JOLIET – Jennifer Ahern doesn’t always have to teach her third-graders in a physical classroom – she can continue teaching them in the virtual realm of Google Classroom.
Google Classroom is one of the many software products by Google that Ahern uses in her class at M.J. Cunningham Elementary in Joliet. Students can log in to the classroom, so to speak, and she can assign them essays, or send the links to educational articles or videos.
“We’re able to communicate back and forth. … They can even access that at home. It’s been very helpful,” Ahern said.
Ahern’s class is among many throughout Joliet Public Schools District 86 that are using Google software and hardware – laptops called Chromebooks.
Last year, the district used 1,200 Chromebooks, and this year that increased to 3,900. Google products are affordable – with many free resources and tools – and allow for collaboration and storage of information on the web, district officials said.
“We get a lot of more bang for the buck in terms of devices. Our money goes a lot farther because the devices are so much less expensive,” said John Armstrong, the district’s technology and information director.
Google products are becoming increasingly popular in public schools nationwide and capturing a larger share of the K-12 market. Chromebook operating software gained a 58 percent market share last year, up from 50 percent in 2015, according to Futuresource Consulting, a research consulting company. Microsoft Windows was only at 22 percent, and Apple’s Mac OS decreased from 6 percent to 5 percent market share.
The strong combination of affordable devices, productivity tools, easy integration with third-party platforms and tools, task management and distribution through Google Classroom, and easy device management remains popular with teachers and information technology buyers, Futuresource Consulting said.
Among some major school districts in Will County, Google hasn’t caught on as much.
District 86 and Lockport Township High School District 205 use Google software and hardware heavily, but Plainfield School District 202 – the largest district in the county – along with Joliet Township High School District 204 and Lincoln-Way High School District 210 – doesn’t use Google software, Chromebooks or both.
District 204 has no immediate plans to use Chromebooks, but it does use G Suite For Education, previously known as Google Apps For Education, Karen Harkin, the district’s information technology services director, said in an email.
“However, we have been using [Lenovo] netbook tablets that offer more capabilities than Chromebooks since the 2012-13 school year. We reached full implementation, offering every student a netbook tablet [in] the 2014-15 school year, as part of our 1:1 technology initiative,” Harkin said.
She said that the netbooks support Google and Microsoft software and allow the district to provide more applications locally on the devices for offline use.
“We feel supporting the Microsoft products is an advantage since they are still the standard used in colleges and businesses across industries,” Harkin said.
District 202 spokesman Tom Hernandez said in an email that in December 2013, the district turned off all access to Google services for a short period of time because students had accessed inappropriate sites when Google made a change in security protocols that did not give the district the ability to inspect and block inappropriate traffic. The issue eventually was fixed, and the district has since allowed students to use Google.
He said the district does not use Chromebooks but Windows-based products.
District 205 has been using Chromebooks since the 2012-13 school year and uses about 4,000 of them, said Matt Dusterhoft, the district’s technology director. Although PCs have come down in price, they’re still more expensive than Chromebooks, he said.
The cost of Microsoft software and hardware has been a barrier for District 205 to achieve its goal of giving every student a laptop, he said.
“By using Google and some of these other tools, costs have come down so far it makes it affordable to do,” Dusterhoft said.
Ahern said using Google software in her classroom at M.J. Cunningham school has increased more communication between her and her students, as she can give them feedback on assignments online immediately. The students also like it because they set up and use their own online accounts.
“They’re learning about how to be independent users,” Ahern said.