Google Apps for Education is probably one of the most important set of tools any primary school should have. It combines almost all of Google’s tools together into one package and if a school has a domain (e.g. schoolname.ie) all the staff in the school can take advantage of having a work email such as firstname.lastname@example.org and they can share documents, spreadsheets and presentations, have internal web sites, set up a YouTube channel, host Google Classrooms, make shared calendars, video conference and so much more. They can even set up accounts for the pupils in the school. The cost of all this is… zero.
My school, Carlow Educate Together, has been using Google Apps for Education since we opened in 2008. We use it for almost everything. We also use Aladdin, which is built on Google Apps, and thus it integrates nicely, allowing all users to see the staff calendar (which we made on Google Calendar) and lots more. Here are some of the things we use Google Apps for Education for:
We have a number of calendars that our school uses. We have a public calendar that everyone can see. On this we put up things such as school closures and information that would be useful to parents. We also have a staff calendar. This can only be seen by staff. This is set up so that anybody with an email address XX@carloweducatetogether.ie can see the calendar. Finally everyone has their own private calendar, which they can only see. I share my calendar with my deputy principal and secretary for fairly confidential things.
Collaborative and Shared Documents
Google Docs is Google’s version of Microsoft Word and it is built completely online. It does about 80% of what MS Office does and is generally more than suitable enough for most primary school-related tasks. However, what it does do brilliantly is real time collaboration. This means that people can work on a document at the same time without being in the same room. We have used this for policy creation and many other tasks. For example, we have a shared document that references which children are sanctioned resource hours and it’s easy to find it and anyone can add to it. Like the calendars above, you can set documents to be shared with certain people. We have a number of public documents, which are usually school policies. Generally, they are set so that anyone can read them but only I can edit them (as well as one or two other members of staff.)
When we’re creating policies, we set them up so that whoever is on the team can edit the documents and everyone else can comment or make suggestions, which is useful.
We have even decided to use Google Docs for referencing child protection concerns. This document is shared by me with the DDLP only and no one else has access to the document. We take a number of other measures to ensure the documents do not identify the children in the highly unlikely event of someone accessing the folder.
Staff can also store their own files and plans on their own Google Drive. Some of my teachers write their Cúntas Míosúils up on Google Docs or Sheets then share them with me at the end of each month. Some teachers make Presentations and use them in class. Others even simply store files on their Google Drive rather than on a USB key, which is very useful. For me, the fact that staff can share these files with each other so easily is their greatest power.
Forms and Surveys
We often survey the staff on a variety of things from planning to SSE (when we could) and surveys are a quick and easy way to do it. Google Forms is what we use and in GAfE it’s easy to share the survey within the domain. In May we ask the teachers to choose from a variety of calendar options for the following school year and in June we ask teachers for their feedback on the year that has been and what plans they would like to concentrate on for the following year.
There’s also no reason why Google Forms can’t be used to survey the pupils if they have accounts and for pupils to create their own surveys to share with the class. All the results can be displayed in a Spreadsheet ready to be made into lovely graphs or to be manipulated in some other way.
Google Classroom is specifically made for Google Apps for Education. It allows teachers to create a virtual online class where their students can interact. We’re bringing this in slowly to the school since last year. We started with a small group of pupils who were working with me and another teacher to create their own inventions. They had to use Google Classroom to interact with us. This year, we’re hoping to replace our homework journals with Google Classroom in at least one class and see how that works. It’s a great tool if you’re looking at the Flipped Classroom model and we’ll be blogging a bit more about this throughout the year.
We had a YouTube channel in school before GAfE so we’re currently not using this feature but really wish we could. Staff can create playlists we we can share within our domain. I think YouTube is one of the most useful tools for the Flipped Classroom model where teachers can easily create videos to watch at home. Anything from demonstrating a lesson to telling the children what homework they have can be uploaded to the YouTube channel and shared within the domain.
This is our most used resource in GAfE. Every staff member in the school gets their own email address. XX@carloweducatetogether.ie. This is their work email and they have this address until they leave the school. We haven’t given children their own email address yet. GAfE also allows us to set up group emails such as email@example.com, which goes to every member of staff. We have one for our Board of Management and Parents’ Association too.
Google Sites is another feature we use in the school. It allows us to create basic looking web sites which are only visible to staff members (unless we set them to public.) We use this feature for specific content such as Planning web sites, weekly staff newsletters and so on. Public sites include our monthly school newsletter.
There’s plenty more that one can do using Google Apps for Education and I’d highly recommend setting up an account. I have written another article about the practicalities of signing up to Google Apps for Education as it is not an entirely straightforward process. I don’t believe there are many cons to GAfE. Some people don’t like that they are feeding Google with information but I don’t have a problem with this. Overall, I think schools are missing out if they don’t use Google Apps for Education as it provides loads of tools and lots of powerful opportunities for learning.