BY DYLAN LARSON-HARSCH —
District goes GAFE in effort to standardize technology use
Shorewood is currently undergoing a transition to become a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) District, which will provide all students with access to resources like Google Drive that administrators hope will enhance students’ learning experience.
To use these tools, Shorewood students will be provided with a Gmail account in the Shorewood domain name that can be used to log into Google resources like Drive, a file-sharing platform, and Docs, a word-processing tool similar to Microsoft Word. Teachers have already received their accounts, and students will be able to access theirs in October.
“The best way for students to think about it is [to] think of big Google, and within that big Google, we have our own little closed Shorewood Google,” said Connie Jaeger, the district technology coordinator.
Because the Shorewood Google is a closed network, Jaeger said, younger students’ accounts can be restricted to only students and teachers within the Shorewood School District, which allows them to operate safely while still experiencing Google products.
“You’ll very easily be able to e-mail other students in the high school, e-mail your teachers [and] collaborate on documents … All the things that Google normally gives you we’ll have, but we’ll have within our own domain,” Jaeger said.
“It’s an opportunity to have staff and students all on one platform,” said Dr. Marty Lexmond, superintendent.
“The big thing [GAFE] is going to do for students is really increase collaboration with your classmates, and it’s also going to easily allow you to put your documents from school up in the Cloud so that you can access them from home,” Jaeger said.
James Douglass, senior, said that he likes the change because of its extra security and ability to increase connectivity.
“With Google Docs, it’s really hard to lose work because you have it wherever you have your e-mail account, which is anywhere with Internet,” Douglass said. “Plus it’s easy to do group projects and collaborate.”
“[Students today] are the technologically driven age,” said Tim Kenney, principal. “I think [GAFE] is going to meet them where they’re at in their learning needs … as time goes on, you’re going to see less pencil and paper and more collaborative workspaces in cyberspace.”
Despite these many changes, however, Jaeger said that the district would still keep its Microsoft Office license, so students will be able to work in more familiar programs, like Word and PowerPoint.
To aid in this transition, Shorewood has purchased 250 Chromebooks to be used across the district. Chromebooks are portable netbook-like devices whose only capability is to access Chrome, Google’s web browser. Once on Chrome, however, students will be able to access all the Google services they need, including Gmail and Drive, which includes Docs, Presentation and Spreadsheets and more.
According to Lexmond, these Chromebooks are already in use. At Atwater Elementary School, John Stanco, 5th grade teacher is using Chromebooks to provide students with more personalized math instruction.
“Every math student can work at his or her own pace,” Lexmond said. “I think there’ll be some really interesting implementation efforts that come by making the switch.”
Shorewood staff has already had their accounts converted to the new Google format, according to Kenney. To help them adjust, Kenney said, a group of teachers who were already familiar with Google Apps participated in a daylong session on August 15 that prepared them to serve as leaders for the rest of the staff.
“I urge students to give teachers a chance to get comfortable with [GAFE],” Jaeger said.
Furthermore, as part of this transition, Shorewood is changing the setup of its servers from an Open Directory system to an Active Directory system. According to Jaeger, this means that there will be less lag on the network.
“It’s just a newer, more updated system,” Jaeger said. “Hopefully we won’t experience the problems we had last year … We’d hit 200 students on the network at one time at SHS, and then everything would grind to a slow movement.”
Additionally, Jaeger said, the district will now operate on the same server, so students will be able to log into the network no matter what school they are in.