Leading on Technology for Learning
I am leading my school’s transition to using Google Apps for Education (GAfE). This series of blog posts is intended to share my school’s journey so other institutions can learn from us if you are considering leading change in the way you develop technology for learning.
I spent the last three years as Head of Mathematics but as you will see from my previous posts on this blog my heart lies in developing the use of appropriate technology for the benefit of learning. Creating a professional twitter account @mr_brouse was the catalyst for developing technology for learning and it has culminated in being given the backing to take the school away from a traditional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and towards GAfE. I do not have any technical ability with computing… this has not been an issue so far.
Which platform to use?
Frog, RMUnify, Office 365 and Google were the main considerations in order to achieve these goals:
- Single Sign on
- Access learning anywhere anytime
- Engage learners
- Use current and relevant technology
My own preference has been towards global providers with the status to ensure their platform is current and updated regularly. My experience has been that products specifically designed for education lag behind current technology. Frog appears to be an exception to this as they focus more on being a “glue” for other applications such as Google Drive.
RMUnify made waves at BETT2013 but on closer inspection it has not yet integrated SIMs and Google such that they could provide the single sign on it appeared to promise.
I spent time in conversation with Microsoft and was able to look at Office365 and how it can be utilised in schools. In many ways it appeared like a viable option up until I tried to create a site in sharepoint, which made my blood boil and come to the realisation I would need to request that the school employ a team of developers. Onenote is brilliant and a great tool to use if your school has Office3665 and windows devices. If you are interested in using Office 365 have a look at Charlotte Beckhurst’s blog or see how some students are taking the lead as the offperts (office 365 experts)
Rather than simply taking the free GAfE account attached to the school domain we have utilised Realsmartcloud to link a GAfE to SIMs (System which contains our class data) so teachers can share with their classes just using the class code. It also ensures that if students change classes we do not have to manually align the students in GAfE and SIMs.
Launching any technology to a staff body with a full range of technical ability is a challenge. Explaining “the cloud” is not a simple process, in fact I found it more useful to reference large buildings containing servers. To help with the launch I create a technology for learning blog containing posts with instructional videos on creating sites and sharing in Google Drive.
Start simple and focus on one task for staff to complete. For GAfE start with “My Drive” and sharing with students
While sites are easy to create and can be used to give the students access to a number of resources the sharing capabilities of Google Drive can have a greater impact on learning. Advise staff not to just upload everything they have to Google Drive, but to carefully set up shared folders that can give students access to resources and the ability to submit work.
Get everyone on a computer and logged in as soon as possible
Some staff were very keen to get started but have been restricted by students not having logged in. Year 7 and 8 received their logins in their computing lessons but as the subject is optional for years 9 to 13 it proved more difficult to get logins to students such that they could login immediately. I am now hurriedly putting together a schedule to get each form into a computer room during form time to increase the percentage of students that have logged in.
Show the simple and most impressive bits to everyone
In the case of GAfE I like to showcase a shared folder and documents in Google Drive by getting someone to create a document, share it with you and then you start writing on it so it appears on their screen. Google Forms are also a simple way of getting people’s attention of for feedback they are invaluable.
Make people need to login
The most effective way of doing this was to have the ICT room booking form placed on our splash site. Thanks to our deputy head for this master-stroke!
Does it address our goals?
- Single Sign on – no. We have set up the accounts to have the same username as the staff and students have for the school network. The passwords are different…
- Collaboration – The potential for this with GAfE is in no doubt but getting staff and students to embrace this will take time.
- Access learning anywhere anytime – Initially there were some logon problems with new staff and new students which RealSmart worked hard with us to resolve. All on track now.
- Engage learners – Some enthusiastic students are very keen to be involved and their leadership will be vital to spread the engagement in GAfE
- Use current and relevant technology – Our previous VLE suffered from being perceived as “clunky” as it did not have the development backing it up that the students are becoming increasingly used to. They recognise Google as being current however it is apparent that students do not have the technical knowledge a number of adults give them credit for.
Once the students have all been through a computer room I hope to spend time developing student digital leaders who can manage staff and student training. Look out for my next posts on integrating Google Apps for Education in a secondary school.