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K-12 Tech

How to optimize K-12 Chromebook management

With the switch to remote learning, Chromebooks have become more prevalent than ever in K-12 schools. Many districts have adopted 1:1 device policies or expanded them to students of all grade levels, greatly increasing the number of devices their IT teams need to manage.

With many students now taking school-owned Chromebooks home with them, device management is even more important — and more challenging. IT teams are tasked with protecting students’ data privacy, protecting the district’s technology investment, managing the devices’ software and helping ensure that students have adequate internet access wherever they’re working from. Meeting these needs requires a multilayered approach, with contingency plans in place for various scenarios.

This guide will show you how to manage Chromebooks using the Google Admin console, and offer potential ways to optimize your Chromebook management for remote learning.

To jump straight to what you’re looking for, click the links below:

Using the Google Admin console

Chromebook device management starts with the web-based Google Admin console, which allows you to configure more than 200 device settings, including Wi-Fi connectivity preferences, web filtering and preinstalled apps.

To get started, log into your account on admin.google.com and explore the Google Admin console dashboard. If the dashboard doesn’t display all the available tools, click the More Controls option at the bottom of the page to bring up other available tools. You can drag these tools to your main dashboard for easier access.

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Here are a few of Google Admin’s basic controls:

  • Users: This tool lets you add new users, remove or suspend inactive users and manage which apps and services that specific users have access to.
  • Organizational units (OUs): Arrange users in organizational units to help with mass administrative tasks, for example, force-installing an app for all elementary students. You can also create subgroups within a larger OU. (Tip: To avoid having to adjust the OU names every year, you can name them according to students’ graduation year.)
  • Groups: The Groups tool allows you to create user groups and manage their names, email addresses, membership roles and access settings. Among other options, you can configure your Drive sharing settings for individual users and create groups so you can easily send out announcements.
  • Devices: The Devices tool allows you to manage settings for both the network and your Chrome devices. From the Devices menu, select the Chrome Management category to configure settings linked to a user so that no matter which device a specific user logs into, they’ll have the same restrictions and settings. You can also configure settings linked to a device so that everyone using a particular device experiences the same parameters.

Other dashboard tools include Reports, Apps, Domains, Security, Data Migration and Admin Roles.

If you’re looking for more detail, Google provides an extensive Chrome Device Deployment Guide to walk you through the process of enrolling Chromebooks, managing devices and pushing policies to fulfill IT requirements. Alternatively, the five-step Chrome Device Quick Start Guide is a shorter read.

Setting up communications systems

Clear communication with teachers, parents and students is key to a successful Chromebook deployment. Tom Cranmer, chief technology and innovation officer at Richland School District Two (in Columbia, South Carolina), says his team makes a point to overcommunicate.

“We’ve published newsletters and utilized all platforms — text messages, emails and mass telephone calls — to communicate with parents and students about our device deployment,” says Cranmer, whose district serves 28,500 students and currently manages about 30,000 Chromebooks. “Educating parents is critical, so we also have a parent advisory group that’s been meeting regularly.” Cranmer advises IT teams to work closely with their district’s communications officer on creating announcements, and maintain open communication between technology staff and parents.

Checking devices in and out

Districts need an organized way to check devices in and out of their campus system, to record their status if they’re returned for repairs and to clearly link each device with a student. Flexible asset management software systems, such as xAssets, can be used for this purpose. Cranmer says, “We also built a custom 1:1 app that’s used for checking devices in and out, which interfaces with xAssets. You scan the student and scan the Chromebook; it connects the two together and creates an entry in the inventory database.”

Safeguarding data privacy

As more students take school-issued mobile devices home with them and use the devices for most or all of their communication with teachers and classmates, data privacy is an increasing concern. And with the prevalence of software as a service (SaaS) in K-12 education, there’s legitimate concern about students’ data being stored on remote servers. To ensure the highest level of data privacy, vet your third-party vendors by examining their security records. Ask whether they conform to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) and HIPAA, if applicable. Check whether vendors implement solid cybersecurity practices, and ask them about what will happen to your data if you end your relationship with them. Your vendor should have adequate data destruction policies in place.

