Wednesday, January 31, 2018

An American Chromebook Crisis: new report shows sad trends of how students are using the devices

A new report is out that tracks how Chromebooks are being used in K-12 classrooms and it is one of the most disheartening things I have read in a long time. I am not lying or using hyperbole. My stomach dropped reading the release from Chromebook management company GoGuardian.

Read the GoGuardian Report here.

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.


Let me say it again. The two highest trending websites (after G Suite for Education) for over 5,000,000 learners are

CoolMath Games and
Renaissance Learning, the parent company to Accelerated Reader and other assessments!

Have you ever really visited CoolMath-Games.com? Maybe I am missing something but I struggle to see how most of these games are even math-related, let alone going to build skills? Yes, there is a ton of strategy and logic involved and kids dig the site because they're always asking if they can use it in STEM. Sorry guys, we have a lot more engaging ways to build both math, strategy, and logic.

But...but...it's got Math in the name so it has to be educational, right? I think that alone is a big reason why teachers allow it to get so much traffic...and that kids are quiet for long periods of time while playing on it. Sure, there are worse things they could be accessing, but when this site dominates the study it shows us that the current state of Chromebooks in the classroom is really stuck at the lowest common denominator.

Now, I am not as hugely opposed to Accelerated Reader (Renaissance Learning) as some in the educational technology community are. In the right doses as a SUPPLEMENT to a reading program and used only when students are free to choose their own books I have no problem with it. However when it shows up as the second most trending site in terms of hits and time spent on it, then that shows that far too many schools are making it the core of their reading programs. That could be a whole series of future blog posts. There are other assessments like Star Reading and Star Math that are likely contributing to this number. It would be interesting for GoGuardian to share out that breakdown. Still it's a gut punch to see activities like these taking up such a chunk of how kids are using technology in the classroom.

Okay, first rant over! The study overall is quite interesting and definitely does a thorough job at dissecting where students are spending their time online with Chromebooks.  The 2017 Benchmark Report: An analysis of emerging trends in Chromebook usage looks at what sites are being used most by students in three age brackets as well as what sites are most used by subject area. According to the report, "(The report) gives you an inside look into student device usage to inform best practices and provide a benchmark for your school’s technology programs. The Benchmark Report analyzes the aggregate device usage of 5 million K-12 students across the country."

GSuite for Education is by far the most utilized set of sites by Chromebook users and GoGuardian sets it aside from other non-Google sites, breaking down how the different parts rank. With 62.1% stated as Google Docs, it's my assumption that includes Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings. I would like to see the percentage that each of those is used but the cynic me thinks it is highly likely that a huge chunk of that 62.1% is typing term papers like it's 1985...albeit using a really tricked-out Smith Corona. I do not mean to poo poo the use of Google Docs one bit though. This shows that all of the great aspects like sharing of docs and access anywhere are being used in great doses. Just over a year ago, I chronicled many of the advantages that the free suite offers. It's also important to remember we don't need to live in the "redefinition" realm of the SAMR framework and that technology should support sound pedagogy and Google Docs really can do that.

What surprises me and frankly saddens me a little bit too is that so few of these students' teachers (8%) are using Classroom to manage their Chromebook environments and that Google Drive is only accessed 2.5% of the time.

GoGuardian breaks down how Google's GSuite apps are being utilized in the classroom by 5,000,000 US K-12 users.

Now we get to Rant #2. YouTube grabs almost 21% usage in the Google category. Yes, there are endless numbers of videos that can teach you just about anything. When we cut access to YouTube this Fall at one of my elementary schools due to students being off-task with it, we found out how much we rely on it for independent learning and quickly opened it back up (filtered of course). Still I would love to see a breakdown of the actual types of YouTube videos being watched by students on their Chromebooks. My heart really wants a disproportionate number to be educational but my head leads me to believe that kitty cats, dumb web series, and music videos are probably leading the pack.

