Why schools are going Ga-Ga for Google

This text was originally published in the June 2014 edition of the Australian Educational Leader and has been modified to suit this post.


The power of the web

Figure 1 - 1024px-Google-Apps

If the web brings the opportunity to flatten our classroom walls and expand our horizons, then nothing has quite had the sledge­hammer-like effect on physical and digital barriers like Google Apps for Education.

Google Apps are a suite of productivity tools designed to help students and teachers work together more efficiently and effec­tively. It is a multi-purpose platform with myriad educational and instructional benefits.

At the core, Google Apps includes Gmail (webmail service), Google Drive (online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings), Google Calendar (web based appoint­ments and organisation) and Google Sites (website creator); not to mention the many additional services like Hangouts, Blogger, Youtube, or Picasa which can be used with Google Apps with seamless integration.

As cloud-based technologies, they are always readily available, backed up, accessible at any time and place, and available to use on any device.

Unlike Google for Work, the Education suite is not only free but cost effective. Google take on the duties of many traditional tasks which IT administrators normally carry out. It means that technical staff avoid the hassle of maintaining file servers to be online, running security updates, or managing li­censes for applications. As a result, many hardware and software maintenance costs are removed, and over the long term, this will provide schools the opportunity to save for other resources.

Google’s foray into Education is enabling a total rethink in the way that teachers and students use technology for learning. Google Apps is an online solution that bridges the divide between learning at home or at school. It offers the opportunity for collaboration to happen in real time, irrespective of physical or digital location. It makes it easy to share with fellow students, teachers, parents and the wid­er community. Teachers can apply the appropriate security and share settings for resources as they see fit, all via one account and one password. Simplicity and flexibility at its best, it is removing obstacles for students, teachers, and even technical departments.

From primary to tertiary institutions, students and teachers are realising the benefits of the Google Apps for Education platform. Google Apps has been growing fast, if not virally over the last few years. There are currently over 30 million students using the service worldwide, and the number continues to grow each day.

Of course, there are the naysayers who at times do have genuine apprehension about ‘Going Google’. For example, some insti­tutions have concern that their organisational data is not hosted on their site or in their locality. There are issues around privacy and data security within the cloud. Google take this very seri­ously and are governed by a stringent privacy policy. They insist that the data is, and always will be, owned by the users within the organisation.

As with every business, Google has to make a profit to survive as a company. Their largest source of revenue is through adver­tising within their products (like Gmail and Youtube). Advertise­ments have always been turned off by default in Google Apps for Education. However this April, Google announced that adver­tisements will no longer be available within in Google Apps at all, nor would it scan emails for the purposes of collecting data for marketing.

Once schools see through these minor considerations, they are able to harness the richness that Google Apps offer. A high quality service, at a cost-effective price, as an easy to use system, with powerful potential. With guaranteed reliability of 99.9% up­time, Google Apps is scaling at an incredible rate.

Each week on Google’s Official Enterprise Blog, stories are emerging of the continued uptake of Google Apps and the way in which they are changing communication and productivity for the better once organisations have ‘Gone Google’.

From connecting 45,000 schools across 7,000 islands in the Philippines, to equipping 4 million students in São Paulo in Bra­zil, Google Apps is bringing new and exciting opportunities to education.

Locally, three of our top-tier universities (Griffith, Macquarie and Monash) joined the hundreds of tertiary institutions world­wide who have embraced Google Apps.

1.2 million students in New South Wales were migrated to Google Apps in 2010. In doing so, they were able to unify stu­dent email to one system and improve communication across campuses.

Schools and education systems around Australia are also investigating similar paths.

As technology is developing at an ever-increasing rate, it has the potential to make communication easier; and lead us to more powerful collaborative and connected experiences. Equipping this generation of learners with modern tools makes sense. This is why many schools are adopting Google Apps for Education, an extraordinary platform for the 21st Century.


Using Google Apps for Education and formative assessments

Our school has been utilising Google Apps for Education for almost two years.

Whilst there have been many benefits for the school on this platform during this time, one of the key ways in which Google Apps has had an impact on student outcomes is through the use of Google Forms for formative assessments. Google Forms can be used to design surveys or web forms to easily collect, analyse and export data.

Figure 2

Figure 2

For several years, the school has employed the use of pre- and post-assessments in mathematics. Formative assessment is used to accurately ascertain the needs of the students before the de­livery of lessons, provide direction for the student and teacher for the next stages of developmental learning, and determine the progression of each student on their own path of learning. (Figure 2)


Recently, in the Year 5 and 6 levels, the teachers began to de­velop their pre- and post-assessments using Google Forms rather than issuing the assessments on paper. Using an existing scope and sequence of curriculum in child-friendly language, they de­veloped questions to map the next stages of learning for their students in a given area of maths.


