Tag Archives: docs

GMailed

The past couple of weeks has brought about some major changes to way we are administering our email and calendering systems within our school. We have taken the step to switch our email over from being administered on our own server to the convenience and power of the mighty Google.

The switch happened seamlessly, only requiring a phone call to Inspire to change our MX records to point to Google not to our school’s server. Everything else was completed online, and once Inspire flicked the switch over our Gmail was up and running within a couple of hours once the domain name change had propagated around the globe. After Google had authenticated us as an educational institute, which took about 10 days, we were upgraded to the Education Edition and now have add free services, more comprehensive admin features and the ability to create and manage 100’s of users, all for zero cost. It is very easy to administer the services and like any Google product, there are discussion forums on any conceivable problem you may encounter.

The change has meant some new learning for staff as they have shifted from using Apple’s Mail, to the web based Gmail. Email addresses have remained the same. Those already using Gmail welcomed the transition but others, as with anything new, questioned the need to do it. Managing this change is always the key to making it work.

So why did we change? Here are some of the key reasons.

  • Google apps becomes a one stop shop for school admin. Our existing set-up was a mish mash of systems that meant going to a variety of places to view calendars, check email, shared contacts, chat, video conference, book facilities etc. Google apps gives us that under one log in.
  • Anytime anywhere access. While previously available, the ease of the new system makes the old method seem very clunky.
  • Collaboration! Collaboration! Collaboration! The Google Apps package is built around the notion of sharing, participation and working together.

The one disappointment I have with the Google Apps package is that Google Reader is not part of the service. To access this, you needs to have a separate Google account. Having Reader as part of this service would really make it the hub for all your professional learning network needs. I would also love to see Google’s Custom Search function put in the package.

The biggest challenge I can see is the dependence of staff on using Word or Pages to create documents and then emailing them as attachments to the recipients. While there will always be a need to do this, a huge amount of this documentation can more simple be shared with users. This is a huge change in thinking and approaching how information is shared and worked on among multiple users. Something to keep modeling throughout the school.

Look no further than Google Apps for eportfolios?

Helen Barrett in her latest blog entry has made a big claim regarding Google Apps, formative assessment and eportfolios.

I am now convinced that in GoogleApps (Sites, Docs, etc.) I have found the best free Web 2.0 tool for maintaining an online personal learning environment that can be used for formative assessment in education.

I have a lot of respect for Helen Barrett and have used and referenced her work and research many times. However on this occasion, I do not fully agree.

Google Apps are fantastic. They continue to offer new apps and improve on existing ones all for free. I would be lost without my gmail, docs, calendar and reader. If you were to take a snapshot of my personal learning environment (PLE) and time spent in various web 2.0 tools, GoogleApps would far and away take up the largest slice of the pie.

However, my experiences with Google Sites as a means for pulling together all the strands of an eportfolio for the students at our school, were not entirely successful. I base these thoughts on the set of criteria we developed in order to select the eportfolio tool that best fit what we required to support teaching and learning.

If I take one of the criteria, based on the concept that viewers should not have to click links and download files, it should just be there, embedded waiting for the play button to be clicked…

Ability to demonstrate learning: The ePortfolio solution needs to be able to display (show within the portfolio not provide a link to file) all the possible media that the students will generate or want to share. This includes but is not limited to: podcasts and movies (m4v, m4a, mov), documents (pdf), images (jpg, png, gif) and embedding Web 2.0 content.

In my experiences with Google Sites, this is not possible. Embedding Web 2.0 content just doesn’t seem to work, apart from Google related products. This has caused me many frustrating moments as the embed code is stripped for other content. Again, Google Sites is a great product but are we trying to fit an eportfolio in a package that doesn’t really work?

Regarding the statement of GoogleApps and formative assessment, any tool that supports feedback, reflection and commenting can theoretically support formative practice. However, when one looks at Barrett’s process for developing eportfolios using Google Sites, what I believe is one of the most important aspects of a formative eportfolio, the student acting on feedback and their own assessments to improve their learning, only gets a passing comment at the very end.

The portfolio developer should be given the option of updating the work, based on the feedback and the rubric.

I see formative assessment as being cyclic in nature with the student action as I described above central to the process. After all, self-direction and self-regulation by the student are two very important outcomes. The following diagram (click for larger version) was developed to reinforce this point as part of the big picture of developing eportfolios for learning.

So what do you think? Is the student action component as important as I believe? Are the GoogleApps really the best solution despite my reservations? Let me know!