Independent certifications are a quick way for districts to validate a vendor’s data management and privacy standards. For example, the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s TrustEd Apps program rigorously tests ed-tech products to certify them for data privacy.

At the district level, managing cybersecurity threats requires network visibility and access to data analytics. You might consider upgrading to G Suite Enterprise for Education, which provides customized recommendations for security health and monitors analytics to help you identify and handle data breaches like malware attacks and phishing.

Missing or damaged devices

In every Chromebook deployment, some devices will inevitably go missing or get damaged. Some districts install GPS tracking modules in their Chromebooks to help find missing devices, while others simply rely on built-in IP addresses and other device-specific information provided when students log in.

While some districts maintain in-house repair services for damaged devices, others have discovered the advantages of accidental damage protection (ADP) insurance. “Negotiating with your vendors for ADP is very helpful for reducing costs and helping to underwrite the cost of repairs,” says Cranmer. To provide this service, vendors typically subcontract third-party IT repair services who come to your district to pick up broken devices, fix them and bring them back when they’re ready.

To make sure students always have access to a working Chromebook, you should maintain a set of devices for loaning as needed. At Richland Two School District, about 5 percent of their devices are part of the loaner pool. Students who bring in a broken device for repair can borrow a working Chromebook and immediately get back to learning.

Content filtering and use policies

Cloud-based content filtering ensures that students cannot access inappropriate content, even when they’re off-campus and connecting through different networks. One way to achieve cloud-based content filtering is by forcing a proxy connection back through your school’s data center. You can also remotely install mobile content filtering apps, such as Mobicip or Securly, via the Google Admin console.

All districts should also have an acceptable use policy (AUP) for their Chromebook devices, typically handed down from the school board. Local districts should augment their AUP by developing their own specific guidelines for responsible use. You can send students and parents announcements and even videos to give them tips on taking care of the school’s devices and maximizing their effectiveness for remote learning.

Managing software distribution

Chromebooks make it easy to push apps, updates and new software to thousands of remote devices simultaneously, using the Google Admin console’s Force Install function. Here’s how to use it:

First, create an OU with the specific set of user accounts that need the new software — for example, all the ninth grade students in your district. Then, in the Devices menu, select Chrome. Open Apps & extensions and select Users & Browsers or Managed Guest Sessions. Select the OU and go to the app you want to install. Under Installation policy, click Force Install or Force Install + Pin. Finally, click Save. This process installs the app on all your selected devices at once — no matter their physical location — and gives the app permission to access information on those devices.

To make sure an Android app was installed correctly on your end devices, click Apps & Extensions and leave the top OU selected. Choose Users & Browsers, then click Settings and select Enable Android Reporting. Then, under Android Application Reports, you can view details about your force-installed apps, including their installation status on each device.

Anticipating future hardware needs

As you manage your current Chromebook deployment, consider what your district will need tomorrow. Assess whether you’ll need additional hardware for the next school year, and put in your orders now to offset potential supply chain delays.

More broadly, consider how your classrooms and your education technology setup will function in a post-pandemic school environment.

“From early on, our superintendent has said that when the pandemic is over, he doesn’t want us to go back to business as usual,” Cranmer says. “Our goal is to change, pivot and create new channels for learning. Nationally, we’re facing an impending teacher shortage that’s going to require at least some blended or remote learning, even on campus.”

Having trouble choosing a remote learning solution? Here’s a comparison of Samsung’s Chromebook models for students and teachers. Or explore the breadth of Samsung’s other remote learning solutions.

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Jessica Leigh Brown

Jessica Leigh Brown is a freelance writer and former high school English teacher who covers the intersection of technology and education. Over the past decade, her work has appeared in EdSurge Higher Ed, Education Dive, EdTech Magazine, University Business, and District Administration.

View more posts by Jessica Leigh Brown