David Ross Education Trust scales IT on a nonprofit budget with Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education

Editor's note: Today’s post comes from Guy Shearer, Head of IT at the David Ross Education Trust (DRET), a UK-registered charity that supports primary and secondary school students in achieving a high standard of academics.

How do you scale IT with limited resources when your organisation triples in size? We faced this challenge at David Ross Education Trust (DRET), where we manage a network of primary and secondary academies across the Midlands and East of England. We grew from seven schools in 2012 to 30 schools in 2014, and had to find a way to bring our 9,000 students more access to technology.

While we had a great many computer labs with desktops, we didn’t see this as a sustainable solution. Much of our time was dedicated to managing systems and installing software updates, fixing computers or teaching people how to use them. We wanted to make technology easier to manage for IT and a more natural part of classroom life rather than isolated in computer labs.

After hearing about Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks, we set up pilot programmes at interested schools and saw students pick up the technology almost immediately. Some brave students even start leading training sessions for their teachers. So far, we’ve deployed 3,000 Apps accounts and 500 Chromebooks at 13 schools, and plan to double this by the end of the year.

The cost savings have helped us expand access to digital learning across our schools. We can buy and manage twice as many Chromebooks as we can desktops or iPads. The £11,000 ($18,137) we used to spend for a single computer lab has been cut in half. Chromebooks are also lightweight, quick to boot up and easy to use, so we’ve been able to bring the devices into classrooms and repurpose the space our old computer labs once occupied.
Students hard at work 
The simplicity of managing Google Apps and Chromebooks allows our IT team to focus on new programs rather than setting up and troubleshooting technology. With the Web-based management console, we can remotely manage every Google Apps account and get detailed reports on how they’re being used. We never have to worry about installing software updates either, they just happen automatically.

With less lost time, we are able to focus on things that add value and improve the impact of our investment. For example, we were able to set up a programme called Digital Leaders that empowers students to train their peers and teachers in Google Apps for Education. The students come up with new ways to use technology that inspire us as educators. In the classroom, Apps and Chromebooks help students learn how to work in groups effectively, create blogs, present their work via Hangouts, and provide feedback through comments in Docs. Google Apps and Chromebooks have helped create a sense of community at DRET while quickly scaling an engaging platform that students and teachers love.

If you’d like to find out more, check out our full case study.