Chromebooks: the ideal device for the UK classroom

On Thursday at BETT, I spoke on the Google stand with the slightly contentiously titled talk, Chromebooks: the ideal device for the UK classroom.

Now I have to be clear: I think there is no ideal device for a classroom. In fact, I think the ideal classroom has multiple different devices: a mixed economy, or a device-agnostic approach as some like to call it.

Having said that, I believe the UK classroom is in a peculiar situation at the moment, and it’s a situation which lends itself to Chromebooks. Let me explain below, but first here are my slides:

The situation is this:

1. We live in austerity times. Less money has been paid into the education sector in recent years and while this may not have affected school budgets directly, it has affected central services. Schools find it harder now than ever to find speech therapists, social support, education psychologists, behaviour support, specialist subject support, and so on. This means that schools have to make a choice: invest in external support, or maintain internal staffing levels.

2. Not many people know it, but we have a growing bank of great research for what really works. The EEF teacher toolkit has listed some great research for the interventions that really make a difference in schools. What surprises me is that so few teachers know about it or pay much attention to it – at #tmBETT14 recently, when Oliver Quinlan spoke about it, I saw several tweets from people who hadn’t heard of it before. A second surprise is that digital technology is so far down the list – the consequence of this is that you’re far better off investing your resources in training your teachers to give effective feedback than your are investing in technology.

3. We have lots of change, so let’s keep what we can the same. Curricula are changing. Assessment regimes are changing. Teacher standards and performance management have changed. Entire schooling structures are changing with free schools and academy chains. This means we should keep what we can the same – why invest in radically different technology, when our teachers have already had so much change to deal with?

So summing this up: we don’t have much money; spending what we have on technology is probably a waste; changing things puts additional stress on to our teachers.

This is where Chromebooks come in

  • they are cheap. At under £200 each, a class set costs £6000 and support costs are less than £600 a year. The money you save on such a cheap solution can go into funding the interventions that actually make a difference.

  • teachers don’t have to learn anything to use them. Since Chromebooks just do the web – and everyone knows how to use that – learning to use them is not a huge CPD piece.

I have a load of other reasons for why Chromebooks are an amazing device for school but right there were my main two: they are cheap and they are easy. That means all staff in school can spend their time getting on with their main business, which is educating our children.

Raising Standards at #BETT_2014

It’s easy to get blinded by the shiny when you visit BETT. Acres upon acres of fantastic equipment, software and services feast your eyes. Eager young sales-people yearn to catch your attention. Each one wants to show you how their product will change your school.

I know I’ve been blinded by the shiny in the past. I’ve come across products that I’m convinced will make that one amazing difference to my students. But when I’ve invested the cash, actually they haven’t. Staff and students have been disappointed instead.

The problem with technology is that with every failure, a significant number of staff within a school are disenfranchised. Education, which is essentially a simple process involving teacher and student, is sometimes not served by extra layers of technology. And when technology becomes a barrier certain teachers are put off, sometimes for good.

So this BETT I get to do a short talk myself. I’m on at the leader’s summit talking about raising standards. If you’re there at 1:15 on Friday January 24th you can catch what I’m going to say, which is essentially the story of using technology well to raise standards. I’m concerned about the amount of money that gets spent on technology without this focus and my story is one of success with limited budgets, where children achieve even in deprived circumstances. I’ve entitled my talk Raising Standards with technology: How to make the most of Pupil Premium Funding, but I guess I could have entitled it Raising Standards in Austerity Times.

Hopefully see you there!