Chromebook monitoring keeps learners on task at Pasadena Unified School District

Chromebook monitoring keeps learners on task at Pasadena Unified School District

“I would’ve died if I didn’t have Hāpara this year,” laughs Mary Roper, a third grade teacher at Webster Elementary school in Pasadena, California. She uses Hāpara to keep learners on task with Chromebook monitoring.

Similarly Lisa Prado, who teaches 4th grade at Sierra Madre Elementary a few miles away, says, “Hāpara is just the best way to be able to monitor all the kids at once, especially now when we’re half remote and half in-person.” 

These are just two of many teachers who’ve relied heavily on Hāpara this last year at Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD). The district has 23 schools/centers serving 18,500 students in the communities of Altadena, Pasadena, Sierra Madre and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. 

Hāpara Highlights has formed part of the technology package at the district since 2015. During that time, it has helped PUSD meet its long-term goal of technology integration in the area of digital classroom management, according to Educational Technology Specialist Harmony Cano.

“A lot of our teachers were hesitant to use technology at all,” she reports. “When we gave them Hāpara, they felt like, ‘Ah, I can see what everyone’s doing. I can make sure [learners are] not making bad choices and keep them safe.’ Overall, I think it really helped the teachers feel better about using the technology, that they didn’t have to set their classrooms up like computer labs where they could see everyone’s screens and micromanage that way.”

As the pandemic forced classes into remote learning, the school district needed to protect and keep learners on task. The district has seen a significant uptick in usage of the Highlights Chromebook monitoring tool among its 800-teacher staff. Now the current hybrid model at PUSD has brought its own set of challenges for teachers and students.

“The monitoring tool is the equivalent of having an adult in a classroom. It’s giving the kids the opportunity to experience and learn how to be a learner online, while giving the teacher the opportunity to provide feedback on what they’re doing,” clarifies Cano. “It’s not an ‘I gotcha!’ It’s me trying to make this process as easy and safe as possible for everyone.”

Giving feedback on an assignment

New situation pushes teachers to get more out of their Chromebook monitoring tool

Exploring new Highlights features

The past fourteen months have pushed many teachers to expand their digital repertoire. This is evident in the increased rate of technology adoption at PUSD. For early tech adopters and teachers already using Hāpara, this translated into incorporating new features they hadn’t tried before. 

Mary Roper has employed technology in the classroom for nine years and Hāpara nearly as long. She shares how excited she was when she discovered this year that she could also use it to schedule her day and make templates.

Meanwhile, Lisa Prado, fourth grade language arts and history teacher, has been using Highlights to toggle between two viewing modes.  First, she uses Browser Tabs. This feature shows URLs opened and closed by students in their browser during their current Highlights session. She also uses Current Screens, sends students messages and blocks them from unauthorized sites. Highlights also has a tool to create student groups that Prado recently started using.

“This year since I have alternating groups of students that come on two days and certain students that are in all four days. I now use groups to sort and color code them according to who’s in front of me, who’s at home, who’s online or offline,” Prado explains.

Using Chromebook monitoring to help teaching partners

Another thing she likes about Highlights is being able to support her math and science teaching partner by using Chromebook monitoring. For example, when learners are supposed to be in a math test, she can help her partner by refocusing those who drift. In the past when she wasn’t at school, or had a substitute, she’d set up focused browsing. This Highlights feature allows students to open only specific pages she’s selected.

Hāpara Highlights - Focused Browsing

For McKinley School of the Arts teacher Stephanie Norton, just getting her seventh grade students in the virtual class doorway has been an ongoing challenge this year. She’s really leaned into the Highlights messaging feature. It allows teachers to send targeted messages to selected learners, groups or the whole class.

“Being able to send them a message that pops up on their screen as they wander on YouTube or whatever, saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got class right now,’ is really helpful.”

Hāpara Highlights Student Messages

Michelle Kang, instructional coach at Field Elementary, shares how the Highlights messaging feature supported her classroom management when she was teaching. “When you have a quiet working environment or don’t want to interrupt the small group that you’re working with, you can send a message to a student directly without yelling, going to them or interrupting multiple people.”

Hāpara is so central to learning that it’s become a verb!

As Roper shares how Hāpara Highlights has impacted her third grade class over the past year, she uses the word “Hāpara” as a verb. 

