This past school year, SPA Middle School has been piloting Google Apps for Education. Of course when I say pilot, I’m referring to an early stage of use as the pilots we’ve had of other technologies in the past always evolved into full implementation. We’re on the same track with the Google tools, and it’s been a pretty good experience thus far.
We began to look at Google Apps for Education for a few reasons:
- The buzz – I hate to admit it, but this definitely spurred us to consider the tool. Schools around the world were getting a ton of publicity around their adoption of Google Apps for Education, and I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.
- Our current email solution for students wasn’t “cool enough” for kids. We’d been using Gaggle for student email for several years. While it was functional and offered a number of useful features, kids simply preferred Gmail. I couldn’t blame them – I have a personal account, too. Considering that many of our students were too young to have consumer Gmail accounts, this was an issue. We needed a better solution.
- We are always looking for tools to enhance teaching and learning, and we’d begun to hear about using Google as a collaborative learning tool. Collaboration – yes
In fall of 2011, I went with two of my fav teacher/integrationists to the Midwest Google Summit in Wisconsin Dells. It didn’t take long to realize this could be a great tool for us, and working with the teachers with whom I attended the conference helped me really see the possibilities. We went back to school hyped and ready to get things rolling; however, as things tend to do when you come back from a good conference, some of the shine wore off and we realized that getting GAFE set up correctly for our institution would take more work than we’d hoped. We decided to do two things:
- Begin working on mini-pilots of Google Apps when appropriate using our personal accounts. We did a lot with Forms and a bit with Docs.
- Create a phased in implementation plan:
- Set up GAFE for our spa.edu domail (more complicated because several years prior, we’d had a Google Workgroup set up for another project).
- Create accounts for faculty/staff brave enough to be an early adopter.
- Work with our network consultant to get the “back end” set up and create accounts for adults on campus.
- Work with Gaggle, our student email provider, to do the filtering of student accounts.
- Roll-out to Middle School with a “see what you can do with it” approach for adults and a “let’s start with email” appoach for kids.
- In late spring, reflect and determine approach for Lower School and Upper School.
Here’s what worked:
- Keeping use low-stakes. We made it available, but we didn’t push.
- Sharing frequently and in lots of ways. We had at least one early adopter working closely with each grade level, and we shared frequently, both in the early adopters group and more widely. It was often informal – the “Man, this was really cool!” approach. It helped that one of our lead early adopters was also the 8th grade team leader and had a good grasp of the needs of the team.
- Finding ways to use GAFE for professional productivity. Team notes, faculty forms, daily stuff, department collaboration, etc. When people found a professional use, they were willing to learn. Once teachers begin to use the tool themselves, they begin to see the possibility in the classroom.
- Support, support, support. When we’re in early days of a project, I expect to do hand holding. If that means practically teaching a lesson for a teacher or totally driving the tech side of the lesson, it’s all part of a day’s work. Once they see something run smoothly (or see how I respond without freaking out if it isn’t smooth), they are more confident to it themselves.
- Chocolate. Yep, always my standby. People come up (my desk is on the 3rd floor) for chocolate, and they often vent/share/listen as they unwrap
What I wish had worked more smoothly:
- I wish we’d rolled out more quickly. If it had been available for us at the start of the school year, we’d be further along. Of course in a 1:1 school, summers are ALWAYS the busiest for tech folks, and GAFE was the project that had to be shelved until after school started.
- More consistent training. We were in the 2nd phase of a major student database roll-out and were in the process of determining K12 scheduling changes, so we just didn’t have the time we’d hoped for training.
Where we are now:
- Middle School: Having seen it in use by early adopters for a year, we have lots of teachers planning to use pieces of GAFE for 2013-14. Definitely in good shape.
- Upper School: Rolling out student accounts in August. Faculty are piloting but with more confidence because they’ve collaborated with Middle School early adopters.
- Lower School: I did a training with K-5 teachers during the workshop week at the end of the year, and teachers are ready to pilot. They’ve asked for all students in 1st-5th to have GAFE accounts (no email) and generated a list of ways they can see it used.
- Support Staff: I did a training with support folks yesterday. Went great. We’re beginning to look at ways to eliminate or reduce the paper we’re using with traditional forms and such. That’s another post…
- Leadership Team/Administrators: Training planned for August.
Kind of feels like a strange approach if you look at the heirarchy of a school, but it’s worked. Middle school is where kids seem to change the most quickly, so teachers are often the most resilient and flexible. Sometimes starting in the middle is the best approach.