This article was originally posted on www.itsbenwhitaker.com on 15/09/2017
So I made another infographic this week that I will be sending to all my PD partners and the schools & colleges I will be making inroads with in the next few weeks. Having been excited about Google Edu stuff for a while and pioneering some ideas in my last setting, I often find people asking me - why Google? Isn't it just where you search for answers at the click of a button? Alas, I have not yet face-palmed nor face-slapped yet...But it did get me thinking about the key reasons why it is important to 'Go Google'.
1. It's totally free and unlimited
For education and non-profit users, who happen to be the two sectors that I am working with currently, the G-Suite is free. That's right - you pay nothing to have a domain, set up multiple users (we had over 1000 in our previous organisation), and have access to the full range of applications that are on offer. The Core Suite (Keep, Docs, Sheets, Classroom, Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Forms, Sites, Slides, Hangouts, Groups) is a perfect place to start and in fact, you probably won't use all of these all at once (NB: I started with Docs & Drive before finding the Pan's Labyrinth that is Google Classroom!). Not only are the apps free but all cloud-based storage is free too...and unlimited. You will never fill your GAFE (Google Apps for Education) space. These two facts alone are saving schools money like you would never know (and heaven knows we need to save schools money in the current climate). One school estimated that eliminating on-site servers has saved them £40k alone. CDW (a leading IT solutions company) suggests that moving over to Chromebooks as the device of choice has saved 93% of IT deployment hours, 68% of annual support time and 61% on 3-Year Costs (Source: IDC Whitepaper: The Economic Value of Chromebooks for Educational Institutions, September 2015). All in all, when you Go Google, you save money and effort.
2. It will boost collaboration between staff and students
According to an African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." This absolutely is at the heart of G-Suite. Working together gets the job done. But it's not just about getting stuff done - it's about stuff being done right. This is not just another job; young people's lives, futures, dreams, mortgages, children all depend on it. That's the truth - we need to take seriously the fact that young people (and all learners for that matter) depend on us as educators to do things properly, for the long-haul not just the instant win. G-Suite allows us to work together on projects that have meaning (e.g. Google Sites allows students to have an authentic audience for their projects). The G-Suite is grounded in collaboration - many of the Core apps allow up to 50 people to be working on them SIMULTANEOUSLY. Imagine this scenario (because it's probably not too far from your normal teaching experience): a department or faculty needs to write a new Scheme for Learning (SFL) for a year group. They will probably take the following steps:
This is when the first problem arises: two members of staff are planning to get straight on it that evening (when teachers always plan!) but one of them (the one whose kids are later into bed because they needed a second story!) gets to the planning document later than the other, only to find it is 'Read Only' and to 'Make a Copy'. This leads to 'local' copies of the same document that need to be 'synced' at a later point and then 'version1' is added as an appendix to the filename. By the time, the fifth person gets on, no one knows which version they are working on and the collaboration grinds to a halt. Cue Google Docs as an alternative to the same scenario: Points 1-5 remain almost exactly the same (although there is scope to do this remotely through Hangouts if the physical location is difficult to agree upon). It is the work away from the original collaborative meeting that sets Docs apart - the same two members of staff can both be working on the document at the same time (and can even use Chat & Comment functions to discuss each other's ideas whilst working on it in real-time) and then because of Auto-Save and no need for 'versions', Person 5 simply adds their lesson to the existing document. No copying. No versions. No emailing or saving to USB sticks. No 'read-only' files. Collaboration in real time. I haven't even mentioned creating collective slide decks in Slides where each student has responsibility for a different topic area and they all work on the Slides together for homework. Or, perhaps collaborating on a classwide Google Site to showcase their learning for the year. Or, what about the staff who create a consistent assessment model in Google Forms that they share to all students and collate data automatically in Google Sheets? It really makes working together work.
They meet together (co-ordinating schedules was a nightmare but people had a 45-minute window that everyone could do next Tuesday).
They discuss the learning objectives, the assessment to 'work backwards from', the key concepts that need to be covered and all the examination preparation that must be addressed.
They split this into individual lessons.
They then rush through allocating different lessons to different members of staff and agree to write their part of the SFL.
They go away pleased that they have initial ideas.
