The hidden cost of the Chromebook

When I bought 20 laptops for my school and put them in a trolley back in 2007 I thought I had solved my school’s IT problems. No more badly laid out IT suite – the future was mobile. I had bought 20 cheap but reliable windows laptops. These devices would be used by the teacher in their own classrooms. Wow – I thought I was starting a revolution.

But I hadn’t counted on the hidden costs.

At the time, all the software we were using was Windows based and it all cost money. About 25% the cost of each device. And then there were technician costs. Setting up the things and configuring them for the network seemed to take days. But looking back it was about 6 half days – about 5% of the cost of the devices. After setting up, some of the devices went wrong – they needed software re-installing and drivers updating. Another 5%. And after a year some of the batteries started to go – not for all of the machines, just three or four – but it was expensive and added another 5% to the price of the solution.

But the biggest hidden cost was teacher time. The laptops took at least 5 minutes to fully load and get onto the network. Do this three times a day and you’re looking at 15 minutes a day. Do this every day in a 192-day UK school year and you’re looking at about 15 days. That’s £3000 at current supply rates, or about 50% of the cost of the solution. And that doesn’t even count the disillusionment that the teachers feel at the wasted time at the start of each lesson.

What’s more, having to charge the laptops up over dinner time, because with only 3 hours battery life, they wouldn’t last into the afternoon, caused even more time loss and frustration.

But now I have Chromebooks. The hidden cost is £19 for the management console. Setting up time takes 2 hours for 30 Chromebooks and my technician doesn’t need to do it – some volunteer children in Year 6 do it instead. The battery means they last all day. The eight-second start up is a huge bonus for teachers previously frustrated by technology. In short the hidden costs are about 10% of the device cost. Compare that with the laptops I bought in 2007 where the hidden costs where at least 85% of the cost of the device and you can see why I’m so pleased with the Chromebook solution.

Have you counted the hidden costs of your IT solution?

Why am I saying this now? Time to declare an interest: I’m presenting at the free, online Google Education on Air Conference this Saturday with the title “Chromebooks, the easy classroom companion.” I’ll be telling some of my school’s story with using Chromebooks over the last 4 years and explaining more of why Chromebooks are the ideal device for the classroom. Come along, join in and share your view…

Developing Digital Literacies. #3: have a specialist

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

3. Have a specialist.

During my first module on the Mathematics Specialist Teacher programme (MAST) at Edge Hill university I learned some of the things that drove the need to have some maths specialists in primary schools. Firstly there is a prevailing attitude in the UK that it is OK to be be bad at maths. Secondly many primary teachers do not have more than a GCSE grade C in maths. What they were saying was that each school needs to have someone on the team to be both an advocate for maths and a developer of teachers, so that maths teaching is improved.

Surely it is the same for IT (sorry – computing) specialists?

Does every school expect all its staff to be experts in digital literacy? What about just being interested in digital literacy? Or as I posted previously, do all teachers yearn to be digitally literate? Maybe a starting point is for every school to have one person interested in this area.

Certainly it helps to have a digitally literate member of the leadership team. I have spoken to many headteachers who are fearful of Facebook and other social media because of the potential damage it can cause. They hear scare stories about professionals who have brought their organisation into disrepute by misusing Facebook, like this one, and their first response is to lock it down – have nothing to do with it – if it doesn’t come into school, it can’t get us.

This is where the specialist comes in. A specialist can convince the rest of the team that digital stuff can be used positively. They can make the team more productive and more effective. That person can quell the fears and quash the myths that build up around social media. They can be advocate and developer.

Let’s all go to the ICT suite and make posters

Sometimes you’ve got to give credit where it is due. And today’s credit goes to Rising Stars, Miles Berry, Terry Freedman and a load of other ICT specialists. It goes to the Switched On ICT Scheme of Work.

Gone are the days when ICT consisted of going to the ICT suite and making posters. No longer is ‘Knowledge and Understanding of How to Use Publisher’ the pinnacle of ICT excellence. ‘Embedding ICT’ consists no more of allowing pupils to research during lessons, nor playing a game on the interactive whiteboard.

No. Now we have Switched On ICT.

Now I have children in my school who are blogging, creating wikis, making games, drawing, writing and using maps. And I have teachers who are more confident at using these tools to enhance their English and maths teaching.

Blogging, to take one example, is great because it gives children an audience to write for, which is motivational for them, but more importantly demands a precision of language that might be otherwise ignored in ICT. Children can’t spell or punctuate badly in a public space like a blog, so they have to edit and refine their work, improving their writing habits while they do so.

