Friends don’t let friends use Chromebooks for CoolMath.

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels

This post was originally posted in ChangeLeaders Community… I’m the community manager there and we love to curate, share, and discuss topics of interest in the educational leadership and innovation realm. Think you’d like to join us? (You do.) Clickity click.

Bruce (Dixon) called my attention to GoGuardian‘s recently published “research” findings about how Chromebooks are being used in classrooms. Titled The 2018 Benchmark Report: A Four Part Seriesthe company is looking to provide insights into “emerging trends” in Chromebook usage. If you are using Chromebooks in your schools or are thinking about how to approach technology integration in your organizations, do give it a look.

But read it with an open, inquisitive mind. I, for one, am still on the hunt for the actual research publication that helped generate the infographics shared on the GoGuardian site. I would love to know more about which types of schools were included in the research study (it mentions 5 million K-12 Chromebook users, but are the students enrolled in schools who pay to use GoGuardian’s services?), how the data was collected (seems to me most of it was pulled right from the tracking features included with GoGuardian), and other components of the research framework. Until I find that, I’ll have to take some of these published findings at face value.

Survey says!

Andy Losik (STEM teacher, Helpful Guy) recently blogged a reflection to these findings: An American Chromebook Crisis: new report shows sad trends of how students are using the devices.

Crisis? Clickbait for sure.

Sad trends? Perhaps.

As Andy summarizes,

In short a huge amount of Chromebook use is being spent on educationally questionable video games, low level assessments, and YouTube with the two highest trending websites for over 5,000,000 learners (after G Suite for Education) being CoolMath Games and Renaissance Learning, the parent company to Accelerated Reader and other assessments.

I totally believe this is happening. But I’m apt to believe this is a people problem, not a Chromebook problem.

Before Chromebooks were made readily available at a seemingly irresistible low price point, there were computer labs. There were PCs. There were Macbooks. There were iPads. And I’ve worked in districts that use all of these devices, and those who are 1:1 with Windows devices or with iPads are just as susceptible to this problem as Chromebook-using schools, where the devices are used as: expensive paperweights, and/or digital replacements for traditional student assignments, and/or venues through which kids use digital content providers meant to “personalize learning”, and/or a place where kids get to play games of choice as behavioral incentives, and/or only in the classrooms where teachers are comfortable with the presence of the devices, and/or only in a situation where the Haves get access and the Have Nots are at a disadvantage because they do not, and/or ways to keep kids quiet.

CoolMath, for one, a game website that a) perhaps just recently infected Missy’s computer, and b) requires little to no preparation for use in the classroom, is among the top visited sites according to the survey.

Wildly disappointing, which means the purchase of these devices is a really expensive investment in something that amounts to not much more than babysitting.

In terms of G Suite for Education use, check out this summary:

Now I don’t love the heading here, it’s a bit confusing to someone who knows Google Sites is an application in and of itself, but compared to Google Docs (which likely includes use of Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings – could be for substitution-level projects, could be for more detailed creations, we don’t know), YouTube is the next most frequently visited site in the Google realm according to this survey.

That could be a red flag if students are using YouTube for basic consumption. Lots of districts run into bandwidth problems because students stream music and videos from YouTube all day while they’re working. (I stream Pandora or Spotify while I’m working, don’t you? I don’t know very many people that work and create in complete silence). Which is why a lot of schools block YouTube in its entirety.

But what we also know is that YouTube is the place to go when you want to learn something new. When you need detailed instructions on how to do something, when you want to hear from others about their own experiences. It’s a place to share learning. It’s a place to help you kickstart your own learning.

It’s one of the places you can go when your school doesn’t provide you with the resources you need to help you move forward on your own learning journey.

How are students using Chromebooks? From the report:

Let all of that sink in. How many of the above bullet points involve student creation or critical thinking? How many do you think are a result of personal learning for students? Probably not even the ones stamped PERSONALIZED CONTENT.

So, what is the real crisis?

The problem emerging with Chromebooks is that because they’re shiny and new, because they’re relatively inexpensive, because the districts next door are going “all in” with these devices, administrative teams are being influenced to take the plunge. Why invest in a few hundred Macbook Pros, for example, when we could outfit every single student with a device?! 1:1 with Chromebooks!

