Monday, 15 April 2013

G-Day: BYOD and Google Apps @OswestrySchool

Back in September 2012, I sent an e-mail to all staff. We were going to adopt Google Apps for Education right across the school for all teaching and administrative functions. I've kept a copy of the e-mail that I sent.

It seems like we've come a long way since then. We've got our own extensive, and growing intranet using Google Sites as the platform, all the school's policies are now Google docs, linked through our website and, with the adoption of BYOD since September 2013, teachers and pupils are making heavy use of the Google App ecosystem.

The way we communicate has changed too - gone are bits of paper filtered through form tutors, or interminable e-mail updates. We now use a Google Sites announcements page to communicate daily notices to pupils. A Google Apps script, based loosely on this example, means that pupils and teachers can (and do) subscribe to the announcements page for curated updates sent out automatically at 2100hrs each evening.

Converting to Google has resulted in a huge increase in our ability to collect and disseminate information about pupils, and get their opinions. We regularly use Google forms to elicit pupil feedback on food, accommodation and teaching - often anonymized to encourage candour. We also use Google forms to collect data from 'mentor meetings', our attempt to replicate the one-to-one tutorials that are a feature of Oxbridge colleges and some of the more expensive boarding schools in the country. Teachers meet with their mentees twice a term and record the contents of their discussions on a Google form. The form changes each session, depending on the particular focus we want to place on issues at key points in the calendar. We also have a 'flag for immediate SMT action' option on the form so that senior managers can be alerted if the mentor discussion uncovers something that can't wait before it's dealt with.

And what of BYOD? Well, we started gently by rolling it out only for Year 10 and above. This is a copy of the letter we sent to parents. In the event, no parents or pupils chose to take us up on our offer to buy suitable devices centrally, but all pupils in that top part of the school are now equipped with their own device, all with keyboards for better content creation.

Our new wireless network has generally been more than up to the task of serving the demands of pupils and teachers. We block Facebook during the day and sites like YouTube during breaks and lunchtime, but other than that we have a fairly liberal approach to filtering, believing it better to let pupils get used to managing their own time online.

Some teachers now conduct all their teaching digitally, expecting pupils to bring their laptops to every lesson and making extensive use of Google docs in setting exercises and encouraging collaboration. Other teachers, as you might expect, have been rather slower to adopt the technology, but we have got to the stage now where I doubt there's a teacher in the school who hasn't made use of digital devices at least once this year in the course of their teaching.

As I've explained here, personally I've made use of RealtimeBoard and pupils have adapted well to this. It has enabled me to keep all resources related to my teaching in one place without having to switch windows/applications. So what advice would I give to schools considering converting to BYOD?
  1. Make sure you have explained clearly to parents and pupils the insurance issues associated with bringing an expensive piece of equipment into school. At Oswestry, we made it clear that devices were only covered under the parents' insurance. In practice, we have had no issues with lost/stolen equipment all year.
  2. Make sure your wireless network is robust and that you have the manpower to sustain the demand.
  3. If your network involves going through a proxy server (it almost certainly will) be aware that some apps will not work. It is almost a full-time job keeping up with those that do and those that don't and adjusting settings accordingly. You may be best drawing up a list of supported apps and focus on those as a priority.
  4. Make sure you have thought about powering up laptops. At Oswestry numerous strategically placed socket towers has meant instances of pupils arriving in a lesson with a laptop out of juice have been minimal.
  5. Train, train and train your staff. We went through a flurry of training and since things have died down somewhat - we ought to keep pushing to maintain the momentum.
  6. Have a robust ICT policy that covers all basis: social networks, cyberbullying, proper use of the school's networks etc. Ours is here (but already could do with updating).
  7. Steel yourself for the fact that no matter how robust your network, you'll still get kids connecting to the internet via 3G/4G!