Zoom issues on a Chromebook

Good day! We, like most of the world, are distance learning. We also use Chromebooks and Zoom. Early on we had reports from our families that they would continually get the wrong Zoom meeting over and over and over again.

After a short and furious investigation we discovered the problem and the fast solution. But first let’s talk about our set up and what had. Our teachers are great and made a schedule for all of their students to follow and embedded the Zoom links in this schedule. Check out the screenshot below to see what I’m talking about.

Pretty great huh? Yep we think so too.

So what if a student accidentally clicks/taps the wrong link. Well a new tab opens that proceeds to open up the Zoom app. Pretty standard actually. Then you see that you’re in the wrong meeting so you try to close the Zoom app by clicking the “X” in the top right hand corner of the window, but that does nothing.

So if you try to click another Zoom link, it will just take you back to that original meeting. So what do you have to do? You need to close the app by moving your mouse down to the shelf and then two fingers tap (or right click if you are using a mouse) and close the app that way.

Once Zoom closes, when you click on the correct Zoom link you will be able to join that meeting!

The Beauty of Repairability

At my school, we are trying out Chromebooks instead of iPads for our 1:1 program. I’ve written about it here and here. I still feel it is too early to see how Chromebooks fair and so I’ll reserve those observations for another time.

Today, I’d like to point out a nice little nugget of info is that the Chromebooks we purchased are very repairable. How repairable you ask? I have the opportunity to replace everything in our Chromebooks from the keyboard to the WiFi card to the battery to the screen to the USB ports. I “can” repair it all. I put can in quotes because I am no technician by any means, so actually doing all this stuff has yet to be seen.

I do want to make it clear that a Chromebook repairability was not a deciding factor though I imagine a school or district on a tight budget this may have more weight.

Before purchasing Chromebooks I was wondering how we would repair them and could we get parts. Well a quick Interwebs search turned out a number of results. However, the top result was iFixit. iFixit is a website which has guides on how to take apart and repair or modify your devices. They also sell toolkits and parts as well. This site had pretty much any part we needed to repair so I figured we could try to repair these in house as opposed to sending them off. They also had guides on how to tear down our model and I found a number of YouTube videos as well.

Fast forward a number of months and our first damaged Chromebook came into the IT office. It was a busted screen from an accidental drop. We ordered the LCD screen (since that was all we needed) not from iFixit (they were sold out at the time) but from a website called Screen Surgeons. They sell screens specifically for Chromebooks. The screen came and it also came with a tiny little repair kit. The repair took less than 10 minutes and with a minimal cost we had a Chromebook that was working as expected. GREAT! No new device or long wait time to send off a device for repair and wait for it to come back. We just ordered the screen and in three days had a working Chromebook again!

Tiny Repair Kit
Tiny Repair Kit

The next damaged Chromebook was an accidental sitting. Someone had sat on the Chromebook and busted the top cover (as you can see below).

This also made the broke the LCD screen as well. So we are looking at a not just a screen repair but a full top cover repair! Luckily we had a faulty Chromebook lying around and its top cover and screen are fine so I figured we would use that one for parts.

I took the back of the Chromebook and unhooked 3 connections (that was all, just 3) and unscrewed the two hinges that holds the top cover securely to the base and that was it!

The top came off with no fuss and I was able to replace with another top from that faulty Chromebook. Long story short – it worked! The whole process took less than 15 minutes and it cost us nothing (since we had a Chromebook to cannibalize). Here is picture of the base and the top cover.

I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous but the simplicity of the device quickly abated those fears as I got the back off and saw what I saw that needed to be done.

iPads

Sure, there is a little pride knowing you can repair your equipment but the big draw here is the cost and time savings. With iPads it is almost always the screen that is damaged.

The iPad screen is pretty resilient, beautiful and very responsive. We don’t repair this as it takes a bit more work and parts are not as easy to come by. We send our damaged iPads off to a local Apple Authorized Repair center here in town. Screens without a fingerprint sensor cost $50-$65 USD. Screens with the fingerprint sensor cost a whopping $195 USD. We do not have any iPad Pros at this tiem. It usually takes about two weeks for the repair to happen and to get back to us. During that time we try to provide a loaner to the student, but there have been times when we had no loaners on hand.