3. It will lead to a less-paper school and world
Ray Fleming, Education Marketing Manager for Microsoft, estimates that most schools spend more on printing than IT and some approximations suggest each school prints around a million sheets per year, equating to about £45000. The last school I worked in actually topped the two million mark in each of the last two years I was there (and that was when iPads and EdTech were already in place!). Practice examination papers, multiple assessment documents and 'regularly updated' displays all take their toll. Now, no-one is suggesting that a 100% paperless classroom is possible, or in fact, necessary. Indeed, there is something magical about holding a book or a magazine or a student's poster being displayed on the corridor. Schools already have lots of wonderful paper-based resources that it would be impractical and unwarranted to simply replace these with digital versions (and theory on the SAMR model would suggest this is only first-level use of technology). We don't want to stop paper use; indeed, as it stands, the terminal examinations at 16 and 18 require use of the written form so we need to ensure students are still utilising written methods. What is clear though is that the way we are working is unsustainable. Take, for example, the re-issuing of multiple worksheets for homework (students lose them, the dog eats it, their juice spilt over it or you simply didn't print enough). The creation of these still requires the hard graft but the sharing and collection of these can be made simpler (and more eco-friendly) just by sharing them electronically (either in Google Classroom or via links in Drive or Docs). No more excuses - it is simply there to share again. There is also a permanent record of the submitted work rather than relying on worksheets being stuck in books or filed in drawers never to be seen again. If you add in that marking through Classroom with Comment Banks (see coming blog post!) means that staff can access work quicker and in a less cumbersome way (how many wearisome teachers have we seen carrying out a mountain of marking or wheeling their trolleys of torture on a Friday evening?), it really does make sense. Let's get to saving the world.
4. It stimulates creativity
Singapore is generally regarded by many as one of, if not the best, education systems in the world. A BBC article highlighted how they have placed creativity at the centre of their curriculum and moved to more "holistic education". In fact, "there is strong evidence from across the curriculum and age-range that where children and young people are given some control over their learning and supported to take risks with the right balance between structure and freedom, their creativity is enhanced" (Davies et al, 2013). One of my greatest epiphanies came in a Y13 Religious Studies class when a certain young man came into the room excited to tell me that he had been watching a video the previous evening on YouTube which proved that I knew what I was talking about with Kantian philosophy (which was a good job because it is a tough gig to get your head around!). It made me realise that students didn't need us to teach them anymore. They needed us to facilitate their learning. No longer is the teacher the sage on the stage or the font of all knowledge. Many students even spend their time researching ways to counter-argue what is being taught anyway from their real 'teacher': the Internet! The G-Suite certainly allows students control over the learning, and not just through Google's monopoly on the world's two biggest search engines (Google Search & YouTube, which it acquired in 2006 unbeknown to most people at the time). The creative opportunities are immense within the suite, but with amazing add-ons, extensions and third-party apps, there is an even wider plethora of choice. For example, I used EdPuzzle as a method of making/editing educational videos (even using screencasts to showcase 'how tos' for staff and students) and then creating assessments or ongoing questions to check the learning throughout. This was an amazing homework project and allowed us to extend the learning beyond the classroom. Einstein suggested that, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." It's time to get rid of the box, never mind think outside of it.
5. It is safe, secure and user-friendly
One of the biggest worries that schools, and particularly school leaders, face is that of security. "Won't Google be able to access all of our information, including confidential records?" "What happens if we can't access the cloud?" "Can hackers not get all of our stuff much easier if it isn't backed up on our hard drives?" These and other similar concerns are justified in the light of huge data breaches in recent times. However, Google uses the world's leading encryption (256-bit AES ) making it way more secure as any USB stick or server anywhere on the planet (as this insightful article suggests though, it is only as secure as our use of it!) Google Vault is Google's archiving and storage system that ensures that all work within a domain (including all comments, searches and user activity) is saved and searchable. This means that any student or staff accounts can be tracked (if necessary) and all important information can be retrieved almost immediately. The G-Suite allows for greater protection of students with restrictions controlled by the administrator, and if your school goes to Chromebooks, this management goes up a whole other level in terms of deployment of apps, whitelisting of websites and checking suitability of YouTube videos. Although no system is ever foolproof, this one goes a long way towards it. Finally, the G-Suite is amazingly user-friendly. The interactivity between apps is seamless and the commonality of 'Share' functions makes it so easy. Even the world's greatest technophobe will find the navigation of the apps simpler than any other leading competitors. One great example of this has been mentioned earlier and is something I will be blogging about very soon and that is the integration of Google Keep within Docs. I was forever writing the same comments on a pile of student books and was becoming increasingly frustrated at what seemed like a huge waste of time. By typing these common phrases into a Keep note and then simply dragging and dropping them onto the electronic assignment, I was literally saving hours of my life. I was free! (A simple explanation of this can be found here). The G-Suite really was a life-saver.