Google and Education: just work

Google has a huge amount of educational potential, something which I personally want to highlight to my school. I’ll probably use this blog post to that end, but if anyone else fancies reading a list of stuff, please do feel free to.
See you after the jump…

The Basics

Google’s education solution is based (no prize if you guessed) on the power of the Web. And heck, that’s pretty powerful. It also, like all of its products, has the advantage of putting everything centrally. So, if you’re in YouTube, you’ll see notifications of your work being marked in Docs. Useful, eh?

Another thing it focuses on is simplicity, for both users and administrators, and it succeeds. Chrome OS, which its Chromebooks run on is very easy to use (seriously, even my mum can use it) and the Education Management Console make it lovely for techs too.
So, less time wasted, more time learning.

The devices, incidentally, take fewer than 10 seconds to boot, and have 10 hours or so battery life.


Drive

Google utilises its extensive (and very secure and reliable – and by “extensive,” on AfE, you get 60 times more storage than my school’s current KS3 allowance) cloud storage system [my phone suggested this emoticon in predictive text. How awesome: ☁] with Docs, Sheets and Slides (that’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Microsoft-wise). Microsoft Office filetypes are compatible with Drive and vice versa.

Drive being Cloud-based means that files can easily be shared and collaborated on (yes, more than one user at a time – among other combinations, teacher and student?). The sharing also means that teachers could easily share revision resources and things used in lessons.

The Drive comments system means that teachers could give really detailed marking, to which pupils could respond. This added depth could really improve feedback (something my school was advised to improve by Ofsted at its last inspection).

Drive, like all Google products, syncs with iOS and Android phones (that’s about 85% of smartphones in the UK) pretty seamlessly, meaning that educational content can be accessed any time a pupil

Apps for Education

Hangouts

Drive documents can also be edited with G+ Hangouts; Hangouts is a video/audio/chat service (similar to Skype) with a number of added extensions for improved functionality. Educationally it could be used for out-of-school support, improved communication with parents, or forging international links. It furthermore boasts a feature which allows a monocle and top hat to be superimposed on your face, which frankly should be enough to justify a £360,000 investment.

Google Plus

or Google+, G+
…is the Google social network. And as discussed previously on this blog, it’s actually good. It has a lot of educational communities on it, too.
The main Apps for Education point is that it can be used as an internal network, though, improving communication across the network (ie. school and parents).

Its very powerful Circles feature also allows for easy groups to be set up, which can be used on the email system and Drive.

Gmail

Gmail is undoubtedly one of Google’s best known products. It’s pretty straightforward email, although it’s worth noting that custom ____@____.___.sch.uk addresses can be used with Apps for Education. It is also a good place to highlight the “central-ness” of all the Google products, since it links so closely with all of them.

Calendars

Free compared to our current Outlook solution, and more integrated, Calendars fit in nicely with G+ Events. They also sync to phones and tablets and generally mean that organisation (especially soon with Classroom) is better.

YouTube for Schools

YouTube is another big Google educational resource, and it’s too often overlooked because it’s filtered. But it can be used well for education, making things far more accessible and interactive for everyone (another thing, note, school, you were picked up on by Ofsted).

Think vSauce, that inspires thinking.

Google Classroom

Coming September 2014, Google Classroom is a full immersive Chrome OS-based app which allows for a number of additional Google features to be optimised for educational use. This would replace our current, expensive email system, Impero, Microsoft Office package and put it all into one easy place, for greater interaction, bringing together learning.

Chrome!

Chrome is a hugely beneficial tool for education; being a browser, it would be, since it gives access to one of the biggest sources of knowledge which humankind currently boasts (that’s the Internet, if you didn’t know). Chrome for Education goes better, optimised for administrators to keep users safe. It also supports all the apps and extensions Chrome has to offer…

Chrome Web Store

The Chrome Web Store allows users to download (often free of charge) extensions, apps and other improvements for Chrome. In education, these can be managed (including blocking any inappropriate apps, or force-downloading apps for use). The apps have many purposes, useful in lessons as well as extra-curricular learning (for instance the Codecamedy app, which teaches users in an engaging, simple way to code) and – of course – leisure.

Google Play

Google Play is another store, this time with mostly paid content (although this tends to be quite cheap). This content, as well as apps, includes books, videos, music and other things. This can be used for education (for instance, Play Education allows resources to be filtered by subject. Google Play also syncs with phones and tablets, allowing educational material to be accessed at any time it’s convenient for a pupil. Its excellent eBook capabilities can also strengthen accessibility of reading for all pupils.

Google Now

Google Now is a feature familiar to users of later Android versions, and uses a “Cards” system to present relevant and useful information. This can be used for organisation centrally, and whilst this doesn’t necessarily directly benefit education (although users can be shown updates to sites they commonly frequent, which may well be educational), it is useful…and quite pretty.

Why this is useful.

A fair few features have been covered here, but not all of them by any means – nor have I fully discussed all of the potential uses, because it would take forever. There is more here, though, if you want.

Really, though, I think that Google’s educational solutions are excellent because as well as all the points noted above (how they have potential to improve education is rather obvious in many cases), it’s central. It also gets far more updates (simply) than any self-respecting school-based IT department would release, which constantly improve things – all their products are frequently bug-checked, and many more features are added regularly to various things, for instance the Management Console.

I also think that if it were implemented as I might suggest, with pupils having overall responsibility for their devices and usability (eg. charging), it would promote trust being placed in them by the school. The devices would obviously need a deposit, but giving them to be looked after allows development of accountability; in saying that, the Google solution also gives pupils a lot of help in making sure everything’s organised and completed correctly – but that’s not a bad thing, it actually gives more focus to education.

Cost

A quick note to anyone from my school reading this, the cost of investment in Dell Chromebook 11s and a Management Console for all pupils and around 150 staff would be just under £350,000. Our WiFi systems would need to be upgraded for it to work effectively too, but I don’t think this is too great an investment for products which would remove the need for most, if not all of our very costly Windows and Microsoft products (except Access*) and if organised properly would make a lot of things a lot slicker and easier. And ultimately, I think they present the opportunity to improve the quality of education.

*We would still need Access (unless we used a web-based solution, such as PHPMyAdmin, which is technically more difficult for pupils) for database topic(s) in GCSE ICT; Chromebooks can run a virtual Windows environment if necessary, although it would likely need to be discussed with Google Sales when purchasing.

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This post was cross-posted from my personal blog, where it was published in June 2014.

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