To be fair this study is not all doom, gloom, time wasters, and drill and kill. Both Scratch and Code.org popped up numerous times with Scratch garnering a #5 trending overall ranking. It's good to see these computer science sites getting lots of use by Chromebook users. Teachers are also doing their best to gamify a lot of learning as Kahoot came in at the top of a number of categories. Another favorite site of mine that places highly is the set of science simulations from PHET at the University of Colorado. Also, the study opened my eyes to several new sites I hadn't previously visited so definitely spend some time going through the lists.

What bugs me the most (Rant #3): For 23 years I have been evangelizing the use of edtech tools that foster student creativity and I have recently been preoccupied with a suspicion that because fewer and fewer schools are buying Macs for students that ground is likely being lost in the battle to promote high level uses of classroom technology.  When I opened GoGuardian's email with the study all of those fears were validated. I was saddened but not really surprised. Zero sites for creativity are listed in the study. We know fewer kids are getting to create with Keynote, iMovie, and GarageBand due to device choice, but it doesn't look like they're getting many chances to use any of the Chrome-based alternatives to these apps either.

No Soundtrap. No Canva. No WeVideo. No Pixlr. No Emaze.

Creativity is so important and being able to convey a concept in multimedia is a skill all industries are demanding now. A local school board president was asking me about what's next in edtech and the discussion led to content creation. He holds a high-up position with a multi-national company that creates automobile interiors and he agreed.

"Everything, no matter the concept now has to be pitched in a highly visual and easy to understand way. Just using PowerPoint basic slides won't cut it anymore," he shared.

We need to be fostering those skills now.
At least there's Scratch which provides tremendous opportunities for students to develop creativity while building computer science skills. For me its popularity is the brightest spot in this study.
Bottom line: When the technological investment in five million learners is being primarily spent playing games with questionable educational benefit, taking low level assessments, and watching YouTube then we have an edtech crisis on our hands. We can have "certified this" and "distinguished that" honors in our email signatures and be "ambassadors" for a thousand apps and sites but this report shows us the grim reality of how devices are really being used. Many of us have dedicated significant portions our careers to helping our fellow educators use technology in meaningful ways and this report should serve as a wake-up call as there is still a ton of work to do.

We can and must do better.

Updated: ...and the conversations continue. 





30 comments:

  1. I'd comment specific to rant 3, but I think it is all related. When it comes to edtech, schools have done what is easy. This isn't specific to edtech, it literally is everything. The parts of the system that are the easiest to change are the least impactful (and sometimes the most expensive).

    If you want what you are seeking in rant 3, no amount of computers (mac or Chromebook) are the answer. Changing the minds and habits of the educators are the answer - and some level of technology might help you get there.

    It's much easier to be "1:1" then it is to really upend the institution.

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    1. Very good points Joel! As a district where we were 1:1 with Macbooks in our High School, we found that more than 95% of what they were using their Macbooks for could just as easily be accomplished on a Chromebook.

      The device is not the problem. When a school goes 1:1, it is such a big move that there really should be drastic changes in the way that teachers and wholes schools teach students. As the old saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it". The same is true with technology and its uses.

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    2. I agree that "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it". I have experienced many "horses" playing with the water to the extent their muddy hooves make the water non potable.

      Individual teachers make most of the decisions and are in the greatest position of control when it comes to technology use. During the advent of the public internet in the 1990's the static World Wide Web was born. Interestingly, many schools that initially required that teachers use the WWW in a uniform fashion, to provide students, parents and the greater community, transparency into teacher curriculum and instruction practices have since allowed individual teachers the freedom to decide exactly what, when, how, and if they publish syllabi, curricular maps, homework calendars, SOPs, ... This has, in many cases, led to more difficult educational governance over technology.

      I personally believe that districts should enforce well organized, and standardized digital archives of student proficiency evidence, with guidelines and mechanisms for the validation and challenge of such evidence. If we as educators can't ourselves capitalize on this powerful and important usage of technology to improve our own system, how can we rightfully expect our "horses" to drink?

