I used to sound like an engineer, but these days I'm more like a character from Seasame Street. Advanced degrees aside, my language once had such a professional and impressive cache: "We need to install a new TCP/IP protocol that will allow multiple subnets and virutal LANs..." Now I talk about Moodle, Google and Doodle. All I need now is a catchy jingle to help you remember how they are different. Oh well.
Yes, LPS is heavily involved in Google Apps for Education. Not long after I began my tenure at LPS, I read about how Arizona State University was migrating all their email services to Google. That was prettty bleeding edge stuff back then, but I was very intrigued because LPS has all the right ingredients for such a move. We have a fiber network (thanks again to the City of Littleton's enterprise agreement with Comcast) that ties our buildings together at such remarakable speeds that computers literally cannot see a difference between a resource located at the ESC and one hosted in the same room. We also have a lot of bandwidth to the Internet. Back then, we had 100 megabits per second (ahhh, engineering talk... doesn't it feel good?) and we've upgraded that to 200 since then. Not only is that a lot of connectivity, but we have redundant connections to Comcast and TimeWarner Telecom. If one goes out, it's almost gauranteed the other will remain online. Only a natural disaster right in Littleton could bring both down... and then I'd hope school would be canceled.
We built a wifi network second to none. Even today, I doubt you'll find a more pervasive and faster wifi network anywhere in Colorado. We have 22 buildings and over 480 access points. We support both a highly secured and an open wifi service. The secured wifi is for LPS laptops. The open network is called PODNet and welcomes personal technology of all kinds (yup, bring your laptop, iPad, netbook to our schools... it's fast and easy to use). I know there is a national conversation about "BYOT" or bring your own technology to school. We've been there for four years now. Nice to see others joining the idea. Ultimately, we're going to depend on personally owned technology just as we depend on kids bringing their own binders and pencils to school. We're ready.
And most importantly, we have some of the best thought leaders on 21st Century learning among our teaching staff. No other district in the United States has three "20 To Watch" national award winners from the NSBA. At the TIE conference, we had 11 seperate presentations; we had 9 at the National ISTE conference last year when it came to Denver. Our IT deparment was just recognized for excellence by CoSN. Districts around the state have replicated our Inspired Writing initiative in which over 175 teachers have taken the deep dive into learning in the cloud. Blogs, wikis and now Google Docs are just as easy and common as paper and pencil in their classrooms. Whereas I once escorted visitors to a few "usual suspects" to see 21st Century learning in school, now I can literally pick any school in LPS and show you learning environments that boggle the mind. Any LPS school. When we remember the McREL research that shows the teacher to be the single greatest influence on student achievement any school can provide, I feel very good about the quality of teachers we have arrayed across this district.
Yes, Google is today's king of the cloud, in my opinion. The collaborative features built into Google Docs demonstrates this company's understanding of what collaborative work really looks like. I have observed classrooms in LPS where literally dozens of students simultaneously edited a single document sparking collaboration of a sort I've never seen... so inspiring that I wish I could go back to 5th grade. No doubt that's why LPS students created over 130,000 Google Docs last year and had an average daily login rate of 6,500 accounts. Out of a total 9,000 accounts, that's great adoption for year one. It speaks to ease of use and value. It also suggests those teachers I mentioned above know how to use these shared online workspaces (I used that term intentionally because you'll find it in the new Colorado Academic Standards... here, go look).
The company is firmly established, having survived the several tech crashes emerging as a rival to Microsoft and Apple in the tech sector. So I doubt they're going to go belly up anytime soon. And recently, they signed an agreement with the State of Colorado (among others) to assure security of the data and pledge to keep it state-side. In reading the agreement shared with me from the State CIO, it is clear that we can expect the same degree of security and obligation as we do other cloud-hosted services we use. The encryption of the services enables us to keep secure data with Google and the mirroring Google has across the US gives me more confidence for data intergrity than anything we could deploy... even if we did have the funding... which is desperately scarce.
So, we have run the tests, done our dilligence, tried other systems and are now headed down the same path Arizona State University blazed years ago. Our students have helped us master the Google Docs world and this fall we will prepare our staff email system to become a Google service. Between now and the winter break, we will provide training and support to all LPS employees to prepare for the big switch when all @lps.k12.co.us email will stop flowing to a server in our building and start flowing to Google. Here are some key points:
- @lps.k12.co.us will remain the same. Staff will not need to notify anyone about the change and your email address will remain exactly the way it is today. Some folks have asked if we could come up with a shorter, easier address. While we certainly could, it is a painful thing to change because you'd have to notify everyone of your new email and we'd have to run dual systems for a while to make sure you don't miss important messages. Further, when you sign up for services online (see Prezi.com), you can get special benefits if you can show yourself to be an educator. With our email addresses, that's a slam-dunk.
- Outlook will remain as a good choice for your email. You can use Outlook when we make this change. It will read email, contacts, calendars (both shared and personal) from Google the way it reads that information from the servers in LPS. In some ways, it will do even better. You will need to run a program once in January before it will work, but it's very easy... we'll cover it in the training.
- Smartphones will work. Any smartphone that can link to our servers today will be able to get the data from Google. You'll have to reconnect once, but it'll actually be easier than when you connected to the LPS servers. And, other SmartPhones that don't work or don't work well with our current systems... will work with Google. So you'll have more choices with smartphone shopping. But you don't need to replace your smartphone if you already have one.
- Chrome is recommended but not required. Google makes their own web browser and naturally it works really well with Google services. You'll like it but if you don't want to stop using your favorite web browser, that's ok. They'll work just fine. In fact, you can have several web browsers on your PC, and set the home pages for services for which they work best. You don't have to change. Your computer coach has access to an enterprise version of Chrome that they will want to run on any shared computer, but you don't have to wait... you can download it yourself. The version you download on your own will work fine.
- Your inbox will grow from 1gigabyte to 25. Two years ago, we boosted your inbox from 250 megabytes to 1 gigabyte. This meant that 80% of our staff no longer needed to worry about offloading email into a personal folder to keep the inbox from filling up. With a move to Google, we should have 25 gigabytes for every employee. Now, nobody will need to worry about offloading your email to keep your inbox from getting full. Certainly, you can file your email into folders in Google, but that's just for your convenience. *OK, there will be those super-technical folks that will say our Google storage is just 7 gigs right now... Google announced the 25 gig level and we expect to have our domain upgraded before the switch. But even if so... 700% increase is pretty good, right?
- The district will save money. Google gives this to school districts free of charge and without advertisements. Other corporate citizens could learn a thing or two (you know who you are). This service will save the district the costs of replacing server hardware and buying server software licenses.
- Introducing Google Docs for all staff. You just don't know the power of collaboration until you've worked in this space. Say goodbye to versioning problems, lost files, limited access and problems working with people who don't have the same software you do. Take it from our students: collaboration is the bomb.
What does this mean to the average staff member in LPS? It means you should check with your computer coach to get logged in to Google's web site this semester. Your email will work the same way you are used to through the semester. Come January, you'll be ready and you'll have lots of new powerful tools. You can choose to keep using Outlook or you can adopt new and exciting ways to manage your data. I know that changes to email systems can be unnerving, but by the time we're done, I think almost everyone will agree that our winter break "go-live" with Google email will be another Y2K moment.... a highly anticipated non-event.
Welcome to the cloud.