We will be so innovative!

There are schools whose students learn, create and share masterfully with Chromebooks. There are schools who are 1:1 with Macbooks whose students fall short of what we’d consider ideal creation and don’t really make their learning visible.

What makes the difference?

The real crisis surrounding technology integration is a leadership crisis.

It’s a vision crisis. It’s the crisis that most of our schools are built around teaching cultures, not learning cultures. It’s a lack-of-clarity crisis.

Wrong: Hmm, should we get more devices? Maybe Chromebooks. They’re on the cheap. Teachers, can you think about how these can support your instruction? Teachers, can you think about how these will allow you to deliver content? Can we think about programs we can subject students to that will allow us to more easily collect assessment data? Will our test scores go up if our kids start using these devices? How can we control what kids do on these things?

Right: What do we know about how modern learners learn most powerfully? What do we believe are important elements of a classroom experience that will help students thrive as learners? How can the use of device(s) support all students in this capacity? What types of devices will allow students to be the do-ers, the programmers, the creators? Moving forward, what’s our plan to make sure that happens? How can we foster environments where students are agents of learning, where they decide the how, when, where, what of using devices?

GoGuardian’s report doesn’t necessarily make me reconsider the use of Chromebooks in schools. It makes me even more cognizant of the fact that school leadership and technology teams need to recommit themselves to establishing purpose, defining learning in their organizations, and developing strategies and device acquisition plans that will allow students to uncover learning in this information-at-your-fingertips age. That rarely involves the purchase of one type of device and/or one type of program that will meet the needs of individual learners.

Would love to hear from you in the comments. From your perspectives, what’s working with technology integration? What’s not? Can you provide examples of how the devices are supporting powerful learning, and could you explain why you think that is?


P.S. In full disclosure, I am a Google for Education Certified Trainer and I do a lot of work with G Suite, Chromebooks, and learning with teachers and administrative teams across the country. But for me, as often as possible, I try to help them make sense of it all. Why do you need these devices in the first place? What can students learn with these devices at their disposal, and how will they share that learning?

Stop teaching digital citizenship.

Yeah. I wanted you to click on that title. Thanks for stopping by! 😉

Yesterday I spent the day at #DigCitNYC, hosted by Google in their NYC location. 100+ educators/Google for Edu trainers/consultants/parents/teachers/ businesspeople/learners joined together to talk about the ideals of digital citizenship and how Google’s products & services can support those efforts.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living a double professional life. I spend much of my time inside ChangeLeaders Community, where, as community manager, I encourage members to push and challenge and share with one another and we try to think differently about school. We don’t emphasize the use of technology in schools. We don’t particularly care for ambiguous, overhyped buzzwords like personalized learning and digital citizenship, and we’re working hard to bring real change to organizations. We always try to put learning first. ChangeLeaders is a closed community run through Mighty Networks and intentionally serves as an interactive, safe space for discourse. No noise to inhibit learning.

I also work as an educational consultant and spend many days with teachers in my role as Google for Education Certified Trainer. Consulting days are often tool-centric. Technology-centric. Lots of free tools shared. People want to know what’s out there, how it works, and why they should use it. We tinker a lot, both with ideas and with apps & services. I try to muster all the energy in the room to keep things focused on what strong pedagogy infused with a kick of technology looks like, but we almost always use the little time we have to explore tools & tech & techniques.

Yesterday, Stephen Balkam from FOSI shared 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting, Kerry Gallagher shared the latest from ConnectSafely, and Google team members and teachers shared as well.

Not surprisingly, there was lots of talk about “teaching digital citizenship.” Not so much about learning.

Are we making these lessons relevant to students’ lives? I heard one teacher in the audience tell a peer, “We do teach this stuff. But they hear it, and then they just go back to doing what they were doing.” So for kids, when does it sink in? What stories do we need to tell? Do they need to tell us?

Teachers, principals, parents… we’re still operating in fear-based mode when it comes to misuse of technology in schools. And absolutely, there need to be strict disciplinary measures taken for illegal and bullying behaviors. But for off-task behaviors? When I hear a teacher say something like, “If you’re not careful with the computers, you’re going to get worksheets,” I roll my eyes. Which is what his/her students probably do. Doesn’t seem much like a learning-forward sanction to me.

