. When I first started blogging, I used to have a daily ten minute chat with my class where we summed up our learning and then blogged it. Sometimes it was me writing, sometimes the children, but it was always their ideas. What were they proud of? What did they want to share with the world?

2) Share a blog post with someone inspiring – We are trying our best to give our children a purpose for writing. This might include writing for a different audience, writing to a specific person or writing so that we can share it with the world. We have tried different approaches but one that happens now and again is that a piece of work gets blogged and a teacher might send a tweet to the author that inspired the work. For example,  just this week Marissa Meyer commented on a display that is all based around her book “Cinder”. Year 5 have been looking at the text, they created a display and with a few tweets, the author wrote back. For children that might find writing difficult, knowing that there is a real audience can have a huge impact!

We have had a range of successes since we introduced blogging at Riders last year:

3) Take photos! – We are in the process of buying tablets for school and the first thing I will be doing is showing everyone how to blog with them. To be honest, it involves taking a photo, pressing a few buttons and you’re done, but still. Blogging with a mobile device is a powerful tool for sharing learning with an audience. My plan is to have six tablets per class, each setup with the WordPress app so that teachers and children can snap a photo, add a caption or description and publish instantly. By Christmas, we will be blogging like mad. I’ve done it in my previous school and parents loved it. Children were also able to talk about why they were proud of their work and the learning that had happened. Yes you can do it with a camera too but a tablet or mobile device just takes out a few steps along the way.

4) Make it easy – I use WordPress. I have tried other tools, but I love WordPress. I have a self-hosted blog which means that I can install apps and add-ons as I need to rather than using the “out-of-the-box” WordPress software. (Bit more info on that here). One of my favourite plugins to install is Easy Blogging. I use this in collaboration with a tool that allows me to set different levels of access. So children all have the ability to login to the blog, write a new post and then send it to me to review before it goes live. I have set the blog up so that all children are forced to use Easy Blogging, but they also have the option to deactivate it if they need more power.

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This is a normal WordPress dashboard. It has everything that I need on there including updates, announcements, comments etc but there is a bit too much for some people.


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So Easy Blogging can cut this right down to just the essentials. Much less cluttered and easier for the less-techy staff and younger children to manage.

5) Join in with a challenge – I have written before about the 100 Word Challenge – – and although my approach has changed slightly (we use Google Docs to write it and for peer assessment) we still enjoy writing and entering this weekly challenge. We have also managed to have a few pieces of work on the weekly showcase too.

6) Get a buddy – This could be through quad blogging, it might just be by befriending someone else in school but having a blogging buddy helps. This is another class or school that will leave you comments regularly in return for your class doing the same. This can help to inspire children as they know people will actually be responding to their work.


Those are some of the things that I could think of that might help when introducing blogs to new staff. How have you shared blogs with other teachers? What worked? What didn’t?


Category: Blogging, blogposts  | 2 Comments
ICT in my school Part 2
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Author:

Following on from my last post where I talked about our ICT journey and where we had come from, this post will discuss our approach to Chromebooks.

I have had a Chromebook at home, as well as desktop PCs, for about 3 years. I must say that it was a freebie for doing some stuff for Google, I’m not sure if I’d have bought it myself. Over the past few years it has lived under the living room coffee table and is always there should we need to do something quickly. It turns on in seconds and the internet is there.

For those that haven’t seen them, Chromebooks are devices that look like “normal” laptops, but rely very much on the internet to access anything and to work properly. Yes, you can do some things offline, but you wouldn’t. I tried to do some work on the train once and ended up opening a glorified post-it note app and then copying the text out later when I had WiFi.  If you can guarantee internet signal, then you’re onto a winner. I’m sure the offline side has got better recently, I’ve just not needed it since.

The devices run the Chrome operating system, turn on in around 10 seconds and then to log-in, you simply enter your Google login. They generally last 6-7 hours and can be charged in around an hour too.

In school, we have 60 Toshiba touchscreen laptops and I am not a fan of them. The pad for the mouse is sooooo sensitive it ends up getting turned off so that the children use the touchscreen instead. This provides issues now and again, but some teachers seem to like them. My issue was that I wanted lots of devices across the school so that we could really ramp up the opportunities for the children. I had used Chromebooks before, I’d borrowed some from C-Learning in my previous school and seen how easy they were to manage. If they ever go wrong, you wipe them and factory reset them within 10minutes. I’ve only ever had 1 device get that bad. So after all the positives, I took the plunge and ordered 60 Chromebooks and 3 trolleys to put them in.

As I said earlier, when logging in to the Chromebooks, there is the question of signing in with a Google Apps account. We now all have those through Google Apps so the pupils can be switched on and logged in within a minute. One thing to be aware of is that there is the option of paying £19 per Chromebook to purchase a Chrome management license. This adds your Chromebook to your Google Apps domain and gives you control. Think of it like a regular server managing your laptops. I can control the WiFi, proxy, power settings, default homepage and much more from one control panel rather than from each device. The console also manages updates. Ours are set to update over the course of a week so all devices don’t update at the same time and slow own the bandwidth. I wouldn’t consider buying Chromebooks for school without the £19 license!

In school, we have started to dabble with Google Apps. I mean I have used it in previous schools and I am a Google Certified Trainer, but with so many other things happening at school, this is a slow, measured approach. We started with giving everyone access to the calendar which despite being in place for almost a year, has only taken off this term. We have now given all pupils a Google email and will start using other tools soon. A few classes have been using Google Docs and children are excited by the collaboration opportunities that it provides.

So, what are the downsides so far?

  • Publisher – People always want an alternative to Publisher
  • Printing – Our Sharp printers don’t like the Chromebooks – For the few times we will print, the children can share the document with teachers who have a Windows desktop and we can print from there
  • Everything is online. Our laptops have links on the desktop so that pupils can access certain tools and websites. We have had to be more creative with how we do that. I have a solution and that’s for another blog post!
  • It takes longer to  type the login e.g. than it does to type iaddison to logon to the Windows machines. But the extra 30seconds here is saved as the machine is on in 10 seconds.

We have had them in school since the start of September and so far it is all going well. They are used for simple thing so far, but that will change as we begin to show staff the possibilities.

Oh, did I mention the price? The Samsung Chromebooks we bought were £168 including the license. Bargain. (We actually just managed to buy 45 more Chromebooks that were on offer at £134 each)

If you are looking to purchase Chromebooks, I would suggest talking to C-Learning. As far as I am aware, they are the only company that will lend out Chromebooks for users to test for free (although I must also point out that I run training courses for them too from time to time)

The next step after chromebooks involved looking for tablet devices. That blog post is here.