“I’ve Hāparaed them mostly all school year,” she says. Roper uses Hāpara to create a scheduled, closely guided and monitored management of student workflow.

In other school years, she’s allowed her learners more choice and room for personal exploration. Yet, early on she discovered that she would lose 25% of her students during remote learning when she tried things like having them log into different websites. 

“When you’re in school, you have them in front of you, so you can monitor differently. But when you’re remote, you really have no power. Hāpara makes it so that at least I have control over some aspect of the educational system,” explains Roper. 

She adds that parents whose kids are in different classes complain to her. “Why can’t all the teachers just learn how to use Hāpara? I’m tired of always getting my child off YouTube.”

For her, Highlights goes well beyond using Chromebook monitoring to protect learners online. It organizes and simplifies the school day. “It’s a ‘no brainer’ for kids and their parents. All kids had to do was open their computer, press the button and they’re in class,” she shares.

Learners in her classroom have also added “Hāparaed” to their vocabulary. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I’m not Hapara’ed.’ And I’ll be like, ‘Hold on a second’ and send them the link in the chat,” laughs Roper. “Or they’re like, ‘I can’t go there; I’m Hāparaed,’ when they’re denied access to a site.”

Fortunately, Highlights gives teachers the discretion to allow learners to visit a site on a case-by case-basis. This is something other monitoring tools don’t do. For example, when learners finish assigned work, Roper may allow them to watch a video. 

There was one huge upside to being Haparaed throughout remote learning. That was the easy, glitch-free transition her class made into hybrid learning last month. It made her peers envious. 

Nuances in using Chromebook monitoring reflects teaching style

A fine line with Chromebook monitoring

Many educators admit it’s been challenging to give students leeway in developing their self-monitoring skills during remote learning. 

Norton strongly believes there’s a fine line when using Chromebook monitoring. That is controlling behavior versus guiding learners to focus their attention and make good choices. “If the only thing keeping them from staying focused in class is me closing out their tabs, then I think it’s a sign that they’re needing something else, more guidance at least.”  

She adds, “Some students will even say ‘I’m distracted by YouTube. Please block me so it isn’t even an option for me.’ That sort of decision comes from a different place than me just spending my instructional minutes going through and monitoring.”

One-on-one mentoring and small groups in her experience better facilitate discussions. How do we eliminate distractions? How do we stay focused in class? Beyond that, it all contributes to conversations surrounding digital citizenship. 

The “why” behind monitoring

Meanwhile Instructional Coach Dr. Erica Peters uses Highlights at the secondary level to invite learners to testing or meetings. She encourages teachers to talk more with learners about the “why” behind Chromebook monitoring.  

“I have some teachers that like it for the element of control and will focus-browse and kick kids out of sites constantly. Others will message students about making better decisions and help them that way,” she notes. “The people that are controlling were like that before the technology. They have not changed.”

Cano believes there’s a more intentional way of going about Chromebook monitoring. She believes that teachers should give students more opportunities to make mistakes and learn. She also believes in using tools when learners demonstrate they can’t make good choices themselves. 

Michelle Kang says, “We’re a district with 1:1 Chromebooks. If we’re having students using technology in kindergarten, digital citizenship also needs to start immediately from kindergarten.”  

Previously as an elementary school teacher, she used Highlights to build awareness for children as young as first grade. Just knowing their teacher could see what they were doing on their screens during instructional time kept them on task.

“There’s both a relationship and management piece to monitoring too,” she explains. “It’s not that you’re closing everything and you’re restricting them from everything, but you’re encouraging them to take initiative.”

Balancing Chromebook monitoring integration post-pandemic 

Due to the survival nature of these last fourteen months, professional development hasn’t kept up with the speed of technology uptick. For example, Kang wishes she had time to train teachers at her school. She would have covered the nuances of managing learners while building self-reliance.

Peters says, “Going forward I hope to help teachers find the balance. Technology is great, but so are they.” 

As for the education technology team, Cano says they are planning comprehensive training. They’ll schedule it when they return next school year, after the dust settles. The focus will be tips and tricks on how to best use technology.

Cano appreciates the role Highlights has played for the district in the past and even more so during the past year.

“Hāpara helps us in keeping kids safe while allowing them to be online learners. In the pandemic, we navigated a lot of kids remotely. It was really a blessing to be able to do that while keeping kids safe, helping them be good digital citizens and really supporting the teachers in having a safe classroom.”

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