In over thirty years of working in schools, in Australia and South East Asia, there have been few things that have taken off and had such a significant impact in any school in which I have worked as Goggle Apps/Docs has done in the last two years.
Let me set the context …
Garden International School (GIS) in Malaysia made the decision to introduce Google Apps/Docs to manage and work through the process of its 10-year accreditation review by Council of International Schools (CIS) and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). This is an extensive process, generally lasting eighteen months, that engages the whole school community. A key stage of the process is a self-study by the school that traditionally results in reams and reams of paper evidence being produced in the form of surveys, reports and ‘evidence’, documents that show that the school is doing what is says it does. Given that GIS promotes ‘green living’, this was not the preferred option!
The education version of Goggle Apps/Docs (free – for an ample, but limited number of users) was introduced to manage and complete the self-study. This was an innovative step as GIS is only the second school in the world to use Google Apps/Docs for this process with either CIS or WASC.
As co-chair of the process I was very fortunate to have been heavily involved in the introduction and administration of the school’s newly created Google site. My experience has included teaching ICT lessons in predominately primary school settings, but my technical knowledge of IT is limited. Consequently, I was very pleased when I realised that Google Apps/Docs is quite intuitive in many ways, especially if you have had experience with early versions of the Office software.
A number of Google Apps/Docs components were used for the self-study, including:
- Sites (we set up an ‘accreditation’ intranet site that was password protected)
- Collections (folders – each of the 25 committees had its own collection)
- Forms (for feedback, surveys etc)
- Documents (equivalent of MS Word)
- Presentations (equivalent of PowerPoint)
- Cloud storage.
There were many benefits to the process from the introduction of Google Apps/Docs, but five significant ones were:
- The cloud storage took pressure off the school’s servers. They were struggling with the load and storage as it was and the Google limits were comfortably adequate for most users. It also meant that the site and documents could be accessed anywhere there was Internet.
- Being able to set different levels of access rights (sharing) for different users. The person who creates is the ‘owner’. Collections and documents can be ‘hidden’ (no rights given) or they can be set to editing or viewing rights.
- The capacity to work collaboratively online. Members of committees were able to use the same document at the same time which was particularly useful when using spreadsheets to collect evidence and link to specific documents. This also meant that there was only ever one ‘version’ of the document as we actively discouraged downloading and uploading of documents – a paradigm shift for some users!
- Being able to ‘review history’. This cut short a number of discussions about who had changed what (and when) and meant that previous or the current version could be restored easily.
- The Google search engine structure meant it was easy to search for documents and specific topics within them.
In addition to the mentioned process benefits, there were also two other significant benefits for the whole school. These were:
- An extensive IT professional development programme. All staff were required to have a reasonable level of IT skills to contribute to the self-study so those who could taught and those who couldn’t learnt!
- An improved network speed, primarily through a significant increase in bandwidth and also through maintenance of switches etc. All computer users, but particularly those teaching ICT classes, were very grateful!
The final test …
The penultimate stage in the accreditation process was a week-long visit to the school by twelve visitors (principals/heads, teachers and administrators) from other international schools and this was to be the final test of GIS’ use of Google Apps/Docs for this purpose. As with most good stories there was a twist! Midway through the week, there was a major power failure to a large region of the city, including GIS. The school had a backup generator, but it did not have the capacity to keep the whole network working. Rather than waste valuable time, the visiting team decided to return to their hotel where they could resume working rather than wait and see how long it took for the power to be restored to the region. It proved to be a good decision and highlighted a significant benefit of ‘cloud’ storage!
Continuing growth in use
Since the conclusion of the accreditation process, the growth in the use of Google Apps/Docs for teaching and administration purposes at GIS has been exponential and we are finding that the main limitation is the imagination of the users. Some examples of classroom uses are:
- Each student in the school has their own Gmail account. In fact, Gmail is now used for all email in the school.
- Sites are used for students to create their Learning Portfolio.
- Work is ‘conferenced’ easily and any comments and changes are easily tracked through the use of ‘View History’. This makes students far more accountable for their comments and helps them realise the ease with which any comments using technology can be tracked.
- Forms and surveys are used regularly to collect data. A recent example was the use of a form to collect fitness data (distances walked/run) leading up to the London Olympics. The data is stored in a spreadsheet making it easy to create a chart for presentation later.
The benefits of using Google Docs (documents, spreadsheets and presentations) are many, including the end to excuses for not presenting class or homework. Younger siblings can’t draw on it, the dog can’t chew it and students can’t say “I forgot it” because it’s stored in the cloud; it even has a timestamp to say when it was done!
As an administrator, I found it to be very user friendly. Minimal IT skills were needed to complete tasks such as creating new users, setting up distributions lists and different levels of access (sharing), resetting passwords (a regular occurrence to begin with) and reviewing documents when required. And yet, the reassuring aspect for all users should be the level of security that is provided.
There are many other points that should be taken into account when considering the use of Google Apps/Docs and I will happily engage in conversation should you think it will be useful to your school or work place. In closing, though, the introduction of Google Apps/Docs at Garden International School is widely regarded as having been a major success. I hope it is for yours as well.