The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is going boldly where few Canadian school boards have gone before – into the Google cloud. According to the board, it’s implementing Google Apps for Education across all schools in the district. They began with 12 pilot sites this year and are looking at full completion by the end of 2013. Several Google-certified instructors on staff are key to the project’s success.
Here’s what Google says about Google Apps’ main products:
Gmail for education offers 7 GB of storage per user, powerful spam filtering, integrated voice/video conferencing, and 99.9% up time…all hosted by Google – with no cost, and no ads for students, faculty or staff.
Google Docs provides web-based documents, spreadsheets, drawings and presentations that let users edit the same file at the same time so you always have the latest version.
Google Calendar enables users to easily schedule meetings, share event calendars, and stay organized – no matter how busy their days are.
Google Groups allows users to set up their own mailing lists, and easily share docs, sites, and calendars with colleagues. Administrators can control memberships if desired, and connect Groups to [learning management] and [student information] systems.
Google Sites is an easy way to create web pages for intranets or class projects. You control what’s public, and what’s private. No coding or HTML required.
I’ve got a call in to the board to find out which apps they’re adopting but whatever they’re starting with, I applaud their innovation and risk-taking. I also applaud the fact they’re modeling how to kill two big birds with one stone: providing their students with collaborative cloud-based tools to extend their learning – and saving money. Google Apps are free.
Students are already familiar with Google because 99% of them already use one or more of their free products such as search, YouTube or Gmail. However, they use them because they help them do what they want to do – find stuff, watch videos – and they’re dead easy. The question is, will students see apps like Calendar, Docs, Groups and Sites in the same way?
Google Apps are tools. Collaboration is a behaviour. Using Gmail and sharing a video on YouTube are not collaborating. Students must see how collaboration can help them do what they want before they’ll care how Google Apps or any tool can help them collaborate.
I will be watching closely to see how the OCDSB meets this challenge.