Streetsboro -- By using Google Docs, a computer program that allows students and teachers to create and edit documents online while collaborating with one another live, the Streetsboro school district has taken a big technological step forward, according to school leaders.
"When I first started here years ago, one of the first things we did was give students server folders so they could save their work and not have to carry around a dozen floppy discs to every computer they went to, which was great other than the fact that they could only access it from school. Now, Google Docs has moved everything out to the cloud so students can access their work from home," said Steve Cain, technology director for Streetsboro schools. "They have full access to their work 24 hours a day."
Implementation began last school year, he said.
Cain said there are some students who do not have Internet access at home, "but I don't think it's a large number. More of a problem is accessibility to equipment. Families have computers, but they may be shared computers between children and parents."
Maureen Haska, the district's technology integration/curriculum specialist, said the district uses Google Apps, which is a specific suite of hosted services that schools, businesses and other organizations can administer using Google's servers and their own domain, according to the Google web page.
She said Google Apps has "three important advantages."
First, she said, it is "basically free," and secondly, students and staff can access it from any location with an internet connection.
"It is cloud-based, so there is no software that needs to be loaded onto the computer," she said.
Third, and the most important educationally, she said, is that most of the Google Apps allow for "true collaboration where multiple students can be working on the same product at the same time."
"A few of the apps are more limited so multiple people can work on them but not necessarily at the exact same time," she said. "Teachers can monitor who contributed what to a project, as well as comment on the product while the students can still make changes."
Haska said Streetsboro students use Google Apps starting in third grade.
"We offered training over the past two years," she said. "Last spring, we had teachers teaching other staff members after school hours over a series of about eight weeks. We provided training in Google Docs, Google Draw, Google Spreadsheet and many others. Getting time for training during the school day is a real challenge."
Streetsboro High School Principal Eric Rauschkolb said Google Docs are used "all the time" at the high school.
"It is a very helpful tool because it allows multiple people to work and to edit the same document or spreadsheet in real time, simultaneously," Rauschkolb said. "This saves us a lot of paper and time, and also allows us to be creative with the way we are making and collaborating on different projects. It is a great tool."
Cain said Google Docs gives the district "a lot of options."
"One of the things the teachers have told us is most important is, it allows the students to share a document," he said. "You can have multiple students working on the same document. They can share the document with the teacher. Teachers can mark it up and show them what mistakes they're making or where there's room for improvement."
Cain said all the students' emails are done through the Google sites. Calendars and word processing are through Google, too.
"We can control who they email," he said. "To give you an example, third-graders can email only their teachers. They cannot even email other students. Above sixth-grade, we open up the email access altogether. That way, we don't have to worry about our students receiving inappropriate emails or spam messages. There are also language filters on the system so if anything inappropriate is sent in, it shows up in my mailbox first, then I make a phone call to the principal."
Choosing to adopt Google Docs also enables the district to use Chromebooks, Cain said. They are light-duty laptops designed to work with Google software.
Cain said Chromebooks typically cost under $300. He said the battery life on a Google Chromebook is "remarkable."
"The battery life is about 16 hours as compared to a standard laptop, which you're lucky if you can get four or five hours out of," he said. "A Google Chromebook is a device that allows the students full access to Google Chrome. They're very user-friendly devices for the technology we're doing now."
The district has 60 Chromebooks, Cain said.
"High-end apps are not really available for Chromebooks, but Chromebooks are very good at doing what they are designed to do," Cain said.
"Chrome allows you to link all of your Google accounts together," Haska said. "As a [web] browser, it has advantages in that it automatically updates other products like Flash."
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