Chromebook Management Best Practices for K-12

The cloud-based nature of Chromebooks creates unique challenges for IT admins to manage. Here are the best practices needed to empower more effective Chromebook deployments.

The Google Chromebook entered the marketplace at a pivotal time, helping make it possible for school districts to realize 1:1 initiatives that were previously cost prohibitive. Today, Chromebooks are used by more than 30 million K12 students and educators worldwide, up 5 million devices from the previous year. U.S. schools continue to make up the bulk of Chromebooks shipments, accounting for nearly 60% of all education devices shipped in 2018.

In order for your device initiative to be effective, here are the best practices to keep in mind for effective Chromebook deployment and management.

IT Infrastructure Requirements

The Google Chromebook was designed to operate entirely in the cloud, allowing students to log into any device with the same access to the apps and documents associated with their profile. Many schools still lack suitable internet bandwidth and wireless networks – even for districts with a previous 1:1 deployment simply switching to Chromebooks.

According to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), at least 20 Kbps per student are recommended for simultaneous testing, which is a good rule of thumb for bandwidth minimums. However, as many school districts leverage video, audio, and interactive apps, realistic bandwidth requirements are often much higher. Many school districts leverage access points in every classroom to meet bandwidth needs.

Chromebook Administration Strategy: Assess Your Day to Day Requirements

When developing your Chromebook management strategy, your IT team needs to identify what kinds of administrative tasks need to be performed by which team members. Things to consider include enforcing content filtering, self-harm detection, classroom readiness, state testing, and the security of student devices.

As you consider which responsibilities fall under IT, you may find that the basic offerings of the Google Admin Console do not meet your needs. Here are some questions you might ask yourself when evaluating your options:

  • What are your reporting requirements and how long does it take to pull together those reports?
  • How do you track 1:1 devices when students take them home?
  • Do you have a way to track Chromebook devices by model and operating system, knowing that Google releases sub-versions of the OS regularly that may impact the operation of specific apps?
  • Do you have multiple device platforms or operating systems to manage within the school district (iOS, macOS, Chromebooks, Windows)?
  • How important is real-time reporting to your decision making processes?

Traditional methods of managing devices with manual processes or individual admin consoles such as the Google Admin Console can be time-consuming and frustrating, particularly as device counts grow and demand more IT administrative time and attention. In many cases, IT teams may struggle to gather the necessary visibility reports, with this limited visibility presenting security risks and reducing the time available to support the integration of technology into the classroom.

To effectively manage Chromebook devices, IT staff needs a robust toolset that helps ease the demands on time.

Customized Chromebook Reporting Solutions

Google Chromebooks are managed by serial number, which can make it difficult to know where the device is in the Google Organizational Unit (OU) structure, so you can push the necessary user, administrative, and device policies to it. While the Google Admin Console provides much of this information, reporting isn’t in one place and only refreshes every 24 hours. To gain visibility over your Chromebooks deployment, you need reporting that is real-time, readily available, and customized to your needs.

Baldwin County Schools has been an early 1:1 adopter, with over 43,000 devices spread over 60 locations, leveraging Chromebooks for students as well as macOS, iOS, and Windows devices. In the switch to Chromebooks, it was apparent that visibility would be the biggest obstacle. “We didn’t have time to find the report we wanted and wait 5-10 minutes for it,” notes Mike Giardina, IT Coordinator for Baldwin County Schools, “It’s essential for us to see all of our devices: their age, their operating system, and where they are.”

“When I log into FileWave, I have a single pane of glass, and in that single pane of glass I’ve got my devices organized the way I need.”

FileWave provides Baldwin County Schools a single view of the device information they needed to track, manage, and secure their Chromebook devices. Mike Giardina leverages custom fields to track the age and type of their Chromebook devices, warranty information, device location, and Google OS version, ensuring that students and teachers have what they need to support learning.

Every school district will have different preferences and requirements for reporting, so it’s important to have a way to organize and display device data specific to its use, including organizing devices by the school, classroom, or grade level. This organization structure, while useful for reporting, can also be leveraged to build automations to simplify future management.

Chromebook Location Tracking and Privacy

As school districts roll out 1:1 device programs with Chromebooks and allow students to take school-owned devices off-site, it becomes essential to know where student devices are and who is logged into them to meet security and privacy requirements.

With Chromebooks, device tracking is often more complicated – geolocating devices by serial number is often insufficient. If devices are used entirely in the Cloud, students may purposefully or unintentionally swap them, making it just as important to track the specific device location as it is to track the user logging into that device.

Chromebook’s native tracking can tell you what city a device is in, but FileWave can provide greater specificity over device location, including its most recent location and who is using the device. Asset inventory reports allow you to target the last known location of a specific Chromebook device to support a theft or loss situation, or group of devices to meet compliance requirements.

Managing Software Updates for Chromebooks

As Chromebooks have been more widely adopted, local applications have been developed for K-12 students that often surpass the functionality of Cloud-based alternatives. As such, the software management requirements for Chromebooks has increased.

Unlike other platforms, Google regularly updates its OS with sub-versions, which can impact application performance. IT Administrators need a way to inventory the software deployed to Chromebook devices and to ensure the software works with the current level of Google OS deployed.

Managed software distribution helps IT Administrators distribute software based on criteria the admin determines, leveraging custom field data on information such as the school, classroom, or grade level. Just as importantly, school districts need to be able to determine if software distributions have been successful, ensuring that students and teachers have what they need when they need it.

When Baldwin County Schools changed state testing applications, they needed to be able to remove the old application and push the new one to all its Chromebooks – no small feat, considering devices are spread across 60 different locations. With FileWave, removing and adding the application was seamless, requiring no end-user interaction to push the change. Best of all, the IT team was able to track the real-time progress of the deployment by school and classroom – no need to call each school to check if the installation had been successful.

Chromebooks have leveled the playing field on 1:1 initiatives, bringing technology to more schools and students across the US. School IT teams such as Baldwin County Schools are leveraging FileWave’s powerful endpoint management tools to simplify the deployment and management of large Chromebook deployments, freeing up more IT time to support learning.

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