Well, I have to say the Google Apps Summit in Brisbane (actually, Buderim to be more precise) was well worth attending. I admit I was sceptical – I love Google Docs and the associated suite of tools and wondered if there was much more I could learn. But, with Google, there’s always more to learn, because it’s a company that is always pushing the barriers, always innovating.
I did have a distinct purpose in attending. I wrote earlier in the year about the demise of netbooks, and mentioned how our school was going to have to find an alternative as we provide netbooks on a 2:1 ratio in our Prep through to Year 4 classrooms. Although many would see iPads as the natural alternative, I hold deep reservations about the management of devices that are intended to be personalised and not shared. Devices like iPads require software updates and the addition of new apps as teachers discover new ways of using them in their classrooms. I’m not sure they’d be too keen on their iPads not updating or having new apps added until holiday breaks when our IT team would have time to get this work completed. Yes, computers require software updates and reimaging too, but the lure of the iPad is the accessibility to apps and we know that new ones are appearing all the time – teachers often want things right now, not for the start of next term.
I really wanted to explore Chromebooks and see what possibilities they hold for these year levels. As I mentioned in my last post, Suan Yeo from Google kindly let me borrow a Chromebook to use for the first day. It was a great opportunity to see what it was like existing in Chrome OS and relying on what was available there when there is no software to speak of loaded onto the device. You’re obviously dependent on your wifi connection, and any school thinking of heading down this path would have to take a long hard look at their existing infrastructure and see if their WAP points and Internet pipe could support their usage. The Chrome app store has quite a few decent apps that can support creation of docs etc in junior grades, but you’d have to assess whether your needs can be met from here, especially if you’ve been dependent on certain software for your curriculum.
If you were going to take this course, you’d have to become a Google Apps school. Purchasing Chromebooks as a Google Apps school means you have to factor a further $30.00 onto each device’s cost. This allows you to have the Chromebook registered in your Google apps management console and you can deploy the apps you want your students to be using (and restrict access to the ones you don’t want them using) through here. This is also where you can control the release of Chrome OS updates out to those machines. Currently, the Chrome OS is updating every six weeks or so. An update that comes through without warning can play serious havoc with a school’s bandwith, Updates could be scheduled for periods when the network is not particularly busy (think 4.00pm Friday afternoon!) and all done from one computer that holds the management console. Currently, our netbooks (over 90 of them) are all recalled at the end of the school year (a logistical nightmare) and are updated and reimaged by the school’s IT team, a process that takes a few days and requires room and power outlets to lay them all out so that updates can happen to more than one machine at a time. With the Chromebooks, this would be happening throughout the school year on a regular basis and all controlled through one management console – no need for the IT dept. to be investing huge wads of time at what are the busiest times of the school year for this department currently.
Interestingly, NSW DEC is in the process of rolling out Google Apps to all of its schools. So is CEnet (Catholic Education Network). Monash University and Melbourne University run Google apps, as do many companies including Elders and non profits like the Girl Guides! It really makes you think. If large scale organisations like these are deploying Google Apps, and saving themselves a bucketload of money in the process, then maybe it’s worth considering for your school. I’m betting the legal teams of these organisations have poured over the terms and conditions from Google, because there’s no way they’d be opening themselves to litigation problems. The question was asked at the conference about the security of your information as stored on Google’s servers. One delegate running Google Apps in his school (and with experience running it through local govt. prior to this) said that he felt they offered just as good, if not better security than what he could provide running servers storing the data on his campus. Mark Wagner posited the question, ‘Do you have armed security guards protecting your servers and has your organisation stood up to the might of the Chinese Govt. and denied them access to data you have stored?’ Food for thought.
The nagging question that always sits at the back of my mind is the fact that Google has your data, and in doing so, has the ability to mine it. If Google Apps exists as an option in your school’s suite of products, then particularly sensitive data is stored in database systems (like Synergetic) where access is carefully controlled. I think what is necessary if you’re going to go down this path with your student cohort, is the digital citizenship curriculum that should work in tandem with products like these. Students these days need to be aware of what cloud based storage is and how storing data in spaces like these comes with its own set of responsibilities. We need to help our students become informed users – users who understand dashboard controls and settings and how to manage these so that you are in as much control as you possibly can be. We need them to understand that free does come at a cost, and the cost is data mining to determine your browsing habits, your likes and dislikes. Do this, and we’re preparing our students well for the future they will, (they do!) inhabit. Ignore this, and you’re in serious danger of selling the students you teach short.
One interesting Google product that was discussed is Google Takeout, a new product that allows you to download copies of the information you have stored in various Google spaces. This way, if a teacher leaves your school, they can download the documents they have created in their school domain Google account and presumably transfer them to their own personal Google account. This addresses the problem of what happens to documents created while they are employed within your school. Your management console would give you access to this school account and the documents contained within. Let’s face it, plenty of teachers leave schools right now without storing everything they’ve created in their school LMS or shared resource folders. Google apps may just give you more access than you had before. (If I’ve misinterpreted this feature, please correct me – I may very well be wrong in my interpretation).
Obviously, the conference experience had an impact on me, as I went out today and purchased an Acer Chromebook. I choose this version, because I liked the placement of ports and the increased number of options on this device as compared to the Samsung model eg: both VGA and HDMI connection points. In playing around with it tonight, I can see there is a cloud printing option, but I’m not sure how well this will work in a networked printer setup schools support, especially considering we’re having problems getting iPads printing to our networked printers at the moment. I’ll take it to school tomorrow and see if there are any issues getting it connected to our network .
There is so much more to share from this conference experience. I’m going to try and find some time to Storify my tweets as I shared many valuable links over the two days. I’ll also try and blog here about my experience with the Chromebook so that others can weigh up whether or not it might work for them. Thanks to the conference organisers of the Brisbane summit for a very stimulating two days. You’ve got me thinking!