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Looking back on a year with Google Apps for Education

Dr. Thomas I. M. Ho is the Director of Technology Integration and Support at Traders Point Christian Schools. He joined Newmind as a fellow for the HECC 2015 conference.

It’s been almost a year since we conducted a Google Apps pilot project in the sixth grade at Traders Point Christian Academy, and I’ve taken stock of how it’s been going to share some lessons learned since our initial rollout of Chromebooks in our junior high gradesearlier this semester. In general, Google Apps has lived up to expectations for reliability, performance, and ease-of-use—in fact, it’s been “too much of a good thing” because its functionality and robustness can be somewhat overwhelming.

Speaking as a Google Apps administrator for TPCS, I have been impressed by the degree to which I have been able to customize the Google Apps environment for my user community. Chrome device management has been especially useful. From features such as Chrome browser extensions and apps, startup tabs, and bookmarks; my diverse user communities such as students, teachers, and non-teaching staff (known as organizational units in Google Apps parlance) get just what they need to get their assignments or jobs done. I have maintained a log of most of the customizations that have been installed.

Chrome Management

Having ordered Chrome Management licenses for the Chromebooks, we had intended to manage the students’ Chromebooks so that we could control which websites could be accessed by the students no matter where they were…whether at school or elsewhere. However, we decided to use a third-party service called GoGuardian for Admins for web filtering including YouTube.

Thus far, we have found it to be effective, although I have whitelisted relatively few websites after selecting categories of websites to be blocked and haven’t yet used the bypass feature which allows websites to be passed through the web filter temporarily with a password issued by the administrator to the teacher. However, we did use the theft recovery feature to track down a misplaced Chromebook.

We haven’t yet used GoGuardian for Teachers for classroom management although we are very close to setting up a trial because we have found the need for its features to monitor in real-time what students are doing on their Chromebooks especially during class sessions and to intervene, if necessary. Hapara Highlights is another product we are considering as an alternative to GoGuardian for Teachers.

By the way, we have found the Chrome Management license to be very useful in managing public session devices especially as we have begun to use Chromecast to mirror public session devices on TV monitors in public spaces.

Classroom Engagement

Recently, we have also started to use Google Classroom to assist teachers with workflow management for assignment creation, student submission, and teacher assessment. Thus far, we are depending on students adding themselves to a class roster with the generated code, but we will eventually integrate it with a (Google Sheets) add-on such as rosterSyncor even a Student Information System such as Alma which imports class rosters into Google Classrooms.

Recently, we have also started to use Pear Deck for formative assessment in Google Classrooms. Pear Deck is very robust because it reports which students have responded as well as recording each students’ responses. As you can see from this recent tweet, the students find Pear Deck to be very engaging.

Traders Point Christian Schools have found the Google Apps ecosystem to be very robust, offering many opportunities to add value to Google Apps in order to derive maximum benefit. If you’re interested in exploring add-ons, I suggest looking into tools for Google Drive organization, classroom engagement, filtering and security. You’ll need to budget some extra dollars, but they will drive the biggest gains to your school and staff.

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