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    3. Very unfortunate. Somehow I am not surprised...

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  2. Another issue to consider are schools that went Chromebook and use Office365. It limits what the kids and teachers can do to be creative & innovative.
    The biggest issue is training. As a Technology integration specialist - the biggest push back is the time it takes to create and be innovative. Even when I create things for them - I often get 'we don't have time to do/use/create that'.
    We still think students are digital natives - they aren't and we don't create time to teach and foster those skills. All classes are tech classes.
    And don't get me started on Star Testing 😞

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    1. That would certainly be a difficult situation. Why would an administrator combine those two things? Seems very counter-intuitive. You aren't getting the best of Microsoft OR Google.

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  3. I am a computer science teacher in Indiana. We have recently gone 1:1 however Chromebooks alone do not support the needs of my room. What you're seeing as lacking in your research may be similar to what is the case in my room. I utilize Chromebooks when the situation fits but for higher levels of programming and creativity we access desktop PC's and Mac's to support curriculum such as PLTW and the entire Adobe Suite. We're rockin' it up in here. Our high school that sits in a corn field has 6 different proggramming courses and a student tech support team to service the Chromebooks. Things aren't always as they appear. Just food for thought.

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    1. Your classroom, Krista is the exception rather than the rule. You may have your students utilizing more appropriate tools for learning based on curricula and purpose, but the vast majority of teachers in other content areas are not. I've worked in three districts as a teacher, technology integration specialist, technology staff development coordinator, and technology director, and the single characteristic in common with each district is stagnated teaching practices. I can't swing a floppy disc (for those who don't know, they are only 3.5") without hitting an example of a teaching practice that has been proven to be ineffective at least two decades ago, but is still being used and even supported by administrators. The problem, as I have come to know it, is that too often there are administrators in place who are too happy keeping teachers happy rather than inspiring people to do what they set out to do...make a difference in someone's life. Having been a teacher, too, I understand all too well how outside forces make it very difficult for a teacher to innovate or even stay on top of the latest findings from educational psychology, neuroscience, etc. That's where you need leaders who create time and support systems for teachers to be the model learners. When teachers don't learn, students are stuck in the past with them.

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    2. This might come as a shock to EdTech enthusiasts, but when your teachers are managing classes of 30+ all day without a prep because your district spent its money on hardware instead of teachers, not making them spend their evenings and weekends learning how to make the optimum use of their chromebooks isn't "keeping teachers happy", it's keeping teachers on your payroll.

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    3. Excellent point Dave! All too often we tend to throw technology in without providing the resources and support in order for teachers and staff to use the technology effectively. Time is at a premium in pretty much all school districts, as is money. It would be great if schools put the money that they saved by using Chromebooks into finding time and resources to help the teachers be able to better use the technology that is available to hopefully free up some time. That is one of the reasons why we recently went from Macbooks to Chromebooks. Hopefully we will be able to use some of the money saved to help provide things that we were unable to in the past. I have two thoughts on technology, with one of them being "Technology should make your life easier, more productive with less effort and time". That's what businesses and people use technology for, why not education?

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  4. I'd be interested if you find this study - looking across different devices - confirms or alleviates any rants for you. https://learnplatform.com/edtech-top-40/

    Our team certainly had some opinions, but would love to get your perspective.

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    1. Thanks Karl, I appreciate you sharing that. CoolMath doesn't make the list and I don't see Renaissance either. What I still see is big hole of no content creation sites beyond Google Docs, Prezi, and blogging platforms.

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  5. Typically, with Accelerated Reader, students are given a "choice" of books, but it's still not authentic reading, nor authentic choice. Many schools also tie the successful meeting of AR goals with some sort of "reward" to completing said goals (dance passes, stickers, other rewards). I'd recommend reading about the dangers of extrinsic rewards. AR is a game and students treat it as such. It has no business in the classroom.

