Shorewood is in the process of becoming a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school district. To complete this transformation, the district will install 250 Chromebooks throughout its schools, reform the server and assign every student a Gmail account within the district’s domain.
According to Connie Jaeger, district technology coordinator, we should expect enhanced Wi-Fi, including faster Internet, access to the school server from any of the four schools and superior online security. Over time, the district also plans on phasing out of Microsoft Office and iWork (Pages, Keynote and Numbers), both of which were staples of any student or staff account. We can also look forward to new passwords and usernames for all students, the widespread use of Google Chrome and Google Classroom. Ready or not, change is coming, and it may be overdue.
Returning students remember the inadequacies of last year’s Internet; the wasted classes spent in front of famished computers starving for bandwidth, the frustration brought by the painfully slow service and the desperation that would ultimately drive us to our phones to devour our own precious data.
If all goes well, GAFE will be a more organized way to access the Internet that is certain to promote efficiency and enrich student’s learning; should it be anything less than perfect, time is still bound to be wasted.
Firstly, GAFE is easier to maintain. To be updated, Office and iWork need new licenses. The new Once GAFE has been installed, there will be no need for updates, as GAFE practically runs itself from the cloud. The new Chromebooks only cost $300 a piece, as opposed to iMacs, which are upwards of $1000.
Teachers are excited to part from their old emails on the Outlook platform, which caused a number of headaches, including automatically moving mail sent from a Gmail address to spam and drastically complicating communication between students, parents and teachers.
Additionally, students should be pleased by the prospects of accessing work on their account from the cloud anywhere and anytime without the hassle of a flash drive, and to collaborate with peers using Google’s sharing capacities. Parents should be relieved by the extra safety precautions the new program offers. Everyone should be thankful for the switch from Moodle to Google Classroom.
However, with these benefits comes a host of faults.
GAFE will offer students access to all the applications available on Google, but Microsoft Office and iWork have similar programs with more advanced functions. Google Docs serves as an adequate replacement for Microsoft Word; however, many advanced formatting options, including adding pictures, are lost. Similarly, Google Presentations is deficient in slide layouts and transitions compared to PowerPoint and Keynote.
Also, students that experience subpar Internet connection at home and depend on Office and iWork for their word processing needs will be excluded from all privileges that GAFE has to offer because GAFE requires Internet access. At first, it will be possible for students to transport their work from home to school via flash drive, but once Office and iWork become obsolete and our Macs are replaced with Chromebooks, such content will no longer be supported, as Chromebooks come with neither USB ports nor CD players.
Finally, is the integration of technology into the classroom always a thing to be valued? We have witnessed the rise and fall of the SMART Board, the $1500 piece of equipment that promised interactive and engaging learning, but today stands in many classrooms as nothing more than a glorified whiteboard, which leaves students and teachers with more frustration than insight. Like the SMART Board, GAFE has the potential to become a disruption and a failure, but if used properly could also bring elements of cohesiveness, efficiency and even fun into the classroom.