Lots of the digital citizenship activities out there are pretty contrived. Search for the digital footprints for these 3 make believe characters and fill out this worksheet sharing all you could find. How about, Use Google search and images to find out everything you can about your teacher? Or principal? Or a public figure that students are interested in? They’re doing it anyway. What’s going to be more effective? A worksheet? Or creating conditions for that type of activity to be done in class, with supportive adults, who can then finesse discussions and allow kids to really delve into their findings and implications? Are we considering the broader importance of helping students become digitally literate, not just well-behaved online? I reviewed Doug Belshaw’s work on digital literacy back in 2013, worth a read.

Yesterday we worked in small teams to share two hopes and two fears on this topic, and it seemed the majority of groups hoped that we could better engage families and parents in this discussion, and fears were that many teachers don’t take seriously their responsibilities to include digital citizenship lessons in their classrooms because they see it as someone else’s job. Or, they don’t address these issues because they don’t have the resources.

The resources are out there, and most of them are free. Whether you choose from Google’s Be Internet Awesome or Common Sense Media or any of the ConnectSafely resources, you can put together a fairly comprehensive curricula based on the needs of your students.

The resources or lack thereof, in my opinion, aren’t the issue. The issue is that teachers, and many other adults in students’ lives, do not have command of their own digital lives, and they lack the confidence to discuss these issues in meaningful ways with students. The adults are still trying to make sense of their digital worlds, strike a balance with online and offline time, seek to understand just what the heck kids are doing and sharing via social networks, and I think for many adults, it’s easier for them to live in a bubble and ignore the digital crisis that’s emerging, or simply say to kids, “This is bad for you. No phones in class. No social networks. No internet. No no no.”

Take a step back from the curriculum, the scope and sequence, the online programs.

Look at your students. Listen to your students. Work in time for morning meetings, advisory meetings, student-led forums, student digital health task forces. Educate the teachers. The administration. Help every adult who impacts a child’s life be confident with their own digital lives. Help them understand safety & security, privacy & data, the opportunities and the risks the internet provides. Together with the support of as many families and community members as possible, make a plan to address this that involves student learning, not “teaching digital citizenship.”  

Last week Will Richardson wrote What is the internet becoming?  We need to reflect seriously on the spaces kids are frequenting, their behaviors in those spaces, and whether or not we’re doing our best to mitigate the risks that come with online interactions while also taking advantage of the connections, enhanced communications and collaborative opportunities the internet provides.

My hope? The children in our care now, the ones who are trying to finesse their digital literacy skills, will be the people who can help bring rational thought, joy, and truth back to online spaces. They can be the ones who start to demand honesty in publications and news reporting outlets, respectful discourse in online communities, and equal treatment of all.

We have to put our own insecurities aside and help them do it.


Are you ready for Change, Leaders? A Community invitation.

Photo by William White via Unsplash

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working with one of the finest teams in educational leadership and innovative teaching & learning, and I’m pretty darn excited about it.

That team is Modern Learners.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Will Richardson, Bruce Dixon, and Missy Emler, be sure to visit Modern Learners now and listen to their podcasts, read the Shifting Conversations content, and get to know the lenses through which school leaders should seek to bring together shifts in beliefs and changes in practice, all influenced by the context of the world we’re living in today.

So what have we been up to? Will, Bruce, and Missy have ignited a spark in educational leaders through their work in Change.School, “a powerful 8-week online experience for educational leaders who are serious about designing and creating relevant, sustainable change in their schools and districts.” Change.School participants are serious, dedicated, innovative leaders who are looking to move their schools forward in powerful ways. As a result of the work in those cohorts, the need became apparent for a space where fellow administrative colleagues, building-level leaders, and teacher leaders could come together and delve into issues and ideas relevant for today’s school leaders.

Enter ChangeLeaders Community: 

“Where courageous educational leaders get real about learning and schooling.”