I introduced Switched on ICT to my staff about a year ago and this academic year we have used it in all our topic planning. Well, let me qualify that – we have embedded Switched on ICT units within existing topics as either ‘cart’ or ‘horse’. Here’s the metaphor – when Switched on ICT is the cart it follows the topic as an add-on – it might be vaguely related with the subject matter of the topic – but not wanting to create spurious or tenuous links, it might exist on its own – like a mini-week of ICT within the sweep of the larger topic. Whereas when Switched on ICT is the horse, it leads the rest of the topic – pulling it along with it.

An example of the cart in action is this. Last term Year 4 did ‘We are musicians’ learning various compositional knowledge using ICT. It had a link with the topic, but the teacher taught it as a week on its own. One week in which the children were taught music and ICT – a bit like a cart being pulled along by the ‘horse’ of the main topic.

An example of the horse is again from Year 4. This term they are doing “We are co-authors”. It works really well with their Rainforest topic because they can have a Wiki as the overall outcome of their whole topic, working as co-authors to make it – I think they’ll probably finish up with a kind of A-Z of rainforests. In this example the Switched on ICT unit leads the whole topic.

Not only is Switched on ICT an inspiring way to enliven topics, but it is also really easy to plan and teach from. I’ve had teachers without much confidence in ICT tell me that all they had to do was open up the book, read through the sequence of lessons and begin teaching – which is much preferable to shutting the book and finding excuses for not teaching it – something that I’ve known happen to some other bought-in schemes.

So let’s not go to the ICT suite and make posters. Let’s teach from Switched on ICT instead.

The trouble with shared spaces – a small step towards #BYOD.

… is that nobody takes responsibility for them.

There I’ve said it. It’s a fact we all know: one that my wife would echo back to me with a wry smile on her face; one that was proved time and time again when I lived in shared accommodation as a student…

It’s a fact that has irritated me somewhat during the previous academic year. My school is blessed with an abundance of space. We were one that was previously two-form entry and is now only one – so we have spare classrooms. And like all people we have expanded into them. Many of the classrooms have become shared spaces. Messy spaces. Disorganised spaces. Under-used spaces.

So this year I resolved to make more space-owners. I’ve assigned many of the previously troublesome shared spaces to individuals in the hope that they would become tidier, more organised and more purposeful. Already these rooms have started to look wonderful as the people in question have started to enact their vision of them and I’m sure they’ll continue to look great when the children start back on Thursday.

Then I came to the ICT cabinet.

With 2 years of dust, assorted wires, some Wii controllers, an empty drinks carton, 3 spiders and some defunct equipment –  it was truly a mess. The picture shows the empty cabinet, its broken perspex frontage the victim of one too many footballs hitting it.

It was truly a testament to the problem of a shared space. Nobody really owns the hall. People just use it. Assemblies, games lessons, rehersals, choir, even Indian dance lessons (Yes, David Cameron – Indian Dance!). What this means is that over time, people plug and unplug their own devices, leave bits and bobs and because it looks a complex birds nest of wires, the cleaners never clean it.

Here’s some of the stuff I found in the cabinet.

So a new resolution for this cabinet. Only 3 wires – a network cable, a video cable and an audio cable. From now on people can bring their own device and plug that in.

Just like rooms, devices get looked after by their owners. And maybe a bit of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) here will end up with BYOD everywhere and for everyone in the school – staff and students alike.


Albert Rosenfield and Compassion in ICT


Now you listen to me. While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchetman in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method… is love.” Albert Rosenfield, Twin Peaks 1990.


I’ve been able to quote those words pretty accurately for the past twenty years but have only just made the link today between those words and the increasingly positive ICT environment at my current school. It took the help of a blog from @colport entitled ‘I am the ICT co-ordinator, not the technician‘ to do so.


The above blog mentions various twitter comments concerning the rather inept use of ICT by some ICT-illiterate teachers and the consequential effects on over-worked ICT co-ordinators. I too have experienced my fair share of inept ICT use – being urgently called to the other end of the school to rescue an ICT disastor only to find a button hasn’t been pressed or a power lead plugged in. What got me thinking though was that I seem to be experiencing far less of those issues now than I was a few years ago. But why?


Well let’s go through Albert’s words carefully:


1. Now you listen to me.


It has to be said that I am not only ICT co-ordinator, but also a senior leader in the school. That helps with getting things done and changing attitudes. It helps me because I am in the kind of position where people have to listen to me.


