Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why Google and Chromebooks?

*This is a very long post. See the last paragraph for a TLDR (too long, didn't read) version.
As I have worked in different buildings in my district over the last couple of months the same two questions keep coming up over and over. Why Google Apps and why Chromebooks? These are not only fair questions, but the answers are essential for everyone to understand so we can provide this information to all stakeholders when they ask the same questions.

I did not work in my district when these decisions were made, but I will try to provide the best and most accurate answers that I can.
The easiest part of this question to address is why we went with Chromebooks instead of laptops. Cost was a major factor. When Chromebooks first came out there were a lot of people that knocked them because they were so affordable. How could any device that is so inexpensive possibly be worth anything? Chromebooks held their own and it wasn’t too long before the critics had to eat their words. While Chromebooks do not work for every class, they do everything that students need them to do most of the time for most classes. Specialized classes which require specific software will still be held in computer labs, but for the most part, nearly everything that students need to do can be accomplished on a Chromebook. This even includes working on Microsoft documents. Yes, you read that correctly.  Word, Powerpoint, and Excel are all free apps that are available in the Chrome Web Store.
Since we are on the topic of platforms, this is probably a good time to address another issue that really should not even exist. The question that often comes up is, “Should we teach Microsoft or should we teach Google Docs?” This is a moot point and we need to stop wasting time discussing it. Word processing works pretty much the same way regardless of the platform. Slide creation is slide creation whether you are using Slides in Google, Powerpoint in Office, or Keynote on a Mac. What matters much more than the platform are the skills the student are learning. These skills will transfer from one platform to another so it really doesn’t matter if a student learns how to create a visual presentation using Google  or PowerPoint. Also keep in mind while it might be difficult for adults to switch between platforms, students have a much easier time with this. They have the remarkable ability to learn and unlearn which is makes it easier for them to thrive in the world we live in today.
Harvard, Brown, Rutgers, Northwestern, Cornell, University of Virginia, Brown, Notre Dame are just some of institutions which have adopted Google Apps for Education. In fact, nearly ¾ of the top 100 colleges and universities in the United States have gone Google.
Students and professors report using the robust suite of Google Apps for many reasons which include:
  • taking collaborative notes using Google Docs
  • managing clubs and creating ePortfolios using Google Sites
  • collecting data through the use of Google Forms
  • coordinating meetings using Google Calendar
  • maintaining a transparent budget using Google Sheets
  • holding virtual office hours using Google Hangouts (video chat)
As more educational institutions adopt Google Apps, it will lead to a generational shift in the business world; a shift is already underway.  In 2012, 40 million people were using Google Apps, including over 4 million businesses. Over half of the Fortune 500 companies are paying to use Google Apps and over 60% of Google Enterprise (business sector) customers reported they are no longer going to invest in Microsoft. Seven percent have already deleted or plan to delete Microsoft products from company owned devices.
Companies have realized there are tremendous benefits to using the Google Apps beyond Gmail, which was what typically what brought them to the cloud in the first place. Businesses are also starting to invest in Chromebooks because they require so little maintenance and they are incredible cost efficient. Updates occur automatically and there is no software to install which frees up the IT department to work on other projects.
Google Apps are a practical and attractive option for many districts because of the “F” word. No, not THAT “F” word--the other one! GAFE are FREE! Keep in mind that free does not mean the product is cheap or inferior. Henry Thiele debunks this myth and other misconceptions surrounding Google Apps in his fantastic presentation called Killing the FUD and Dispelling the Myths Around GAFE. (I’ve personally attended this session twice because it is so great!)  Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud version of its Office suite, but it costs $2.50 per student per month and $4.50 for each staff member per month. This is a hefty cost to a district which has a couple hundred staff members and a couple thousand students! While Office 365 is cloud-based, it is tied very closely to Windows which makes it difficult to operate on non-windows devices. GAFE can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines making it ideal in environments where users might work on one platform at school and something entirely different at home. And contrary to popular belief, Google Docs work just fine offline.
Google Apps allow teachers, students, and administrators to communicate, collaborate, create, and think in ways that have completely changed (or at least have the potential) the educational landscape. Here are some examples of what GAFE will allow us to do:
  • Increase communication through the use of Gmail, YouTube, blogging, and Google Docs
  • Engage our community through the use of Google+ communities. Communities can be created for each class which will allow students to keep in touch even after they graduate. Communities can be created for different organizations and groups within the district.
  • Easily create and share docs, videos, images from a single platform that works on virtually any device--desktop, laptop, tablets, phones.
  • Establish a positive web presence and promote the school brand using Google Sites. Teachers can use Sites to maintain a virtual classroom while students can take advantage of Sites to create an ePortfolio of their projects and accomplishments. Schools can even use Sites to host their district website! (For free!)
  • Connect with experts from across the world using Google Hangouts and Google+. Teachers are no longer isolated in their classrooms. They can reach out to an entire world full of other educators and learn from them. Students are no longer confined to learning from only their classroom teachers. They can learn anything at anytime. They are part of the “YouTube mechanic” generation.
  • Provide feedback in a timely manner using Google Docs. We can also collaborate with anyone anywhere in the world using Google Docs!
  • Hold study sessions using Hangouts.
  • Access our documents anytime, anywhere, and from virtually any device. (This is HUGE!)
  • Share our work digitally which means less printing. This not only saves money on ink and paper, it is the environmentally responsible thing to do.

*This was an incredibly long post so let me TLDR in case you did read all of it. Microsoft and traditional laptops are incredible expensive. Many districts and businesses have seen the benefits of Google Apps and Chromebooks and have decided to go that route. Not only is the cost effective, but GAFE provides access to tools which allow users to create, collaborate, and communicate in ways that were not possible before. Technology is supposed to make our lives richer and easier and that is exactly what Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks do for us.

How have Google Apps for Education impacted your school?

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