Thursday, 23 May 2013

Rhws Primary Online - Google Apps for Education Pt1

For many years I have been a user of a variety of Google apps, everything from email account, calendar and contacts, to saving and sharing documents in Google Drive and creating websites with Google Sites. So it should come as no surprise that I started thinking about how a school could effectively use these tools. About 18 months ago I started experimenting by building 'mock' school websites, modelling what could possibly be done with the tools I had available. These sites were constructed using my own personal Google account, but aware that what was really needed was access to the freely available to schools Google Apps for Education in order to get a full understanding of what it could offer a school.

I browsed through case studies about how schools have implemented Google Apps for Education into their schools, and also read the 'techy' stuff showing how you can set it up for your school. All I now needed was a school willing to go with the vision I was developing.

Luckily my better half is the deputy head teacher of Rhws Primary School, and after me showing her some of the ideas I had, she threw down the challenge of setting up Google Apps for Education up in her school. The challenge she presented me with was initially an organisational one - how can we improve communication between the whole staff? In September of 2012 she was going to become acting head of the school, so was in prime postion to implement the necessary changes. Over my summer holiday break in 2012 I began the process, and there was plenty of material on the web by people who had been through this process and also lots of information provided by Google that helped me get the 'techy' backend stuff done. When this was completed, with relatively little pain, we were able to spend those long sunny rainy summer days planning out what she wanted to achieve and how we were going to do it.

Link page to Rhws Primary Online from school website

The school already had an active school website which they didn't want to lose, so the name Rhws Primary Online was chosen to separate the school website from the new online teachers area. This was built using Google Sites and would be the private staff area for the school. From an early stage we felt that it would be important that the school staff got used to working and communicating together in a new way, before bringing the pupils into the project. We believed that the pupils would pick up the necessary skills quickly but wanted to make sure that the staff could gain the confidence, skills and understanding in how to use the tools before engaging in learning and teaching with the pupils in the online environment. We also felt that it was important that this way of working became embedded in the working practices of the school. I had heard about too many school online platforms 'dying' because only the ICT enthusiasts in the school used the platform - the platform never being seen as an integral part in role of a teacher. We certainly didn't want the technology to be seen as a bolt-on, technology was going to be used to help to change the way the whole school organisation worked.

In the next blog I will look at the reasons why the school wanted to change some of the administrative practices and how they went about it.


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