Cloud Computing | Feature
Training Was Key to Oregon's Statewide Google Apps Implementation
A growing number of school districts have embraced Google Apps for Education as their cloud-based e-mail and content-management platform. But how these districts approach the effort—and the challenges and problems they encounter—differ widely.
Valuable lessons in how to implement Google Apps for Education (commonly know as Google Docs) can be learned from Crook County High School in Prineville, OR, and from the state's Virtual School District. Two years ago, Oregon became the nation's first such statewide Google Docs project, and Crook County High jumped on board. What started as a new e-mail system quickly evolved into a full-blown Google products rollout.
Crook County High adopted a top-down approach to implementing Google Docs in the classroom, according to Rachel Wente-Chaney, who directs the training efforts for the Oregon Virtual School District. School administration ensured that all teachers received a summer boot camp and weekly training each step of the way. The process started two years ago with the sixth grade, and this year the seventh grade adopted Google Docs as well. The keys to success have been a team-based approach to navigating through the process, which has included training and tech support offered at both the local and state level.
"The principal (Rocky Miner) was able to schedule electives so that the seventh-grade students were all in their electives at the same time," freeing up the teachers for training, called team time, explained Wente-Chaney.
"Every day had a different focus: Tuesday was math, Wednesday was technology, etc.," Wente-Chaney said. "It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We had several schools around the state try to model on that team time. When we don't have that built-in team time, it is really difficult."
Help from the Virtual School District
The effort was aided by the Oregon Virtual School District, which provides online learning applications, digital content, and digital courses to educators throughout the state. According to Director Steve Nelson, the Virtual School District was created by the Oregon state legislature in response to what had been poor technology assessments in public schools years ago. Individual school districts can tap the Virtual School Districts for e-mail and applications offerings, as well as training beyond what local budgets can cover.
The Virtual School District was initially charged with offering an e-mail system to public school districts. In the course of investigating e-mail offerings, though, Oregon school officials met with Google execs. "This started for the benefit of districts that didn't have student e-mail," Nelson says. "We had a relationship with Intel, and they introduced us to Google."
Google representatives outlined the full suite of applications available with a total rollout, including e-mail service, content-management features, file sharing, peer-review features, and administrative controls. Oregon educators liked what they heard about the full suite, and Google liked the idea of piloting a statewide rollout, Nelson explains.
Having the Virtual School District in place as a ready-made state support system has made the Oregon effort unique.
Reaching the Summit
The Virtual School District also helped launch what has become a popular training event: the Google Summit. The summit was started as a way to introduce educators to the Google Docs environment, how to best use its features to enhance curriculum, and best practices for student collaboration and peer review. The summit was started by Oregon educators, not Google, and was an immediate success. Since then, several states have held summits Google Summits modeled after the Oregon event.
The Google Summit was an excellent way for Oregon educators to get the word out about what was coming, Wentz-Chaney says. The idea was to target early adopters and program champions who would in turn spread the word in their respective districts.
"In two months we planned and hosted the Google Summit. We got the 'okay' from Google, and we had close to 200 people that first year: principals, classroom teachers, technology people, curriculum developers and directors, administrators," she said. "Fifteen to 20 of our colleagues did breakout sessions. It was a hit."
That was just the beginning. "We wanted to follow up the success of the summit with mini summits," Wente-Chaney said. "Teachers do creative things with Google. We would ask them to come present with us. We did our spring road show. We provided lunch and Google Apps training. The demand kept growing from there. We just hosted our third annual summit in October. We had 300 people this time. "
A Voluntary and Free Program
The Oregon initiative is not mandatory for school districts. Each district signs on when ready and willing. State assistance is free, paid for by the state legislature's funding of the Virtual School District. Nelson says that 122 of the state's 207 school districts have signed on to the voluntary program in its first two years. "Still, well over 50 percent of our teachers have adopted it," Wente-Chaney noted.
Part of the Virtual School District's efforts have been communicating what the Google Docs environment is all about, how it will impact lessons in the classroom, and what is needed to make the move. Once a district is ready to adopt Google Docs, they contact the Virtual School District for assistance in getting started.
"We provide free training if a district has at least 25 people that need training," Wente-Chaney said. "We will gladly travel to you. We will work with individual districts or groups of districts. We also hosted WebEx sessions for three or four weeks."
The Oregon model is not difficult to copy. Start out small, and add elements as you go, Wente-Chaney suggested. The best approach is to start with the most tech-savvy staff, early adopters, and core subject area teachers.
"These are not full-time jobs for any of us," Wente-Chaney noted. "We set aside stipend money. What started out as a small team that gave up one day a week has grown to a large team of trainers. We do virtual training sessions, road shows, the summit, team training…. The demand is still growing."
David Weldon is a freelance education and technology writer in the Greater Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected].