Google Apps for Education still tops cloud-based offerings

Back-to-school Special Report, Part 4
Tools

As in the business sector, public education is embracing cloud-based computing in a big way, and the most popular platform remains Google Applications for Education.

Since Google debuted its educational cloud platform in the Oregon Virtual School District three years ago, hundreds of additional school districts have signed up for the tool. The goals are to provide anytime, anywhere access for student work; to foster an environment of collaboration and communication; and to save on licensing fees for email accounts.

With the Oregon state-wide rollout, participating local schools received the full suite of applications available, including email service, content management features, filesharing, peer review features and administrative controls.

More importantly, according to Jaime Casap, Google's "evangelist for education," the cloud-based platform has prepared Oregon schools for the next step in the digital education journey: customizing and personalizing the educational experience for each schoolchild.

Casap told FierceEnterpriseCommunications that public education is transitioning from technology-enabled to Web-enabled, and the results could revolutionize the educational experience.

"We've moved the conversation forward from traditional to digital education," Casap says. "The new focus is on how to really use technology in education."

Three things have happened in the past two years that are fueling this transition, Casap believes:

  1. There is now a great deal of evidence and information available on how we learn, including customized learning.
  2. There is a realization that technology now touches every aspect of our lives from the moment we wake in the morning.
  3. Every grade level in school is part of the Web generation that has grown up with the Web and expects it to be a part of everything they do.

Another important factor, of course, is cost.

"Budgets are a big issue for schools. This can be an infrastructure tool, a communications tool, a collaboration tool, a problem-solving tool--all of this is possible from the cloud. And it's free," Casap says.

Casap cites the example of the Chicago public school system, which is now in year three of its Google Apps for Education initiative. The city of Chicago will save $6 million in licensing fees over the three-year period after moving to the cloud platform.

Cloud-based computing doesn't eliminate other hardware costs, of course. There is still a focus on devices and on the ability of each child to access and work with content in a flexible manner, at a pace that is most comfortable for them. But so-called 1:1 environments are now valued for the ability to share work digitally with peers, to critique other students' work and to enable the teacher to monitor and comment on each step in a project.

Public education is experiencing a growing shift to new learning models, Casap says. These include distance learning, split classrooms and blended learning. The common denominator is the Web. This will in turn motivate educational software developers to revise their products, with customization a major focus, Casap believes.

"Technology and the Web isn't the solution," Casap stresses. "Great education is what is important. Technology is there to support it."

The best news of all, Casap says: After a few years of technology hype gripping the classroom, content is re-emerging as the primary focus. Schoolchildren are being viewed as content creators. And schoolwork has taken on the look of publishing.

If Casap's views hold true, public education may have taken a significant step in the use of educational technology. It would be a step in which the goal is not to keep up with the latest hardware releases; instead, the goal would be to use technology as just another educational tool--one of many to help deliver information and ideas to students.

The end result will be educational content that is more personal and more engaging for each student, Casap believes, and perhaps a final payoff on the very long road to educational reform.

Read more about education in the cloud
Case study: Tennessee schoolchildren pilot first Microsoft educational cloud tool
Case study: Oregon schoolchildren living well in the cloud
One school district's novel approach to MDM policies [FierceMobileIT]