Schools Are Ready to Move to Cloud Computing
Many schools are at a point where they are ready and willing to make the move to cloud computing. When it comes to choosing the best cloud-based productivity solution, the answer is not a simple one.
There are two main options: Microsoft or Google. Microsoft has recently revamped and revamped its Live@Edu solution. Now rebranded Office 365 for Education, at first glance, it may seem like the obvious choice for schools. Most schools have been using some version of Microsoft’s popular Office Suite. The move to the cloud-based version of these products may seem logical.
As is often the case with Microsoft, there is a catch. Free is never really free. There are various options, that most schools will want and/or need that will come at a cost to districts. For schools to truly utilize all of the features that Microsoft has to offer, they will need to maintain multiple servers in-house. At a demonstration of Office365 recently, the representative identified a need for at least four servers. Providing, supporting and maintaining multiple in-house servers is exactly what most school districts are trying to avoid by going to a cloud solution.
To be fair, a district could in fact use Office 365 for Education exclusively via the web and would incur no charges and require no in-house servers. In doing so, schools will be giving up significant functionality.
Microsoft’s Bait and Switch
Most importantly, is the point that Stuart Ridout makes in his blog post Can You Afford Office356 for Education?, about Microsoft once again pulling a “bait and switch” on schools. Hey Microsoft – free should mean free! Schools all over the world are challenged to stretch diminishing technology budgets while increasing the resources they are providing to students and faculty members.
Google Gets Education
Google Apps for Education is truly a free suite of applications that schools do not have to pay anything for and do not need to host any servers in-house, in order to fully utilize this suite of cloud-based computing productivity tools. Google gets it. Free means free.
When comparing Office365 and Google Apps often it is stated that Google’s productivity applications are not nearly as sophisticated as Microsoft’s products. This is accurate. The reality is that Google Apps provide all of the functionality that most users actually need and/or use. The next argument made is that Google Docs (in particular) mess up the formatting of Word documents, which does happen. If the documents are created using Google Docs in the first place, there are no formatting issues.
While Microsoft does offer the ability to collaborate on documents, etc., it is not done directly within the application. Instead, users need to add Sharepoint into the mix, in order to collaborate. This solution requires a one collaborator to “check out” a document in order to make changes. No other users can access (let alone change) the document while it is checked out.
Google on the other hand, offers real-time collaboration within the application. You can actually see on your screen when other collaborators are working on the same document as you .
The real game changer may be the latest announcements from Google that its new Google Drive Cloud Storage solution and its popular Chrome browser are now both available for IOS devices. As schools rapidly move to include iPad‘s in the arsenal of tech resources, the ability to effortlessly access documents from various location may really push Google out in front of Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft files can be accessed on various devices, it is not as seamless as the Google solution.
From its inception, Google Apps for Education has been a feature packed solution. The functionality continues to expand, with no signs of a price tag for schools.
- 10 top Dutch universities adopt Google Apps for Education (googleenterprise.blogspot.com)
- Growing Up Google: How Cloud Computing Is Changing a Generation (mashable.com)
- Google Apps for Education: When Will It Replace the LMS? (hackeducation.com)
- Google gives Google Docs offline capabilities (techworld.com.au)
Wow! Finally! It seems like I have been waiting a very long time for the release of the Google Chrome browser for the Mac.
Today I was notified about the beta release of this product and immediately downloaded and installed the new browser on 2 of my Macs. Very exciting.
I was immediately impressed by the speed of the pages loading. Far faster than the Firefox browser on either machine. The sleek, clean, simple interface is also appealing. Equally impressive is the ability to search and navigate all from the address bar.
Though I have only used it for a couple of hours, it looks very promising. The web-based student information system used in my school district appears to work flawlessly (at least at first glance.) This is a tremendous improvement. Up until now users needed to use Safari as their browser in order to successfully access the SIS from a Mac. Even Safari users encountered mixed results though.
Google continues to impress.
We have rolled out the first 15 of our potential 500+ eno interactive whiteboards from Polyvision. To date all is going extremely well. We now have boards in various classrooms throughout the district from 1st grade through high school. Though the boards were installed as recently as late August and early September, they were widely used on the very first day of school.
While acknowledging a learning curve that would be associated with any new product, all feedback from teachers using the boards has been extremely positive. In addition to the available board tools, many teachers are very excited by the use of the RM Easiteach software with the new boards.
The teachers who have them are very pleased. Those that do not are very curious and anxious to get one in their classroom soon.
If all goes well, all teachers in the district will have one before the end of this school year.
The decision has been made to allow 800+ teachers throughout the district to create their own personalized web pages using Google Sites. A PDP was provided at each building. Following the brief overview of Google Sites for all building teachers during the 30 minute PDP, a staff developer stayed in each building for the remainder of the day.
Ideally, teachers could work with the staff developer during their free time throughout the day, such as prep periods, lunch, etc. Usually in small groups, the staff developer was able to help teachers access our Google Partner Page, login for the first time and change their password.
Teachers were then provided an opportunity to create their own “site(s).” This is where things got a little tricky. A main landing page was envisioned, where anyone looking for a teacher web page could go. From this landing page, a viewer could navigate to a particular building’s site, drill down to the appropriate grade level or subject and then down to a particular teacher’s site.
This design works well as long as teachers are aware of precisely where in the overall structure, they need to place their site to begin with. Another issue that cam up is rights…making sure each teacher has sufficient rights to create their page in the appropriate location, without having the ability to modify other pages (unintentionally or otherwise.) More to follow…
I have recently become very interested in Google Apps Education Edition. Google Apps Education Edition is the free version for schools of Google Apps Premiere Edition.
Included are free email, messaging, and shared calendars for all staff and students (if desired), with no advertising. Included collaboration tools enable real-time and access to documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and sites from anywhere, on any device. Any device, refers to any device with an Internet connection and web browser, which may provide a low-cost options for classroom computing using such devices as, dare I say, mobile phones. More on this prospect at another time.
Teachers can now access/create/edit their own web pages from any where, at any time of day.
Also appealing is the potential to reduce school IT infrastructure costs since all apps are hosted on Google’s servers. No more upgrades/patches. No more increasing memory. No annual license fees. Web-based apps also means no more client maintenance costs. Everything is accessed via a web browser.
While this all appears to be great, there are some issues that I am still working on. The biggest issue is overcoming the confusion of private (district) Google accounts vs. public Google accounts.
1000 teachers and staff accounts. 8600 student accounts. 11 schools and a district office. Stay tuned…