Not one of ours - https://www.flickr.com/photos/wangsy/6105610975
Not one of ours – https://www.flickr.com/photos/wangsy/6105610975

Another fact is that we currently purchase iPads for $300 USD a piece and if it costs two-thirds of the original price to repair the screen. We need to ask ourselves do we just buy a new one?

Like all schools, we want to do good by our budget and even leave a little wiggle-room for unexpected situations, but it makes you question if you want to continue buying a product that costs so much money to repair. Would you buy a car for $20,000 USD knowing that five years later you would need to get it repaired for $13,300? It doesn’t seem to make sense. You would probably look for a new car. I think that is what Apple wants us to do, just buy a new iPad (especially if it has been repaired once already).

Apple is pretty open about what it costs to repair these screens on their website.

It just feels … wrong though and when we repaired those Chromebooks it felt good and right. If we had the parts on hand we could (in theory) repair a Chromebook and have it back to the student the same day!

What do you think about all of this?

iPads vs Chromebooks: Part 2 – 2018

In the Part 1 I surveyed teacher to see how they feel about the 1:1 program. overall the teachers are still very enthusiastic about it, but when asked if the iPad was the best device based on what and how they teach many felt that it wasn’t. They thought that Chromebooks may be a better option.

So I sat down with the division heads (or principals if you like) and let them take a peek at the results. We discussed them and I got some of their opinions and then we talked about what the next step should be. I wanted to survey the parents and gather how they feel about this possible switch. The middle school division head spoke up and she thought that surveying the students may yield better results. I believe she is right. These students are the ones using the devices each and every day. The parents on the other hand most likely rarely know the devices as well as their children and probably (not in all cases of course) are unaware of the differences between an iPad, Chromebook, Windows S and so on.

Instead of surveying the entire middle school (5th – 8th grade). We decided on just the 8th graders. They are leaving us this year and had used their iPads for four years. Since they were leaving us we figured they would be far more honest and be able to draw upon their experiences. So here we go!

The survey

The survey itself has four sections of questions:
1) Section 1 – 1:1 program and the use of the iPad
2) Section 2 – Technology offerings
3) Section 3 – Student printing
4) Section 4 – In general

The results

We had nearly 80% of our 8th graders respond to the survey which I was very pleased with and their results were pretty enlightening as well. I will not go through each question and dissect the results but hit the highlights. For your information 1 = Yes and a 4 = No

The first question was about having the device.

As you can see just over half feel that a device to take home is important. Perhaps the indifference is due to teachers not leveraging the iPad or maybe that students wanted a different type of device.

Another highlight was about how well students felt they could research on an iPad. This was surprising. I did not expect this answer to be so positive. I really thought that a mobile browser would hinder or slow this down, but students did not seem to mind.

I did ask about typing on the iPad. As you might guess more than 70% of the students felt that the iPad was not easy to type on.

However, the next question did surprise. In fact of all the questions about the iPad this one made me really pause. I asked if they felt the iPad is good at taking photos and/or videos. Check out the results (remember 1 is very good and 4 is very bad).

Now here comes the million dollar question. If you were an incoming 5th grader which device would you prefer?

As you can see, Chromebooks and (WOW) Windows S machines make up 88% of the responses! Three people typed in MacBooks and one person (2.9%) voted for a new iPad.

That last bit of information coupled with the teacher results tell us that iPads aren’t really working for us. Who knows, iPads may be the best choice in a few years or even Windows S but right now it seems or teachers and students are of a similar mind and we will be exploring Chromebooks starting in the fall for our fifth graders.

Chrome Extension – Kami

Here is another extension that I like a lot in Chrome. Now Chrome can view PDF’s and I have never really like the way they handle it. Check out the picture below to see what I mean.

The image is not quite large enough for me to easily read and there is no way to highlight, add text, you know mark it up. Also there are no thumbnails to quickly navigate or quickly scan what is going on in that document.

I get it, Chrome is making it a service and I can download it to my computer and open it up with Preview and do all that good stuff. Then I think No! This is 2018 and there should be a way to do this within my browser of choice. So off to searching I went and have found Kami.

Now Kami the good news here is that Kami does work with other browsers. It will work with Chrome (of course), Firefox, Edge and Safari. This is very good so if you are not a Chrome user you can still take advantage of all that Kami has to offer.

Installation and Use

Installation is as easy as any other browser extension. To use Kami it is dead simple. You may need to sign in or create account. Since it uses the Google API signing through Google makes it very easy.

