In my (humble) opinion, Google Apps for Education is one of the best things that’s happened to the education technology world in a long time.
Yes I agree, it seems pretty insignificant when you look at the big picture of 1:1, BYOD, mobile learning, educational apps, enterprise-level wireless, and so on. But at the same time, I’d like to argue that it’s often the smaller things that benefit us more than we realize.
That said, “outsourcing” is a touchy word in education, and handing over your district’s email to any company, even one with a great reputation like Google, can make any teacher or district administrator sweat. With that in mind, I’ve gathered up five of the most common fears about switching to Google Apps, and I hope I can dispel them right here and now.
Wish me luck!
Using Google Apps For Education
1. Loss of Control
As a former IT technician myself, I understand why some IT staff might become paranoid about trusting some aspect of their system to an outside party. It can definitely cause some stress, especially during the migration period.
Having said that, Google tries to make migrating to and managing Apps as painless as possible. They provide a range of tools to automate the migration process; the Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Exchange is just one example.
Once you have everything switched over, the Google Apps “control panel” lets you manage the services, apps, and users with relative ease.
In this sense, there is some loss of control: technicians no longer manage the physical hardware and foundational software installed on it. But on the other hand, once they can put those things out of their mind, it frees up a bunch of additional time to work on improving IT processes and infrastructure, rather than simply chasing down problems.
2. Privacy Violations
Another issue that your IT staff may be suspicious about is the privacy and safety of the district’s data. This is always worrisome, and even more so when children are involved. However, Google has gone to some great lengths to ensure Apps for Education is safe and sound.
First, when you sign a contract with Google to migrate to Apps, you remain the owner of all your data. Google also makes it easy for you to extract data from their systems if need be. Apps is also FERPA compliant, which is important considering some of the confidential data that may be sent back and forth in emails.
Even better, Apps for Education is 100% ad-free, so your students and staff won’t be seeing annoying advertisements in their emails.
3. The Kids are Too Young!
To go along with the previous section, many people fear that since schools of course have many students under 13, “going Google” will present challenges with respect to certain federal laws about children and online data collection, namely COPPA.
For what it’s worth, Google does say in its Apps documentation that they are not responsible for complying with COPPA regulations. However, it’s not clear exactly who is! There are two school of thought on this topic:
- Schools should obtain signed parent permission slips before allowing students under 13 to use Google Apps products.
- COPPA doesn’t apply to the schools’ relationship with Google, and therefore notifying parents (such as in an Accetable Use Policy) is all that is required.
If I were a district administrator, I would have to run this by my legal counsel first. There’s no subsititute for expert advice after all. And just to be safe, I might get parent permission even if it’s technically not needed.
In any case, there are a multitude of federal laws in place to protect student data, so once you’re in the clear with respect to COPPA, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. As always, it’s best to use common sense when considering which third-party applications and services to enable on your domain.
4. Colleges Don’t Use It
There’s no easier way to put it: this fear is just plain wrong. My alma mater transitioned to Google Apps the year after I graduated. Hundreds of other universities have done the same, including:
- UC Berkeley
- Arizona State
- Notre Dame
- Case Western
You can even see a giant map of all Google Apps institutions here. I bet if you zoom in on your town, you’ll find a few nearby universities using Apps.
5. Too Much Student Freedom
Since Google incorporates a few real-time collaboration tools like Docs, Sites, and Chat, a common fear is that students will abuse these tools for useless or even immoral activities.
However, the fact is that your students are already using IM services, no matter if they’re provided by Google or not! Kids can be extremely clever, and will probably find a way around almost any technology you throw at them. With Google though, you can at least somewhat control their use, as opposed to services like AIM or MSN.
It’s pretty simple to set up a “penalty box” group within Google Apps. This group automatically disables chat features and the like for all students added to it. So if little Johnny is discovered using Google Chat to tease or bully other students, his account is simply added to the penalty box group and that’s the end of it; no more chat for him!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading through these 5 fears of using Google apps for education! If your school’s gone Google, let us know in the comments what some of your fears were.
[Photos courtesy of Flickr users dannysullivan, swfphotos, hyku, athomeinscotssdale, cmstaley, and perspicacious.]