LAHS goes for ‘Google’

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Education > Adoption of apps aims to streamline learning

By Tris DeRoma

Thanks to a new technology initiative going on at the high school, students can no longer say to the teacher, “my dog ate my homework.” In fact, they can’t even say they lost it due to a computer crash or a virus. A program from Google allows everyone — students, teachers and staff — to be on the same page, so to speak.

Officials from Los Alamos High School, as well as members from the district’s tech staff, recently gave a presentation to the Los Alamos School Board about how students are using and adapting to the system, known as “Google Apps for Education.”

The ultimate plan is to have every student in the district using Google Apps for Education.

The program is actually a suite of free, web-based programs by Google, which can all be accessed by opening up a free account on Google. Email, document and spreadsheet creation, calendar and a blogging platform are just some of the applications that have become available.

What makes the software suite unique as opposed to the “regular” Google apps, is they are tuned for student and school use. And just like Google’s regular apps suite, everything created through these apps can be accessed by anyone the student teacher or staff member grants permission to, making information gathering a collaborative effort. This is possible since Google also includes space on its servers to store whatever content is created, allowing access from wherever one is logging in, whether that be at school or home.

The high school’s tech staff can also use the apps to fill the unique needs of the students.

For instance, as of January, the staff has moved the LAHS’s lab reservation system over to Google Apps, making it easy for students to access the lab reservation system whenever they want to.

“Starting in January, we’ve switched the schools lab reservation system over to Google Calendar,” said Scott Newman, the district’s network administrator to the school board. “Students now have access to it now whether they are at school or at home.”

Since the high school introduced the Google apps suite, 1,121 students have opened an account and 1,004 staff members have opened one, too. The most recent figures for the month show students have created 3,390 documents and 849 spreadsheets. Users of the Google Apps for Education system can also upload documents from their computer into the system for critique and collaboration as well.

Assistant Principal Carter Payne told the board the high school’s staff is using the system in unique and efficient ways, as well. He told the board they are currently working on next year’s staff handbook.

“We can all work in that document at the same time,” Payne said. “We can sit at a table, make changes and we can all see the changes that others have made in real time.”

Payne also told the board the Google program has made it easy for administrators and staff to keep track of students as well as data.

“When we have to assign lunch detention for example I can see who Mike’s (Assistant Principal Mike Johnson) assigned, he can see who I assigned,” Payne said. He also said the lunch monitor has access to the document too, so he or she can mark who showed up for detention and who didn’t, allowing the assistant principals to take the appropriate actions.

“It eliminates a whole lot of trying to collaborate on paper,” Payne said.

He also pointed out that the system features folders where any type of document is available for administrators, teachers or students to download, provided they are granted access.

According to Ken Holmes, the chair of the school’s technology committee, the feedback from teachers using Google Apps for Education has been mostly positive.

“Many have talked about how it has brought out more collaboration between each student,” Holmes said, adding that many like how it automatically saves progress made in the document without students having to find the “save” button.

Other staff members can use the system to communicate with teachers and students too, sending out individualized instruction to each one without having to generate a lot of paper.

“A lot of people have said how this system is saving on paper and allowing people to communicate directly,” Holmes said.

One of the biggest advantages of the system, however, is the way it’s changing how teachers teach their students, Holmes said. Many use the collaborative function of Google to send out a survey or a set of questions to students about a certain subject.

“She can then immediately calibrate how she’s going to teach that lesson the next day, judging by the feedback she gets back,” Holmes said.

One of the disadvantages of the system is that there may be a small learning curve, especially to those unfamiliar with the fundamentals of Google apps and working in “the cloud,” the term used to describe working with web-only applications.

“We do think that if this is to be implemented anywhere else, it should be implemented at the beginning of the year to give people a little bit of a kick start,” Payne said. “One thing that has been helpful is having people that are well-versed in using Google dispersed around the building and letting people know who they are,” he said.

After the presentation, the session was turned over to the board for question, of which there were many.
School Board President Kevin Honnell asked the technology panel how they thought the system was going to grow and “take root” throughout the district.

“Are there plans to deliberately disseminate it, what is your thinking?” Honnell asked.

Payne said the plan should be to let the areas where it’s taking off naturally alone and where there’s difficulty to add encouragement.

“Allowing it to go slowly with a finite adoption point seems to be the way to go,” Payne said.

LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt was excited by the presentation.

“The meeting ended very positively on the question of Google Apps,” Schmidt said. “The board came away with such a sense of excitement, so much so that they asked if they can be given the capacity to also join in some technical conversations.”

He also said that rolling out the program throughout the entire school system should be no problem.

”What we will do over the summer is get the middle school staff involved,” Schmidt said. “Every time someone’s older sibling is introduced to it, it’s going to push the program deeper into the elementary schools. And so one could have the belief that as fast as we roll this out into the middle schools, the students will say ‘hey, my little sister wants that.’ I wouldn’t be surprised by next spring if we’re talking about fourth, fifth and sixth grades.”