Today I’m presenting on the benefits of Google Apps as a collaborative platform for people who work together often, but aren’t physically co-located. It’s not easy to separate fact from myth when comparing Microsoft’s hosted services (e.g. Live@Edu, Office Live) with Google Apps.
Microsoft have, very helpfully, concocted a Fact Based Comparison of Hosted Services (16 May 2010). Unfortunately, it’s rather selective with those facts. Most of them revolve around ‘can you do the same stuff with Google Apps as you can with Microsoft Outlook?’ That’s a flawed question for two reasons:
You don’t necessarily want to do the same things with Google Apps.
You can use Outlook to connect to Google Apps anyway.
To me, after reading several articles (available at my Delicious account) the choice seems to be between:
Cloud storage (Microsoft Live@Edu/Office Live)
Cloud collaboration (Google Apps)
Whilst Microsoft’s offerings allow near real-time collaboration with Excel and OneNote, pages are locked for editing if someone else is using a Word document or PowerPoint presentation. By way of comparison, you can collaborate and edit all of Google Docs’ offerings in real-time.
In terms of real-time collaboration, Google wins hands-down, because Office offers none.
Google’s Docs offerings have been on the market a good four years now, so they’ve had more time to learn what users want and need in an online suite. It shows in the design and function of Docs for day-to-day users.
I toyed with the idea of producing a point-by-point checklist here to compare Microsoft and Google’s offerings, but I don’t really think there’s any need. It’s a question of attitude and focus. For example, Microsoft drags its heels insisting on Silverlight installation whilst Google looks to the future with HTML5, an emerging web standard.
So, if you always use the same device, deal in only Microsoft-produced documents and are convinced Outlook is God’s gift to email users, then you’ll love Live@Edu and Office Live.
But if, on the other hand, you like to be able to get various kinds of documents in and out of your systems easily, if you need to collaborate (in real-time) with colleagues not physically co-located, and if you want to be able to access everything on whatever device and browser you prefer using, then you’ll love Google Apps.
You can probably tell by the tone of this article which one I prefer. And I make no apology for that. Rome was not built on ‘functional specifications’ but on passion, enthusiasm and dedication. :-p
First of all we had a bit of a scare with Hannah’s pregnancy. The risk of the baby being born with Downs Syndrome was elevated from 1/1000 to 1/28. She had an amniocentisis (which means she needs to take it easy for a couple of weeks) but everything’s fine. Oh, and it’s a girl! (due late December) 🙂
And then, whilst at nursery on Thursday, Ben decided it would be a great idea to stick a chickpea up his left nostril. Cue my coming home from work early. Two hospitals, three doctors, some pinning down from Daddy and a bloody nose later, it was out! I don’t think he’ll do that again…
Whilst I’m no longer committed to blogging every day, it would seem that being free to post every day (and not necessarily with images) means I might as well be!
I’ve also been experimenting with Posterous, importing this blog to http://dajbelshaw.posterous.com. It was mainly an experiment (took 5 days, worked flawlessly) but it actually looks great and works really well. Hmmm….
Well, not since the BUPA Great North 10k, actually, but I was really pleased that I managed it in 49:30. That’s underneath the 50 minute target I set myself! My main target was to get around the course in under that time and at the end I felt I could have gone faster. I’m aiming for 45 minutes for the next one (although it’s a half-marathon next according to the plan)
Many thanks to those who sponsored me. Overall, including Gift Aid, UNICEF received over double the target amount! 🙂
I have to keep telling myself that we’re only five weeks in to a brand new, 10-site all-age Academy. There’s so much I want to do this academic year in my first year as Director of E-Learning that it’s frustrating when it’s not all up-and-running straight away! However, that’s because of a number of factors largely beyond my control. Things will settle down! :-p
The above diagram is a very simplistic representation of how I want the E-Learning ‘ecosystem’ to function by summer 2010. It’s a 4-stage process:
1. Roll out Google Apps to staff
This has already been done. We were going to use just instance of Google Apps at ncea.org.uk but decided against it. Why? Because we want to turn on as much functionality as possible for staff (e.g. Google Chat, Google Sites) whilst having the option of turning of these for students.
Rolling out Google Apps to staff first enables them to play around with it and get used to a slightly different way of working before they start interacting with students through it.
2. Get forensic filtering & monitoring software up-and-running
Whilst we’ll have some filtering provided through the Postini services that can be turned on for free with Google Apps Education edition, I (and Northumberland County Council) want more than this. We’re going to be going with an offering by the name of Policy Central. This allows us, amongst other things, to do the following:
Automatically take screenshots based on keywords typed into any application.
Block websites locally.
Whitelist persistent offenders.
We need to have this in place before rolling out anything to students from an e-safety point of view.
3. Roll out Google Apps to students
I’m planning to roll out Google Apps to students (nceastudents.org.uk) strategically. I’m going to start with the Sixth Form (ages 16-18) as they’re likely to be the most responsible and give the best feedback. Once I’ve collated, reflected, and acted upon this I shall then roll it out to Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14). Key Stage 4 may or may not get Google Apps depending on conversations I have with various people.
Finally, Key Stage 2 students will get access to Google Apps on the Primary sites. This will start with Year 6 (10-11 years old) and work downwards. This should allow me to go into assemblies and iron out any problems as they happen. I had hoped that this would be completed by Christmas but because of various events that have taken place it may take a while longer.
4. Open up the Learning Platform to staff and students.
We’re going with Frog for our Learning Platform. They are not only the market leaders in the UK, but have a track record of producing easy-to-use software which can incorporate and work with that from other providers. We’ll be looking – as other institutions are – to integrate Google Apps and Frog via a Single Sign-On procedure. That is to say, signing into Frog will automatically sign you into Google Apps.
Once this is in place, I think teaching and learning interactions should begin to be transformed. I’m not going to dictate workflows, but I can imagine something like this happening:
Student collaborates with another student via Google Docs.
Students complete document, export as Word document or PDF and send to teacher through Learning Platform.
Teacher takes submitted work and opens in their Google Docs area.
Teacher stores students’ work in a relevant folder within Google Docs.
You may wonder why I’m allowing only student-student collaboration and teacher-teacher collaboration. This is because I want the Learning Platform for the official submission of work and Google Docs for drafting, collaboration, and more informal interactions. At least in the first instance.
Other than that, I’m happy for things to grow organically. I’ve already seen some teachers begin to experiment with Google Sites, despite my only mentioning it in passing. Encouraging! 😀