However I’ve been in less senior positions in the past and got people listening and my way of doing it is presenting irrefutable data about efficiency savings to governors and SLT meetings. For example, walking into a school and discovering that there was no follow up plans to support the £20000 the governors had invested on the new ICT system, I pointed out (using an interactive excel spreadsheet) that all that equipment would be broken or obselete within 5 years. Therefore the minimum maintenance cost would be 20% (i.e. £4000) per year without taking into account inflation or the need to buy newer better technologies in the future. It’s a powrful argument. Especially if you use different colours on Excel. And graphs.


While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchetman in the fight against violence.


OK it’s not violence I’m talking about now, although I would like to think that in the right context I would be a naysayer and a hatchetman in the fight against violence. I suppose my fight is against ICT apathy. The solution here is actually a range of solutions… Let me explain:


If you have always have the same response to each ICT problem then teachers will not develop. Sometimes I respond immediately, dash down and fix the problem. Other times I give them some suggestions and trouble shooting tips. Sometimes I’ll ask their line manager to sort it out (my fellow senior leaders are not as adept as I at ICT, but are refreshingly keen and give it a go). I try to be emotionally intelligent about my response – consider the person, the way they asked, the time of day, the impending nearness of any observed lesson, that sort of thing. However, I do find that I’m not near the top of the emotional intelligence league at my school. This could be something about being a bloke in a female-dominated environment but that’s another post for another day.


Following the event if it’s a one-off I may leave it, but if it is happening persistently I’ll sit down with the person and give them some top tips on trouble shooting. Incidently, years ago when I worked for a now-defunct engineering firm I was taught the three rules of fixing things in British engineering and I do find they genearrly work for Microsoft-based things:

  1. Switch it off and switch it on again.
  2. Switch it off go away and have coffee, then switch it on again.
  3. Switch if off, kick it, then switch it on again.

I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King.


I have a dream that one day all staff will be aspirational with their ICT use. That PCs will live side by side with Macs and that all staff will use the best tech that suits them to achieve the educational goals they have for their children.


No but seriously, the punch is that 2 minute dash to someone else’s room to fix a problem that leaves you that little bit unprepared for your next lesson – it’s that half-drunk cup of coffee at break or the five minutes you get home later that day because of the extra conversation you’ve had about effective ICT use. It’s worth it, because it’s building something bigger.


My concerns are global.


They are. I really do want the whole school to do well, not just my class. At some times of the year other classes are more important than mine – for example at the moment, teaching Year 6 pretty much solely revolves around the leaver’s production, whereas the Reception class are preparing for that important transition to national curriculum. Their learning is more important to the whole school than year 6’s interesting rendition of ‘Say Goodbye’ (by S Club 7)


I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation.


I am quite sarcastic as a person, but have found that with fixing stuff I need to curb my sarcasm. People respond better and they learn to do it for themselves. I still have bad days though and need to work on this.


The foundation of such a method… is love.


Love is quite a contentious word, so I prefer compassion. I must remember that some of my colleagues aren’t geeks. They don’t spend their time nailed to a blog or researching something new. I want the gap between my skills and their skills to narrow and marvellously on the way I can learn stuff from them (like how to be more emotionally intelligent for a start…)


Albert Rosenfield himself


The technician is crucial.


For those of you who don’t know Twin Peaks, Albert Rosenfield was the expert coroner / scientist type chap who supported Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigations. He was first introduced as a rather abrasive and dismissive expert who has no sympathy for the paucity of knowledge of those who live out in the sticks. In fact he says at one point: “Oh yeah, well I’ve had about enough of morons and half wits, dolts, dunces, dullards and dumbbells… and you, you chowder-head yokel, you blithering hayseed. You’ve had enough of me?” That does slightly remind me of some ICT technicians I’ve met (some, mind – I’ve met loads of great ones). Anyway, as the series develops Albert becomes more and more a crucial part of the team, supporting the investigation and even becoming firm friends with the ‘yokel-sherrif’ he had once despised.


The parallel with our own ICT technician is very similar. He hs become a crucial part of our team. He is my chief buyer and adviser of the best tech to purchase. He has no fear of talking to the sometimes highly rigid LA ICT people, in fact he has led on the development of our Moodle platform, organising training and suggesting the best way to go forward at a strategic level. And that’s on top of the day-to-day operational stuff he does. We only buy him in for half a day a week too. Even more so than any interactions I have made with the staff over the last few years, it has been the interactions we have had with him that have reduced those annoying time-wasting ICT problems that we used to have. We still have them, but things are getting better, not worse.

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