Edmonton Public Goes Google

It’s official! Edmonton Public Schools is dropping Outlook and migrating to Gmail.

This migration is bigger than just email. Currently, teachers who have been taking advantage of the Google Apps for Education have had to live in two worlds. By moving to Gmail, all those apps will be at our fingertips, easier to access and easier to use. It is hard to imagine or predict all the externalities (unintended consequeses, both positive and negative) that will occur from the transition.

Not everyone is happy with the move. One observation is that those who are unhappy about the change are typically people whose work flow is governed by Outlook. Generally, this is refering to the adminstrative branches of the District. Most teachers do not use email to guide thier work and routines, and only use the calendars to book rooms/equipement. For them, the change over should be relatively smooth. However, the adminsitrative positions that rely on Outlook to organize tasks and communicate through email and calendars may find the change a little daunting.

Its not easy getting a District of 8,000 or so employees to willingly and smoothly adopt a new email system, particularly when we have had the old one for as long as most can remember. However, Terry Korte and the TIPS team have created a Going Google Site with manuals, FAQ, professional learning oppotunies and videos to help people through the transition. They are also organizing Google Guides, teachers and/or admin based at each school who will act as a resource person for the staff. These Guides will be the first people in the District to be migrated to gmail so that they can help the rest of thier staff during the “Go Live” phase in May, 2013.

Google has created a great document and video called Life After Outlook that shows where the things you did in Outlook are located in Gmail and may aliviate some fears. The document is from 2011, so it is missing some of the locations of the new formatting, but most of it is pretty much the same. If anyone finds an updated version or something similar and newer, please post it in the comments below.

This is a big step for Edmonton Public Schools. Along with the recent proliferation of Chromebooks in the district, and the number of students who already use Google Apps for Education fluently, this could potentially lead to a big step forward in increasing tech use in the classroom.

Next step? Increase bandwidth 🙂

Chromebooks in the Classroom

At First Glance

I have been test driving a Samsung Chromebook for the past week and have been very impressed with how easy it is to use. If you haven’t had a chance to see what a Chromebook is, check out Google’s 3min video explanation.

Most of the productivity work I do on computers is online (Google Apps and Web 2.0 tools), so I didn’t have to go through the learning curve of how to share and work on the internet. As a result, I was quite at ease with having Google Chrome as the only program on the computer. I also discovered that there are quite a few differences that makes Chromebooks great for a class.

1. 8 Second Start-up. My colleague, Darin Johnson, was telling me about a class he was observing where it took the students twenty-four minutes before they all logged on. I am sure we have all had the same experience, and our Primary teachers are well aware of the age:login coefficient. The Chromebook went from open to on to login in 8 seconds, though it would take a bit longer if I couldn’t spell my name and password. This may seem like a small thing, but to a teacher with a class of 20+ students, an easy login is a huge time and stress saver.

2. Pushing out Extensions and Apps. One of the coolest aspects of Chrome OS is that if there are any updates, apps or extensions that apply to every student in the district, they can be added to everyone’s profile all at once from our IT department. No more waiting two weeks for the tech to come out and install new software on everyone’s computer.

3. Profiles that follow the student. When I set my preferences in Chrome, they are stored online so that it doesn’t matter which computer I use, my preferences will follow me. I don’t have to always have the same computer. If the computer breaks, I don’t have to reset everything. If a student needs to use a larger font, that font size will follow him, even if he changes schools within the district. This has some excellent implications for UDL (Universal Design for Learning).

4. Easy Individualization with Shared Devices. This is an extension of the previous point. One of the problems currently facing iPads is that they are highly individual devices, and public schools are used to sharing resources. iTunes had made it difficult to legally operate a class set of iPads, and some of the information collected on the apps that get past from student to student may have FOIP issues. However, a Chrome profile avoids those issues. You get to individualize a profile and have the ability to share a computer between classes. If you have read my blog before, you will know that I am a big fan of tablet computing. When we see Chrome OS for Android tablets I’ll really be excited.

There are, however, a few things we need to keep in mind about Chromebooks. A Chromebook needs a Gmail account to work, and many of the Google Apps for Education involve elements of social media. For students to be doing all their work online, our teachers need to be up to speed on their digital citizenship and fluency. Also, even though the internet is more ubiquitous and reliable, our internal wi-fi security systems can sometimes drop or block a connection and negate any of the bonus gained by Chrome OS. Given that everything students do on a Chromebook is online we may need to update our wi-fi security policies and procedures.

I am very excited about the prospect of Chromebooks in the classroom and I am looking forward to the exciting ways we can integrate it into our teaching.