The Forms are completed online at a given point. Once results are collated, the responses are marked automatically and the test scores are emailed back to the students and teachers. This in­formation is then used for the students to develop an awareness of their understanding of the particular topic, and the teachers are able to formulate groups or stations in which they can pro­vide lessons, scaffolds and activities for the students to undertake learning.


Figure 3 - lesson

Figure 3

In this mode, students are flexible in their groupings and are able to focus on the given areas of the curriculum that they re­quire. Lessons and resources are also posted online so that stu­dents can revise or progress through concepts at their own pace at school and at home (if required). (Figure 3)


At the end of the topic, students take the same assessment as a post-test of their learning. Once again, the students receive their results and take delight in seeing how much they have developed during the given period of time.

The teachers carefully analyse the pre- and post-assessment data and use it to calculate effect sizes. Consistently, they have seen this teaching method achieve an effect size well above 0.4, easily exceeding the effects of a typical teacher and well into the zone of desired effects of highly effective teaching (Hattie, 2009 & 2010). Average effect sizes for cohorts have been observed be­tween 0.5 and 1.2, and students can also be tracked with an indi­vidual effect size. (Figure 4)

Figure 4

Figure 4


Using Forms as formative assessments has brought a lot of benefits for these students and teachers.

• There has been a large saving of paper and printing.

• Students nor teachers have to mark the assessment.

• Students immediately receive an email with their results.

• Teachers are able to track student responses in the assessment, eliminating manual data entry.

• It has assisted in making the process of learning visible to students.

• Time is saved in processing assessments, so that more time can be used for learning.

• Pre and post data is automatically collected and available for determining the effectiveness of the teaching strategies using effect sizes as a measure.


Further reading

Hattie, J (2009). Visible learning. London: Routledge.

Hattie, J (2010). Visible learning for teachers: maximising impact on learning. Routledge.


Google Classroom – first impressions

Last week I received an “early preview” of Google’s latest offering on the GAFE platform, Classroom. According to Google, it promises to save time, improve organisation, and enhance communication between teachers and students. Announced earlier in the year, a lot of educators are keen to to see how this new product will play out in schools. Classroom will be officially released later in the year.

In the past week I have been playing around with a test class with a few students at my school. I thought it might be useful for others to see and hear about a relatively unknown product at the moment.

*Disclaimer- keeping in mind that this is an “early preview” of classroom, and that I wouldn’t be surprised if further changes were made in the months to come.

Classroom in action

1) Setting up the classroom was as easy as going to classroom.google.com. As the invite was sent to my school GAFE account, it automatically logged me in (as can be seen in the top right corner). At the moment only my account can create classes but it will be interesting to see how soon teachers on our domain will also be given access. On the left of the screen there is a home button and a “hamburger” menu.


2) Inside is a settings button which takes you to your Google profile (which appears to have an integral role for students and teachers within classroom). There is also an option to toggle notifications.


3) From the home screen, clicking the + button will allow you to create a class with a title and description. A “class code” is automatically generated for the class. Users in my domain could go to classroom.google.com and use the code to sign up to the class automatically without being invited. There is a reset function to the code, I suppose in the case that unwanted users who know the code start signing up to the class.


4) The class header image can be changed, and there is a wide variety of various images to use. However, it appears that you cannot upload a custom image.


5) Within Classroom there are 2 main views. A “stream” which shows the activity in the class, and “students”, which allows you to register and notify students.


6) By clicking the “add students” button, a pop-up window brings up your contacts linked to your account. Whilst all users in my domain were searchable, I did have to go digging around for them. The most available accounts for me to select were people that I frequently converse with via email. As contacts were selected, there was an option to add them to a group. Google Groups which were previously setup were also searchable and could be selected. For teachers, it is going to be important to have Groups set up in advance so time is not wasted searching for students!


7) A confirmation appears for the users that enrolled into the class. The email function was also tested. When the icon is clicked, a pop-up window appears.


8) The pop-up is a compose message window within Gmail with the users’ addresses already in the “To:” field.


9) Once users were enrolled in the class, the announcements function was tested. As the class creator, an announcement title and comment can be posted to the stream with an option to attach an image, file from Drive, or an external web link. Users were able to comment to the discussion without requiring moderation. As the class owner I was able to delete the comments if necessary. We tried to add a a teacher account to our test class but the account behaved in the same way as a student and did not have any other privileges (it will be interesting to see if Google allows multiple teachers to manage a class)


10) As well as posting announcements, assignments could also be posted to the class. Along with the title and description, a due date and time can be set. Again, attachments can be made via upload, existing files within Drive, or external web URL’s. I elected to prepare a template in Drive with instructions for completing the assignments. When attaching a Google Doc you are given the options of allowing the students to view the file, edit the file, or making a copy for each student (which was my intention).