Now Find a PDF file online and click the link to open it. Kami should automatically open it up in your browser. Here is what it looks like.

As you can see there is a lot more going on. The big scene steeler is the toolbar on the far left hand side. This thing will let you highlight, strike through, leave a comment and a textbox, shape and a few more neat little tools. Heck you can even use text to speech (though that is a paid feature). I’ve taken a quick screenshot of all the tools expanded.

Using Kami is pretty intuitive and straight forward. Now if you want to save the PDF (which if you want your annotations to stick) you have quite a few choices.

I believe it automatically saves all changes in Kami’s own servers. As you can see you are also able to save it directly to Google Drive which works pretty well.

Now there are times when saving just isn’t enough. There are times that you need to export (download) it to your computer. I was very happy to find that rather than just download it gives you some options. Check out the image below to see what you can do.

I really, really like that you can download an unmarked up copy. A lot of services and programs have it that when up a PDF that is it. If you want an original you have to go download it again from its original source. I think this is great for planning. You can show an original and then show the concept or the marked up version. Great feature!

There is a sharing feature but you have to upload it to Kami’s servers first. This isn’t a real feature that I or my school would use too often since we would be handling all the sharing through Google Drive. It is nice to know that if a school does not use G Suite they have do have options to easily

Kami even has thumbnail view! Oh man this is so nice. Just click this little icon and bam! Thumbnails.

Options

I won’t go into all of them because I honestly didn’t have that much time trying it out but check out all those options!

The most important options that do stand out to me is the ability to split and merge PDF documents. Now take this with a grain of salt people. If a PDF is protected it may not be able to perform this task so keep that in mind.

When you click that option it will open a new window where you must upload your PDF to Kami and then you can split or merge multiple PDF files.

Price

When you sign up you are on the Basic plan which is free, but a teacher or you can get Kami for your entire domain.

The teacher plan comes with 150 licenses! That’s a lot for $99 a year. If you break that up it comes to 0.66¢ per student. Not bad at all and you do get a lot of good features for that price. But I am still plenty happy with the basic. The only tool I wish they would throw in is the ability to add text to a PDF.

Overall I am happy with Kami and I think if you look at PDFs in your browser I highly encourage you to try it out.

iPads vs Chromebooks: Part 1 – 2018

I thought I would put the year on the title of this post just to give it some search relevance. I don’t know how many posts I’ve seen that are 3–4 years old and while some of the arguments are still relevant others are not. This short series will detail this school’s thinking, surveys, conversations and decisions. This is not an article that is saying one device over another … period! No, that kind of simplistic thinking usually does not benefit schools. Instead we will go through the process of how we evaluate the effectiveness of our devices and what decisions we make based on data and anecdotal observations.

Let’s start with some background information. If someone ever asks you what your school uses or what another school should use – get some information first. Fit for a device is important. The school I work for is a small private school that has around 400 students. We are preschool through grade 8 and are broken into 3 divisions.
* Early childhood (preschool, prekindergarten, kindergarten)
* Lower school (grades 1–4)
* Middle school (grades 5–8)

We currently have 1 computer lab with about thirty 21.5″ iMacs. They are older (about 5 years old) but still functioning well despite some expected slow downs. We have three MacBook Air carts for teachers in lower school and middle school to check out. We also have an iPad cart. Each cart has about 22–24 devices respectively.

Each lower school classroom has 7 iPads for student use. The classes are about 20 students each, give or take 1–2. The middle school is 1:1 iPads. Depending on the grade level determines which iPad they have. The older the student, the older the iPad. Students keep their iPads through all four years and at the end of the 8th grade we give it to them as their own personal iPad. This is subsidized by a technology fee that families pay each year. That’s the background info. If you have questions put them in the comments below.

Discussing Chromebooks

When I started this position, Chromebooks was a discussion that came up quite frequently. While clearing out an old IT closet the IT team and myself found 2 older but totally working Acer Chromebooks. We spoke with the lower school principal and asked if she thought that this would be a good addition to the third and fourth grade team. We only had two mind you but she agreed. She thought it would be a good way to allow students to try them out and to get some authentic feedback.

That was back in September of 2017. The third grade team didn’t really use it too much for whatever reason. The fourth grade team reported back that students choose the Chromebook first before an iPad. I pressed them for a reason and they had not inquired. Their thoughts was that they do a lot of work in Google Docs and the addition of a keyboard and trackpad makes working in that environment much easier than a touch screen.

Also during budget time (October-November) the lower school principal asked if we could have 20 Chromebooks for the third and fourth grade classes. When I asked why she said it gives the students choices and increase more technology opportunities for more students. If a student wants to record video, than the iPad is the clear choice. If a person wants to type a report, then the Chromebook is the clear choice. These choices give the class flexibility and having more devices can allow more opportunities for these students.

We had room in the budget and so it was added. These classrooms will not be relinquishing their iPads, the Chromebooks will be added to their classroom’s technology offerings.

Chromebooks in 1:1 environments

As I mentioned earlier, this has been a question. In fact the division head in middle school wanted to evaluate the program itself. Well myself and another teacher put together a short survey and I’ll share some of the results with you. Keep in mind we are a small school and we only have 17 total respondents for the survey.

The survey itself was broken into 4 parts:
1. The effectiveness of the 1:1 program
2. iPad Use and Management
3. Chromebooks
4. Final section with over arching questions

Here are the questions for each (I would embed the form but WordPress.com will not allow it). When the question references a scale – 1 is the worse and 4 is the best.

Section 1 – Effectiveness of the 1:1 Program

  • On a scale of 1–4 – Do you feel the 1:1 program is effective?
  • (Optional) – Can you give an example that supports your answer above?
  • On a scale of 1–4 – Does students having a device enhance the teaching and learning process?
  • (Optional) – Can you give an example that supports your answer above?
  • On a scale of 1–4 – Do you think the iPad is the most effective device for our middle school students?
  • (Optional) – Can you give an example that further explains your answer above?

Section 2 – iPad Use and Management

  • On a scale of 1–4 – Does the iPad do everything you need it to do?
  • Can you give examples that support your answer above?
  • How often do your students use the iPad in your class for educational purposes?
    • Every day
    • Every week
    • Every month
    • Couple of times a trimeseter
    • Few times throughout the year
    • Rarely or never
  • On a scale of 1–4 – Do you feel that it is easy to plan lessons that utilize the iPad?
  • How do you and/or your students utilize the iPad in your class?
  • On a scale of 1–4 – When it comes to classroom management, how easy is it to manage what students do on an iPad
  • What general apps do you commonly use with your students? (Tick all that apply)
    • Evernote
    • Flipgrid
    • Google Drive
    • Google Docs
    • Google Sheets
    • Google Slides
    • Gmail
    • Kahoot!
    • Keynote
    • Notability
    • Numbers
    • Prezi
  • What other apps do you use in your classroom that may be more specific to your subject? (Please just list them, no need for a description)

Section 3 – Chromebooks

  • On a scale of 1–4 – How familiar are you with Chromebooks?
  • On a scale of 1–4 – Do you think Chromebooks would be a more effective device than an iPad for our middle school students?
  • Please explain your answer above with some details.
  • Yes/No – Do you know of any Chromebook Apps that you and/or your students could use in your class?
  • (Optional question) – If you know of these apps or extensions could you please list them below? Again, no need for a description just their name.

Section 4 – Final section

  • Yes/No – Should we continue the 1:1 program in the middle school?
  • What device would be best for the 1:1 program?
    • iPads
    • Chromebooks
    • Windows S
    • We should not have a 1:1 program in middle school
  • (Optional question) – Is there anything else that you would like to share or have an issue or concerning the 1:1 program?

So that’s the survey and as you can see some of the questions give teachers time to write out some of their responses. I will share a few of them but I will share all the results from the quantitative questions in graph form.

Written responses

From the data it looks like Chromebooks are the clear winner here. However it is not so black and white. When going through the written responses it is quite clear that there are some specific apps and some specific ways that teachers use the iPads in their classrooms that show that they may not be so ready to jump into Chromebooks.

One teacher wrote about whether the iPad was the right device for a 1:1 program:

I was forced to choose yes or no, but without more information on the benefits and disadvantages of other options it is really difficult to make an informed answer.

Another teacher wrote about iPads:

It doesn’t type well. It’s invaluable for my Tempest unit, where I teach using the Tempest app on their i-pad. That IS the text for that unit.

There are other responses that ring similar to the ones above, so while I feel the middle school staff is leaning towards Chromebooks more conversations with the staff, parents and students as well.

More reporting will come soon!