Networks are really important to me. I’m not the educator I was ten years ago, and connected learning is one of the reasons why. The ideals of connectivism really resonate with me, and I don’t think you can be a successful leader without a formidable, knowledgeable, supportive network. That being said, many educators have, in recent years, embraced the idea of developing a Personal Learning Network aka PLN, and using the connections made via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+ to name a few), to support their learning and professional development. (If you are new to connected learning, be sure to read Why do I need to reinvent my PLN? and My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever! to ground yourself as you continue navigating these waters.)

For the past two years or so, I’ve felt kind of meh about PLN-ing. Interactions from typical social spaces haven’t done much to influence my thinking and learning. There has to be more. It’s been hard for me to get excited about what I read, see, and experience in Twitter and on Facebook, even in groups dedicated to educational chit-chat.

And why is that?

Because networks are not communities, and well-crafted communities better support learning.

Networks are important, of course, because with every connection made, collective knowledge can emerge. In Network vs. Community by Clint LaLonde (2010), he shares a remark by George Siemens who attempts to distinguish between networks and communities. In short, there are more explicit norms and expectations for participation in communities. And in ChangeLeaders, we expect participation from our members and know that our community will thrive on member contributions!

Will our ChangeLeaders Community develop into a true community of practice? Our hope is, yes. A community of practice as defined by Wenger: “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” As Downes (2007) states, “Learning, in other words, occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community.”

CLC is about conversations, learning, and change.

So, here’s the thing. ChangeLeaders Community is something you subscribe to, and after your 30-day free trial ends, there’s a cost. That immediately turns some people off, and it causes others to shy away who, in my opinion, don’t stop to consider that the small expense is actually a huge investment in one’s own professional growth and learning. I use a number of free digital tools in my work and learning, but I have no problem paying for others that add value to my life. Good (usually) ain’t free.

The ChangeLeaders Facebook group was not a true learning community. It lacked versatile tools and capabilities to propel learning forward for its members. And, it seems as though every day, I see one or more of my Facebook friends jumping ship. Because Facebook. Through the ever-changing feeds and advertisements and algorithms, learning gets lost. And you’re bombarded with distractions.

CLC is a space that eliminates the clutter and allows its members to focus on the task at hand: How do I grow as a learner so I can ignite change in my organization? That can happen through the use of Mighty Networks and the continuing contributions of its members (over 300 members thus far!)

A CLC subscription is far less than a few Starbucks visits each month or a magazine subscription or the purchase of one of the latest educational fad/innovation books or a membership to a professional learning organization that you may or may not get any actual benefit from. We’re confident that through your willingness to engage in our community, you’re going to be challenged in your thinking and make real strides towards change, far more so than you could ever achieve in “free” spaces like Twitter or Facebook groups.

What will we explore in ChangeLeaders Community?

  • What learning is and what it isn’t, and the gap between what we know and believe about how we learn best and what we actually do in schools.
  • The trends, technologies, and changes happening in the world that really matter to our work in schools and that we need to understand in depth.
  • How educational leaders are building their own capacities to lead change in their communities.
  • What reimagined, modern practice in schools looks and feels like.

ChangeLeaders Community offers

  • a space where you can find signal among the noise – carefully curated content in a dynamic interface that fully engages participants and acknowledges the importance of their contributions in this space
  • jargon-free, buzzword-free, platitude-free discussions focused on change
  • critical friends who will challenge your thinking and support your change efforts
  • contributions not only by community members, but also by Will Richardson & Bruce Dixon in their Shifting Conversations posts
  • frequent, live collaborative sessions via Zoom, during which members can come together, build relationships, and tackle difficult change issues (Monday, October 23, 8 PM ET- you won’t want to miss “ChangeLeadership: Laying the Foundations for Creating Relevant, Sustainable Change in Schools” led by Will & Bruce!
  • the opportunity to reflect on practice, set goals and develop artifacts demonstrating professional growth, all while supported by a group of critical friends and colleagues
  • perhaps even a bit of fun!?

We hope you will courageously join us, we really do. But if you don’t, no matter which networks you frequent and spaces you visit, be sure to participate. Give back. Often. Because as Siemens says,

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding.

Welcome to Change, Leaders! Let’s create some change.

-Lyn Hilt, ChangeLeaders Community Manager