11) Once the assignment was set it appeared in the stream with the number of students who have “turned the assignment in” and those who have not. Students reported that they received the documents and had access to a “Turn in” button next to the blue share button in Docs, and used this to submit the task.


12) As students submitted the task, the number of “turn ins” escalated.


13) By clicking on the number of  “turn ins”, the submitted files were available for viewing. They could be opened and fully edited as needed. An assessment score could be given to students but only as a number to 100. Students could also send a note along with their submitted task. Reminders could be sent to students who had not yet submitted the task.



14) At this point I noticed that a “Classroom” folder had been set up in my Drive, inside another folder with the name of the class. Of the students who had turned assignments in, their files were appearing in this folder. The folder also contained uploads from the announcements that had been made in the class.


Pros / Cons

Overall I found Classroom easy to use, and I imagine that most teachers would find the same. At the basics, for being able to share assignments and communicate with students it does its job reasonably well, and so would be a benefit for teachers. Google has very cleverly used API’s and integrated Classroom with Drive and Gmail to make everything flow nicely. I particularly like the ability to share the class via a code to avoid the hassle of signing up individual users. Students were also able to move their documents into their own folders within drive without mucking anything up from the Classroom end.

On the other hand I found a few limitations (or perhaps areas for improvement).

  • As it is fairly basic, there is not much else one can do besides post announcements and assignments.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any way to view student’s progress or give feedback during the task. The only time the document was viewable was when it was handed in. This could be mitigated by asking students to share the file with you once they receive it.
  • The feedback score of 100 can’t be edited. It would be nice to have some language descriptors instead, or the ability to assess against a criteria or a rubric (although these could be also embedded into the assignment against a score).

The burning questions…

Can more than one teacher post announcements and assignments? No, at least not at this stage. For me working with teachers as collegiates, this poses a problem.

Will it replace HAPARA? Absolutely not. As an experienced user (and I guess biased user) of Hapara, it offers a plethora of additional functionality when using GAFE with teachers and students that is (currently) not possible with Classroom. Read Hapara’s official line here. Thinking about the way that our school currently communicates and sets assignments for students, which is at the core of Classroom, I would probably stick with the processes we have in place with Hapara than use Classroom. Having said that, if schools could not afford Hapara then Classroom would certainly be of benefit for teachers.



DLTV Webinar

This afternoon I will be hosting a webinar for (DLTV) Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria on Google Apps for Education. This webinar draws upon some of the experiences and success that myself and our school have found to enhance learning with Google Apps.

The webinar is part of a professional learning series of webinars which are free for DLTV members.

The slides for the webinar can be found here or below:

Edit: DLTV have made a recording of the webinar available here or below:

Chromebook implementation

This term we have successfully set up 55 Chromebooks at our school for students in Years 1 – 4. I used Corey Aylen‘s enrollment guide. For those who are in Victorian Catholic schools, his guide will provide all of the relevant parameters to mitigate the often troublesome zscaler settings.

I have heard some negativity over Chromebooks particularly from technical staff who are not too familiar with the potential of Google Apps for Education. For me, the Chromebook is too hard too ignore for education. Some criticize that it is limited because essentially it is a laptop with just a web browser.

This is indeed true, but this is one of the best things about Chromebooks. It means it doesn’t require extensive hardware to run, which brings the cost down. Because the machine doesn’t need a fully blown operating system, it means it boots up quickly and operates with speed. In addition, most of our activity on the web is through a web browser anyway, and as technology develops, more and more is being achieved through the cloud and through the web browser.

Having said this, the Chromebook does not do everything. But it is an ideal product, for most students, for most activities, without the hefty price-tag of a machine that offers the whole kit and caboodle. Particularly for with schools who are already using Google Apps for Education, it is a winner.


The enrollment process

Setting up the Chromebooks was an absolute breeze (we went for this Samsung model). Once the network settings were provided to each Chromebook, the process was initiated and within a few clicks they were done. In fact, the most time consuming part of the process was unboxing the units! Having some students around to help this process was handy, not to mention enjoyable for them. I found that I had to plug in the chargers briefly to “wake up” each unit out of the box to get them on, but they had sufficient charge to complete the registration process. They were then fully charged and setup in trolleys before the first student use. We went for the PC locks Carrier 40 trolley.

