In January 2016, we were challenged by our new HeadTeacher to do things differently in terms of ICT. We were asked what we might do to improve young people's digital skills, with a little investment. The only proviso was that we had to come up with something different. This was not an opportunity to replace ageing hardware. Whilst there will always be a need for high spec, hard wired PCs (to run software such as Inventor, Serif and Photoshop for subjects such as Art & Design, Computing and Design & Technology), this was to be seen as something new. Whole school IT rooms of 20 or 30 PCs had served us well up until now, but they have their issues: access is limited, the machines are ageing, they are not looked after well, they take forever to log on (as they are dealing with so many different profiles over a week).
Our proposal was to provide a Google Chromebook to every pupil. This is not new. East Lothian have been using Chromebooks in education for a few years. Highland Council began their pilot last year and West Dunbartonshire council are to give a Chromebook to every P7 this term. Other LAs, such as Edinburgh Council, have taken a similar approach but with iPads.
Why Google Chromebook?
Our digital learning team looked closely at all existing Scottish LA pilot schemes, as well as those from further afield. The chosen device needed to be portable and affordable and functional. Feedback from our young people suggested that the wanted a keyboard. "Tablets are good for games but I wouldn't do my homework on them" was the response. Highland Council have explained why they chose the Chromebook on their learning blog - we agree with them so won't repeat it all here!
We currently have over 100 Netbooks and 30 iPads connecting to our school WiFi network. The Netbooks connect to the school server but the iPads don't. The WiFi in January 2016 was unreliable and each WiFi hub was only capable of connecting 15 devices at one time. 'No logon servers' was a common message. The broadband itself was slow and progress to update it was even slower. As a result, many teachers had stopped using the unreliable Internet as the common issues were counter productive to the benefits of using technology in learning.
The broadband connection problems were being addressed, but we realised that a more reliable and better connected WiFi network was essential if we were to realise our ambition of putting anywhere, anytime technology in to the hands of our young people. We agreed to fund the installation of a new WiFi infrastructure. The next step was to gather views from staff, young people and parents and learn from the other Scottish pilots who had proceeded us.