Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Google Apps Changed Our Culture

In 2009 our school officially adopted the Google Apps for Education platform. It was our second major change in about three years. The reception at first was luke-warm at best. Now, three years later, there is a clear shift in the culture of our school system. More teachers and administrators have websites, email usage is through the roof and tools like Google Docs are helping to shift the norm from teacher centric to student centric classrooms.

Google has turned out (with a little time and patience) to be everything our previous platform, FirstClass, wanted to be and much more. Most importantly, it is easily accessible anywhere and that coincides nicely with the expansion of hotspots, mobile technology and a variety of online Web 2.0 tools. Unlike previous rollouts of email and web development tools in our district, the Google Apps rollout was met with much less resistance and a faster rate of adoption among teachers.

The culture shifted away from naysayers and into action. Communication was at the center of it. Easy email organization, simple to create and edit websites, documents that could be posted to websites and shared with parents. The culture revolution was on.

In the three years of implementation, our training has evolved from how to use the tools, to how to effectively integrate the tools into the curriculum. This shift signifies a change in culture. We are getting away from being scared of using the tools and into a place of curiosity and possibility. While the fears are never eliminated, mainly because the technology never stays static, the fact that teachers are signing up for professional development that focus on developing a 21st Century Classroom, says that we have come a long way.

Today we see Google Apps used for a variety of purposes in classrooms, main offices, and for communication with families and the greater community. Our district administrators participate in a weekly blog, many teachers have at least one website/wiki, if not multiple, and we use Google Docs unendingly to create lessons, collaborative activities, and whatever other things we need. No printing, no files lost on thumb drives, and no excuses.

Teachers are now creating lessons and units that require online interaction with Google Docs, or wiki style websites. Teachers are flipping their classrooms and showing others how to take baby-steps forward. Teachers are trying to develop ways to interact with the global community, not just the local one. While not all of the credit should go to Google Apps, the timing of our emergence is not just coincidence.

Next, we will bring the students fully on board with the teachers. All students (grades 6-12) have accounts as of this year. Now, they can create just as easily as the teachers. In many ways, we know the students can lead the way for us. Collaboration can take on a whole new level of partnership from student to teacher, student to student, and student to world.

Not everything is perfect. There are always features that teachers would like to see, and no one loves how frequently they have to adjust to a new Google layout, but the key here is that the teachers do adapt and the community thrives. It took us the right tool at the right time, and now the culture at our school is one waiting to try new things and find that next tool that fits just right in the educators toolbox.

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