IMG_20140417_123540 IMG_20140417_124120 IMG_20140417_145844

Integration with GAFE

Through the GAFE admin console, each device can be tracked and monitored for recent activity. Settings can be modified accordingly to suit your needs, and updates are carried out automatically when they are received (and don’t take forever unlike Windows updates!)

At the moment we have pushed out a few Apps from the Chrome Web Store to the students; Design Something, Build With Chrome, Mind Meister, Pixlr, and Typing Club. The pre-installed extensions we have selected are Speak It!, Google Dictionary, and Read & Write. Students are not able to install other apps or extensions from the Chrome Web Store.

Benefits for teachers and students

Teachers have already reported the efficiency improvements in the time taken to get students connected to the web, saving precious moments in the classroom. This is because the Chromebooks boot up in under 10 seconds, and the Chrome browser is ready at the user’s disposal once logged in. This has been a significant reduction in log on times compared to Windows 8 laptops / desktops, not necessarily at bootup, but more so in loading network policies and connecting to servers.

IMG_20140430_150615 IMG_20140430_151317

To make the process even faster, we have numbered each Chromebook and assigned students to a particular machine. It does take a few moments to setup a user account for the first time and download all the pre-installed apps and extensions (this is why we have kept the pre-installed suite to a minimum). For each subsequent time users log on to a machine, they wont go through this process unless there are new Apps / Extensions to install.

Once students have logged on to the Chromebook, they are automatically signed into to their Google accounts, have their pre-installed apps, extensions and bookmarks at their disposal. Most importantly, they are connected to the web in moments with a lightweight, and fast device with a hard keyboard.


Google Sites – Creation tips with Google Apps for Education

As part of my recent Google Education Trainer application, I created this 2 minute video which highlights tips and best practices when it comes to creating Google Sites in Google Apps for Education domains.

I used Camtasia to record the on-screen demonstrations, and Sony Vegas to produce everything else.

Another pre-requisite for the Google Education Trainer program is to have achieved the Google Educator certification, to which, I have attained. I found this process extremely valuable and useful for my own practice back at school. I would recommend anyone who is wanting to further their development and understanding of the mechanics of the various Google Apps on offer should study the comprehensive coursework and even take the exams.

Are you the best teacher you can be?

This year, our school is fortunate enough to be participating in the Visible Learning Plus program; a guided change process of professional development and practice. Visible Learning comes from John Hattie’s work in what is quickly becoming influential worldwide. This is no surprise as it is the largest collection and analysis into evidence-based research that investigates what actually works in schools when it comes to improving learning.

I have been interested in Hattie’s work for some time and have taken some of his principles on board, mainly around calculating effect sizes, providing feedback, and constructing meaningful learning intentions and success criteria for students. But I am excited that our school is undertaking this approach so that all teachers can think more deeply about the impact on their teaching and learning with their students.

The article Know Thy Impact is a great and succinct read about Hattie’s work. His three books are also well worth the purchase.

Earlier in the year our staff was inducted into the program. One of the topics of conversation was the Visible Learning Checklist for teachers, which is a set of mind-frames for teachers to consider in order to make an effective impact as an educator. One of the mindeframes, “I seek regular feedback from my students”, stuck out in particular for me. In the last few years I have come to realize the merit of asking students for feedback on the teacher, but I don’t think it has been regular enough.

So this year I have been looking at ways of seeking feedback regularly. Using Google Apps (mainly forms and docs) has been a great way to collect feedback from students. Once a form has been setup, it is sent via a URL shortener and given to students. Students can easily enter their feedback, and the collection for the teacher is an absolute breeze. It makes reserving 2 mins at the end of the class really worthwhile, as you explain to students that their feedback will in turn make you a more effective teacher.

For me, seeking feedback assists in answering two critical questions when it comes to reflective practise, “what makes you an effective teacher?” and “how do you know your effect?“. I believe that educators can empower themselves immensely by listening openly to what students are saying about their practises.

Today I am speaking at Teachmeet Melb @ ESA on the notion of seeking feedback from students with and without technology. The presentation is called “Are you the best teacher you can be?” and the slides can be found here or below:

Google Apps For Education – What is it (good for)?

Today I have been asked to speak at the CEOM Eastern ICT Network Meeting and discuss some of the ways that our school has been using Google Apps For Education. This presentation draws on some previous work around Google Forms for assessment, Google Sites for e-portfolios, and Genius Hour.

Today’s presentation is titled “GAFE – What is it (good for)?” and showcases some of our recent highlights and successes of using Google Apps For Education in transformative ways. The slides can be accessed here or below: