Chromebooks are being used in classrooms across schools in US, UK and elsewhere. When students from such schools enter university classrooms and see traditional lecture rooms where information is disseminated in a one-way fashion, will they be shocked or awed?
In this post Manish Malik ( Senior Lecturer, University of Portsmouth, Manish.firstname.lastname@example.org) discusses a pilot study that found that staff and students supported using Chromebooks for summative and formative assessments and active learning activities. Manish also outlines how Chromebooks can be used to help flip the traditional teaching model used within higher education settings and help make computer based tests (CBTs) more flexible.
When I first heard about Google Chromebooks, I did not pay much heed as they seemed only a little bit more than a tablet device with a laptop form factor. But then, I learnt about the admin panel of Chromebooks and what you could remotely control with it.
The admin panel makes Chromebooks quite special as from there you can remotely control multiple devices associated to your Google Apps domain. This meant that these devices could be locked down to specific websites and therefore could be suitable for running both formative and summative computer based tests (CBTs). Given that we could block distracting sites, or allow only a predetermined list of sites, or let students use Chromebooks to freely access the web, these devices lend themselves very well for use within active learning activities in classrooms.
My vision was to enable active learning, through the use of technology, within all lecture rooms and to make computer based tests much more flexible. However, it is not enough to just discover a new technology or to build pedagogic use cases for it to be widely used within any institution. As Open University’s ex VC, Martin Bean would say, “people, process and technology” are all equally important for such a change to come about. To this end, I jointly led an institution-wide pilot, along with the Dr. Stephen Webb (Head of Technology Enhanced Learning, University of Portsmouth), focusing on the areas outlined below. The findings of the pilot and my reflections are also stated below.
- Student experience of using these devices in active learning classroom activities and in CBTs.
- The usability of these devices for the above purpose.
- The views of staff on Chromebooks as enablers of active learning and flexible CBTs.
- Logistics, accessibility, technology and the costs involved in using and maintaining Chromebooks.
Details of the pilot
- A pre-pilot carried out to evaluate students' views on the form factor of the device and the overall usability for use in CBTs. Engineering students used these devices to access Moodle-based CBTs and Google Docs based in class activities.
- The pilot study engaged staff and their students from across all five faculties within the University.
- 30 Dell Chromebooks were used, at first on loan from a supplier; we later purchased these devices to continue the project. We also purchased a LocknCharge cabinet to store and charge the devices in a safe and convenient way.
- University classrooms are well equipped with one or more wireless access points. Each one of these access points is able to support 60 simultaneous connections.
- Two profiles were created for the staff and students to use. A classroom mode allowed access to the entire web; a profile for CBTs only allowed access to Moodle-based tests.
- In-class activities such as voting applications and Google Docs-based collaborative work were identified and used.
- Several Moodle-based CBTs (formative and summative) were identified and delivered using Chromebooks.
Findings and reflections
Staff and students were on the whole very positive and supportive of using Chromebooks for in-class active learning activities as this provided them with a refreshing change from one-way information dissemination in a traditional lecture room. The devices facilitate interaction between students and teaching staff, which can be done in an anonymous way and is therefore empowering. Examples of such activities include using in-class voting systems, collaborative Google Docs editing, research activities, recording a group video and presenting it later on in the class. This means that any normal lecture theatre or seminar room can turn into a Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) room – assuming the presence of these devices and a Wifi access point. Students found Chromebooks very easy to get used to and simple to operate. We ran several active learning sessions using these devices and all ran very well, except one in which a planned network outage affected the session. This example highlights the need for better communication between users of Chromebooks and any network infrastructure updates and outages. Of course, we agree that the focus should be on pedagogical use of Chromebooks or else we will “miss the Gorrilla”!
Staff and students were also positive and supportive of using Chromebooks for CBTs, both formative and summative in nature. This means that if a school has a set number of Chromebooks at their disposal they can turn any seminar room, or any room with leveled seating, in to an examination room to run CBTs. This can give great flexibility from a timetabling point of view. We ran several exams using these devices and all ran without any issues. The same Chromebooks that were used in active learning activities can be programmatically locked to just one or a list of URLs for exams. These devices can then be remotely changed to classroom mode. This means that the devices can be in use not only during exam periods but also during teaching periods.
Both staff and students came up with new ideas and approaches to using Chromebooks within their practice. For example, one staff member envisaged using them for marking Turnitin Assignments, while another used them in staff development sessions. Students mentioned that the devices would be useful to those who do not have laptops to make notes in classroom. This means that if the modern classrooms are injected with a dose of these devices they will enable the development of new uses that we have not yet thought about. The admin control panel provides flexible profiles where one could allow access to the entire web, a whitelist of sites or could block certain sites. All managed Chromebooks can be remotely controlled to be in a specific profile that suits a specific scenario such as exam, active learning classroom or something else.
I will certainly be progressing in making my vision a reality at Portsmouth and will no doubt be learning more as I do so.
Have you used, or will you be using, Chromebooks in this or any other way in your classrooms? How have you used them? Are there any reasons why you would not use them?
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