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When leading a district’s technology department, one’s main focus is often keeping the “trains running on time.” The opportunity to make any track changes or buildouts often comes during the summer breaks or in between vacation schedules. Unfortunately, most of this time is spent cleaning up data on the backend and disconnecting/reconnecting classroom equipment in the front end so that rooms can be cleaned. There have only been a few times in my career when I truly witnessed a district-wide equipment rollout that has had a transformative impact on the classroom level. One such instance took place in Lincoln Public Schools.
Meet Mark Gadbois, IT Specialist for Lincoln Public Schools and former middle school/high school science teacher. He leads a team of 4 in order to support 7 schools, 3500 students, 400 teachers, and over 2000 devices. With the district providing a Chromebook for every teacher, Mark and his team found themselves thinking of ways to support integration between the new devices and the classrooms’ mounted projectors. Faced with buying hundreds of HDMI cables and creating yet another item to connect & disconnect during the summer months, they had to think creatively.
Mark opted to leverage Chromecast in every classroom. A Chromecast is a device designed by Google to plug into any HDMI/USB port on any display device. Using a laptop or mobile device, you are able to mirror a copy of the Chrome web browser tab to a projector wirelessly. A few Chromecast shortcomings worth pointing out: it does not completely cast your entire screen but only the Chrome browser tab you choose and it will not show your mouse cursor. However, at $35 per Chromecast, this was both a practical and economic solution.
Brilliant! Why not? Heck, in reality, you can spend close to $35 on a decent 25 foot + HDMI cable anyway. The thought of just plugging an HDMI-ready device into your projector and walking away seems simple to an average user of such a device. However, from an enterprise IT perspective, there are several things you need to consider when planning such an endeavor:
When it comes to purchasing consumer-end devices, many education channels don’t tend to carry these items in inventory. In the case of Lincoln Public Schools, none of the district’s purchasing partners could secure the quantity of Chromecasts to meet Lincoln’s needs. Enter Best Buy Education, who not only had the stock but could also deliver the devices in time in “retail packaging.”
Since the initial purchase (around $7,500 for 200+ Chromecasts) and deployment (with a duration of less than a week) last July, Mark has seen this transition as one of the most successful classroom deployments. The feedback from his teachers has been overwhelmingly positive and appreciative. They love the flexibility of not being tethered to a cable 6 feet from the wall in the front of the room. Instead, teachers are using the device to show multimedia content, share student work, and offer collaborative work spaces for their students. IT department endeavors like these sometimes gets lumped into the “it’s just IT magic” bucket and never get the attention they deserve.
This type of innovation by Mark and his team demonstrates the potential for increased engagement, for both students and teachers, via creative thinking by IT specialists. Encouraging your IT team to think out of the box can have a long-lasting, transformative effect in classrooms across your district. For more information, please visit Mark’s Deploying Chromecast in Enterprise website, contact him via email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @MMgadbois!