Monday, February 27, 2012

Final Answer: Should schools switch to gmail?

Through my research process, I have met many road blocks, had some success in finding information, struggled with my question and even wanted to throw out the entire question a few times. But, I think I finally came to a conclusion with a little editing to my original question. The question should really state, “should schools switch to “Google Apps for Education?” instead of just focusing on gmail. And though there are some issues which I will mention, I think that schools would benefit from utilizing “Google Apps for Education” and should consider making the switch.

I quickly found out that google offered something even better than just rudimentary email to participating schools, but rather the company has a slew of programs that schools can utilize. By making a contract with google, a school can have access to applications like google documents, which allows students and teachers to collaborate on word documents, powerpoint presentations, spreadsheets and tables. The program also allows students and teachers to create personal sites, which can be an asset for projects, communications and organization. Another application that is provided is an interactive calendar which can help keep parents and students informed about due dates, programs and extracurricular activities. The program also has a chat feature, which would be helpful for teachers to communicate with each other. The program is also extremely easy to use and popular! Many people are choosing to use gmail for their personal email, and are already familiar with the site.

From an administrator’s stand point, “google apps for education” is a good choice for schools. By using the “google cloud”, the school frees up extensive amounts of server space which would be reserved for email. Instead, the space needed for email is provided by google. Teachers would no longer worry about utilizing too much server space, and the tech department can focus on more important things. The site also offers its services free of charge. With the monetary weight of an expensive email system off of a school’s shoulders, the school is able to spend more money on other projects. The site also promises that the program is advertisement free, and also has strict protection policies in place.

While doing my research I did come across some issues with the google email service that needs to be addressed in order to make an informed decision about the program. Across a few sites, I saw that there were concerns with the privacy policy that google is implementing in the next month. In an article discussing this change, the author stated the fear that “ a student will log into a school account and access non-core services that don't fall under the Apps for Education agreement, and then Google will use that as a backdoor route to also reach in and look at the FERPA-protected data as well.” (Schaffhauser, 2012). This weariness to policy change was evident in several of the articles that I read, and I think is an important thing to consider when making the decision to switch to google mail. Though there are a multitude of barriers that would protect students and teachers from having their personal information found, people must be educated on how to properly utilize them if they feel it is appropriate. An education about how to use the program is pivotal in protecting students and teachers.

Another issue that was mentioned is the monitoring of students when they utilize the site. Some schools choose not to offer the chat option to students; some make sure that students do not have access to outside email addresses. Another tactic that I found mentioned in a list serve discussion was that any unusual activity like the use of profanity or attempt at signing up on other websites using the email is flagged and reported to a monitor. One teacher stated “We tell the kids that it is like being out in the hallway. You wouldn't say or do anything you wouldn't want teachers or other students to hear. So far (one year in) we have had no major problems.”(lm_net listserv). I think that many schools are weary of using “google apps for education” because monitoring will be an important aspect of maintaining the site. Though it may be frustrating at times, I think the benefits of the program outweigh the inconvenience. Google also offers the school that sets up the program the option of limiting what the students are capable of using. Some schools chose to block the chat feature; other schools chose access depending on the age of the student. The program is flexible to fit the needs of the school.

What makes me think that the Google Apps for Education program would be a good one for schools to choose is the amount of happy clients that I found across the internet. On an interactive spreadsheet which allowed for teachers to contribute their experiences with the cross over, many people had good things to say about the program. Chad Fairey of Washington International School in Washington DC stated, “We have had Google Apps for a few years and it has been really great. Moved from Exchange, haven't looked back since. (It) is a fantastic email client, the best cloud based doc environment, a decent calendar system, and products are well integrated so users are automatically signed up for other google apps (youtube, flickr etc)” and another teacher in Maine at the Waynflete School said “We were a FirstClass school but don't miss it at all. Saw a big increase in collaboration with Google Docs, Calendar, & Sites. It's been a great move.” (Demetri, 2011).

“Google Apps for Education” offers much more than just email to its clients and I believe, after careful research, that students and teachers alike would benefit from the switch. I think that in a time where we rely heavily on technology it is important to take advantage of programs like gmail and its fancy applications to enhance the learning experience. If administrators and teachers are prepared to monitor and maintain the program, I think it would be a great asset for a school.


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1 comment:

  1. Kathryn,

    Wonderful job! I can honestly say I knew nothing about the benefits of Google apps on education and heck who doesn't love free! I appreciate the fact that you didn't just highlight Google apps with solely positive reviews. Like a true researcher/reviewer you let us in on the negatives giving us the opportunity to make an informed decision for ourselves as to whether or not Google apps is right for us and our students/school district. Bravo!