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  6. I'm so sad.. just shows the NEED forinstructional techs to help support the teachers!

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  7. Cool-Math Games is not something that's pushed by teachers (that I know of) . It's pushed by students that somehow manage to convince adults that it's educationally relevant. We actually block it in our school district.

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  8. There's a negative side to scratch, also. In my experience (at an alternative school) kids would spend more time playing the games written by others, even when the assignment was creating something of their own.

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  9. I don't want to rain on your parade, but I'm less inclined to be excited about Scratch making the list. We were just on the verge of blocking it in our district, because our students have figured out that this is a site that is a treasure box of pirated music and unblocked video games. And, after conversations with many other school techies, I know our students aren't the exception...but the norm. We use GoGuardian, so many teachers have now created Scenes to block Scratch in their classroom so students can't play the role of DJ from their seat. Ugh.

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    1. Wow. Great insight on Scratch, Cindy and Ed. I guess my excitement for seeing it in the list is my elementary naivete showing. We let them explore a little but keep our time on it for specific coding tasks.

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  10. I agree with your assessment of CoolMathGames, I hate the site. My teacher's largest frustration is with complying with FERPA and COPPA. Teachers attend cool edtech conferences and presenters reference cool new sites, only to return to school and when I ask if they are FERPA and COPPA compliant they are not. I totally agree that we must comply with regulations, but sites MUST get better at understanding compliance regulations for schools.

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  11. I could have written something similar, only subsituting "funbrain" for "coolmathgames". I got so tired of seeing the penguins on the icebergs! I suggested other things to the kids, saying that site was more "fun" than "brain".

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  12. Use of minimalist school-issued devices, on a locked-down network inside of Google Classroom/LMS hardly requires, demonstrates or promotes technological literacy of Teachers nor reaches that "deep skill-set" for Students.

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  13. I found myself doing lots of nodding in agreement while reading the post and comments. The survey results are certainly alarming. I believe the issue has so many contributing layers at this point that it would be hard to draw a conclusion on the initial cause. I am certain change fatigue, from chasing so many re-invented initiatives, high stakes testing, and strains on time have put too much pressure on many Ts. Rarely do schools actually commit to developing expertise in anything. Great tech integration requires a dynamic blend of a thirst for learning, for the tools are evolving so rapidly, and a strong pedagogical foundation to make sure Ss are using those tools in ways they couldn't learn without them.

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  14. @Paul Anderson @ Unknown Your use of that particular idiom shows your misguided thinking. Teachers should be allowed to lead not be led. Teachers make very few decisions and rarely is control in the teachers hands. They are usually given technology chosen for them by the technology department and a network/system whose administration is all but transparent and the expectation is that this will somehow be transformative.

    It is exactly this technocentric thinking that ignores (or at least subjugates) content and pedagogy and the report reinforces the shortcomings of this (technocentric) integration model.
    To begin with the technology and then later attempt to determine how to integrate it into content-based learning has not / will not produce(d) the desired outcomes.

    The chromebook cannot replace a Macbook or a Windows computer unless it is unfettered (which rarely is) and, more importantly, connected to the cloud.

    The report suggests after looking at 5 million students (not a small number) that with the deployment of this device in the k-12 ecosystem, this is the utilization (not integration) you can expect. The chromebook becomes a digital trapper keeper with YouTube (if allowed). No transformation. Just another set of, albeit virtual, desks in rows.

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    1. I don't disagree with that, except I was actually trying to use it more as you can put the technology in front of them, but it doesn't mean that they will use it. And it doesn't matter if it is Chromebooks, MacBooks or Windows devices. But in the end, I also believe that some teachers are "leaders" and some do in fact want to be "led". Some are excellent innovators and some just want to keep doing what they have always been doing. Which is part of the reason many times there is "feed the hungry" attitude among technology leaders. Which in part ends up driving the expectation that other teachers start doing some of the same things, which in turn means that some people end up having to be led.

