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How to prepare for a Chromebook deployment

By Bradley Chambers in · Solutions · February 17, 2015

Chromebooks are a hot item in the education sector right now. It’s not hard to see why:

  • They are inexpensive.
  • They are heavily integrated with Google Apps, which a lot of schools are using.
  • They scale well for 1:1, but are also manageable in shared deployments due to the fast login time and syncing of data.
  • The deployments are “turn key” since the management console is tied into your existing Google Administrator dashboard.

The danger with Chromebooks is that it’s a little too easy to deploy them.

You get in touch with a reseller, decide on a model, and place the order. Most schools will then just start handing them out from there. The problem with this scenario is that it ignores basic deployment principles that Fraser Speirs and I have come up with. We did an entire series on iPad deployments in 2014, but the basic principles remain the same.

Let’s look at the proper steps for a successful Chromebook deployment:

Vision and Leadership

This is the key to all technology deployments. This is necessary before you even decide that you are deploying a Chromebook. This is the step that can lead you to pick Chrome OS as a platform. This step must come from the top of the school organizational chart. All deployments face challenges, but having a strong vision from a strong leader will drive it towards success.

Infrastructure Analysis

The Chromebook is meant to be online. While it can work offline, the power is in access to the Internet. If you are coming from a desktop computer lab model, don’t assume your current network is ready for classrooms full of Chromebooks. You first need to look at your incoming bandwidth:

  • Do you have enough?
  • Can you get more easily?

It’s not wise to deploy 500 Chromebooks with a 5 MB connection from your ISP. What you need is going to be determined by the size of your school and size of deployment. Be aware of what you have vs what you can get quickly if your current speed proves to be unable to meet your day to day needs.

After looking at your incoming bandwidth, you want to start are the wired level. Are your firewall and switches ready for prime time? If you are still running 100 MB switches, it’s definitely time to upgrade them. If your firewall is out of warranty and being end of life’d from your vendor, it is also time to address that as well. 

A key component to any Chromebook deployment is enterprise grade Wi-Fi. These devices don’t even have ethernet ports, so Wi-Fi is their only means of connecting to the network. If you are still using consumer grade access points that are individually managed, then stop and figure out how you are going to buy an enterprise grade system before your purchase the first Chromebook.

Your deployment will not be successful unless you have a Wi-Fi system that you can easily manage and troubleshoot.

Device Selection

Chromebooks come in quite a few models. They range in size from 11“ to 15” with local storage generally ranging from 16 GB to 32 GB. Schools receive unlimited storage with Google Drive, so the storage size isn’t as important on Chromebooks as it is on iPads.

The local storage is essentially where you can cache content for offline use. Most schools will likely adopt the 11“ for student computers, but I recommend giving faculty a choice. I prefer a 13” laptop, but others might prefer something else.

Processor and RAM are also other options you can choose. I recommend at least 4 GB of ram, but processor will largely depend on budget vs deployment requirements. My main recommendation is to not just get the cheapest. It’s worth spending a little extra money, if possible, in order to get a better device. Don’t forget to consider battery life, as well. You will want something that can last the entire school day.

Unlike the iPad, there are a host of manufacturers for the Chromebook. Samsung, Toshiba, Dell, and Acer are among the brands you can pick. I don’t have a real solid recommendation here other than it might be helpful to get a few and put them through a trial run (testing trackpad, Wi-Fi, etc). Acer has just recently announced some education specific models that include increased drop protection and reinforced hinges. 

Teacher Training

Just because the Chromebook is one of the most simplified computing devices on the market, don’t assume your teachers know what they are doing. While many of them are probably familiar with some of Google’s tools, this is a good time to do a reset. Start at the beginning and go over the basics. 

  • Gmail tips (contact groups, signatures, labels, filters, etc.)
  • Google Calendar workflow (shared calendars, etc.)
  • Google Drive (sharing controls, document management, creation, etc.)

After you get everyone on the same page, it’s time to start diving into Google Classroom, and how to use it to handle classroom assignment management.

Conclusion

Chromebooks offer a lot of flexibility from a financial and usability perspectives for schools. Are they a perfect device? No. Are they better than iPads? It all depends on your deployment goals. I’m a big advocate of defining your goals first and then looking at the device after. Define your problem, and then find a solution.

Bradley Chambers (@bradleychambers )

Bradley Chambers has been the Director of Information Technology at Brainerd Baptist School since 2009. At BBS, he manages a network of Apple and Chrome OS devices. He also writes at Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup.