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Teachers at Wichita Falls ISD adopt Chromebooks beyond the classroom, improving everyday productivity and efficiency

Setting the stage for organic Chromebook adoption among teachers

The technology leaders at Wichita Falls ISD want teachers to love using technology to enable productive and efficient teaching and learning. That’s why Frank Murray, the district’s director of instructional technology, and Shad McGaha, the district’s CTO, spend significant time prepping and training staff and educators when new solutions arrive in the district. The goal isn’t to dictate what teachers and staff should use. Instead, it’s to showcase the value of the technology, helping teachers gain confidence using the technology in and out of the classroom.

“Back in 2014, we created a Learning With Technology Committee, which included teachers, admins, students, and community members – we designed a plan to present to the board what technology solutions we wanted to try,” Murray explains. “Our goals were to evaluate devices for potential district-wide use, and develop a plan for professional development and technical support. And our teacher goals were to create a culture of collaboration and communication between staff, students, and parents.”

The strategy that started in 2014 is carrying through 2021 and beyond. Many teachers have been working with Chromebooks since 2014, although Murray and McGaha limited initial Chromebook rollouts to teachers who received Educator Level 1 and Level 2 certification. In addition, principals at some schools used discretion to give a limited number of Chromebooks to teachers.

In early 2022, the district is delivering new Chromebooks to all teachers: about 400 Chromebooks to teachers who’ve never had them before, and 650 Chromebooks to teachers who’ve already used the devices. Murray and McGaha are confident that teachers who are new to Chromebooks will join their more experienced colleagues in seeing the value of using the devices to improve efficiency and productivity in every part of their workday.

“We’re always evaluating what teachers need,” McGaha says. “If teachers are living in Chrome browser, it certainly makes sense to just put Chromebooks in their hands.”

Devices that elevate productivity in and out of the classroom

Choosing devices for teachers, just as with choosing devices for everyone in a school district, requires a close look at diverse needs. “We initially looked at which devices matched best with the curriculum needs for our district,” Murray says. “Most teachers wanted devices with keyboards, and also wanted the same experience from any Chromebook that they signed in to.” That experience included a rapid boot-up time and no disruption caused by software downloads. Murray added, “Teachers don’t want to waste instructional time waiting for computers to boot up or update.”

Teachers also liked the ability to add extensions to Chrome browser that could help students succeed in subjects like math. “Every student and teacher can now have a Desmos scientific calculator on their Chromebooks,” Murray says.

The Wichita Falls technology leaders prefer devices and apps that favor easy organic adoption: Once early-adopter teachers realized technology made their lives easier, word would spread to other teachers. This was the strategy when the district adopted Google Classroom, and tech leaders showed staff and teachers how easy it was to organize class materials and assign homework with due dates.

“As a teacher, I’m always looking for ways to save time, and my Chromebook is the ultimate time saver,” says Chris Preston, an Honors Biology teacher and eSports coach at Rider High School. “I actively share my experiences with my Chromebook with fellow educators because Chromebooks have changed the way I work. I want others to have that same opportunity.”

During the 2021–2022 school year, IT leaders began equipping teachers with Dell 3100 2-in-1 Chromebooks, both as new devices and as replacements to existing teacher devices. The latest Chromebook rollout is intended to be a broader effort, enabling teachers to use Chromebooks for everything from lesson planning to sharing meeting agendas with staff.

“After the years we spent training teachers and introducing them to all kinds of devices, we had a good sense of what teachers would like, and what they wouldn’t – as well as what makes sense from an IT and budget perspective,” Murray says. “When we started asking teachers the pros and cons of the devices they were using in their classroom, they’d say to us, ‘Please don’t take my Chromebooks away.’ So we knew we were on the right track in terms of devices.”

In fact, early in the Chromebook rollouts at Wichita Falls ISD, Chromebooks were positioned as a reward for teachers who underwent extensive training in the devices’ use in classrooms.

“We told teachers if they became a Google Certified Educator by passing both the Level 1 and Level 2 Exam, then we would buy them a Chromebook.” Murray says. He and his instructional technology colleagues wanted to ensure that teachers knew how to use their Chromebooks before they received them, since that knowledge would lead to a better experience for the teacher.

Training inspires Chromebook confidence

The training and prep work done by the Instructional Technology and Informational Technology departments paid off as teachers began to see the value of their Chromebooks beyond classroom lessons. For example, senior staff and teaching leaders flipped the model of their staff meetings, giving attendees material to review in advance and then jumping into discussions when they met, using their Chromebooks and Google Meet.

“Instead of asking teachers to attend meetings in person that lasted almost an hour, we asked our principals to start making videos using their Chromebooks, with all the information they needed to push out to teachers,” Murray explains. “On staff meeting day, everyone would meet for just five minutes for a Q&A to talk about whatever was in the video – and then everyone could split up into different professional development sessions.” The new method of meeting saves about 45 minutes – time that can be used to help teachers sharpen other skills.

Educators are also learning that they can use Chromebooks to do their work from anywhere, improving their productivity and giving them more flexibility. “I love that I can use my Chromebook from anywhere,” says Paulina Ponce, a kindergarten teacher at Zundy Elementary. “I can finish any work-related papers from the comfort of my home or anywhere else.”

School principals are now running meetings with teachers and fellow principals via Google Classroom, which saves time – for example, it’s now much faster and easier for principals to collect teacher lesson plans that used to be submitted on paper. Also, most principals are familiar with Classroom from their teaching days, so adopting Classroom for another purpose is a fast and easy transition.

“Many of our teachers and principals sign in to Google Workspace for Education when they’re working from home,” Murray says. “They realized that since everything they need to access is in Chrome browser, they can sign in no matter where they are, and it’s always the same experience.”

In the future, Wichita Falls ISD plans to evolve its campuses so that schools offer more collaboration spaces instead of traditional classrooms. Chromebooks will become a vital part of this evolution, since teachers will become more mobile. Murray and McGaha see their teacher Chromebook rollout as a way to drive success not just in the forthcoming collaboration spaces but also during teachers’ admin and staff time. Says Murray, “We believe in on-the-job professional development, which is why teachers have embraced Chromebooks.”

At every step of Wichita Falls’ Chromebook rollout to teachers, Murray and McGaha have ensured that teachers saw improvements in productivity – like saving time, working from home when needed, and using unique teaching tools to help students. “We always wanted the enthusiasm for Chromebooks to be spread by teachers, not by us pushing technology,” McGaha says. “We’re pleased that it’s been an organic adoption.”