      We were 1:1 MacBooks in our High School and pretty much saw the same results, which is why we went to Chromebooks. In our Middle School where they have been 1:1 Chromebooks for four-plus years, for the most part, our results would probably be considered better than this, depending on subject and grade. When it comes down to it, in some ways this is going back to the old argument which OS is better, Mac or Windows and now we have Chromebooks thrown into the discussion. With more and more web-based activity, I think a lot of it is becoming a mute point, at least for that activity. I think what this "report" shows the most is that we have a long way to go before we are using technology to its maximum potential, but then again was there anyone who didn't know this already? This just reaffirms it.

      I think one of the bigger questions that we should be asking and trying to figure out is, what results would we like to have seen in this report? When all the solutions or initiatives are in the hands of individual teachers, is it really that surprising that these websites would be the most popular? Is that really because the use is as bad as it looks or, are some good uses of the technology being ignored, because the sites are not as common, so they don't garner the large number of hits like the big names. How many thousands, of other smaller sites, are missing from these numbers? I know in our whitelist of sites we have hundreds of sites that we have specifically approved. I think this report just touches things on the surface.

      But then again ....

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  15. Please let me know if I'm way off base here, but the single biggest reason I limit my chromebook use with my students is that I can't lock the device onto whatever page/app/site I want them on. With dozens of students in some of my classes, it is literally impossible to watch all of their screens. Does a stand alone, free or cheap, easy-to-use, and powerful tool exist? I'm unaware of it if there is one. If one exists that's costly, then I guess the answer is to work with my school to see it's benefits.

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    1. There are multiple different options available, with GoGuardian being one of them. We use Hapara at our school district and I know Aristotle is another management application. I don't know of any free ones and as far as how expensive they are, in my opinion would be determined by how much of the solution you end up using. It could be considered real cheap if you were to heavily use it and its features, or real expensive if you only use one small piece of it. In our case with Hapara, there are a lot of features available and how well our staff utilize it will be a big deciding factor of how expensive it really is.

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  16. Totally disappointing! How good would it be if we saw a measure of how many times the students were being collaborative, creative, critically thinking, developing citizenship, communicating beyond the classroom, building their character or expressing their culture! SAM-R is a good place to start - are your learners just using the device for substitution? And if you don't know what SAM-R is then you shouldn't be on a device in the classroom!

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  17. Many solid and good points are mentioned here. A few thoughts from a 1:1 (Chromebook) district down in Ohio (although, for the record, I'm a proud U of M graduate).

    We find ourselves trying to answer:

    1. How's the tech being used? Can you genuinely know? We tackle this question via software and vigorous classroom walkthroughs.

    2. What should instruction look like when infused with Chromebooks? We hit pretty hard on SAMR models - complete with a fair amount of practical training on core applications that hit the higher levels of SAMR (GSuite especially)

    3. What are roadblocks to solid use of 1:1 for the purpose of instruction? We've tackled this questions with surveys. Probably doesn't come as a surprise that many of teachers AND students mention "distractability" as the biggest roadblock. But they've also identified everything from the rather mundane (what's my lunch schedule) to relevant (ie - how do we foster interest in school wide clubs for interested students).

    Anyway, the leadership in my district felt the best way to address many of those concerns and needs was to develop a platform that could host education apps. We placed an Open-Source license on it and have encouraged staff and students to use the tech to solve their problems. If any are interested: abre.io

    We've recently started hosting student appathons where area districts have their kids code apps. Pretty cool.

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  18. An excellent resource that use the latest scientific studies to highlight the calamitous effects the improper use technology is having on our students is the book "Screen Schooled". It not only discusses all the issues mentioned here (and more) but offers solutions for teachers, and more importantly, parents (who are the key to any solution). It also points out that if we don't address these issues immediately, the effects of these devices will only become more disastrous.

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