At the recent Maine Google Workshop for Educators I promised to post how my district R.S.U. #19 is using Google Apps for Education (G.A.E.) from a long term managerial perspective. We are using Apps for our student's electronic portfolios as well as expansive communication throughout the district. The structure of our district is 5 buildings PreK - 4, two 5 - 8, one PreK - 8 and a 9 - 12 high school. We have under 3,000 students district wide.
Why Google? Rather than revisit this, please see my previous post and presentation I will be giving to the state superintendents with my students on the topic.
We created a separate domain for each grade level. Because the settings in a G.A.E. domain are the same throughout, we opted to currently do not have granular controls on settings, this way one domains settings apply to a single grade level, which may look different from a 1st grade to a 7th grade.
We have students choose an avatar (a nickname) to use for their account. Most students are familiar with the concept of creating an avatar for Club Penguin or Runescape. We have students create an name that will be their online presence until 8th grade (more on that later.) There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I want students to appreciate the importance of selecting a name online that portrays an image that they are comfortable with later on. Invariably I have students who in 5th grade chose something like Fuzzy Bunny and by 7th grade want to change it. The purpose is so they understand when they apply for that job or college interview and the interviewer asks for an email address to reach them they're not using email@example.com or something equally unprofessional.
Here are the rules we use for student avatars.
1) Nothing that relates to or stems from a students real name.
2) No copyrighted names. I want these to be the students, not simply their favorite cartoon character of the day.
3) Not an avatar name they've used elsewhere.
3) No numbers (the reason why below.)
What they can use to create their avatar names:
Colors, animals, foods, nature, sports.
We follow the name selected with a number with district and year of graduation. This makes it easier for us to sort later on by grade level, and assures the student will be able to get the name in 8th Grade.
Pre-K through 4th Grade
Of course at the younger grades of course the teachers play a greater part in helping students digitizing their work, but as a platform for teachers to use for staff work and collaboration.
5th and 6th Grade
Students at these grade are far more involved and with each G.A.E. domain, student collaborate on work and hand in assignments to their teachers. It's also important to note that all the students in a grade level are within the same domain, this means that students work collaboratively on projects across the district. Last year, students work together in groups and the stipulation we told the kids was that the other kids in your group cannot be in the same room. We're developing a similar project, but the groups cannot be in the same school.
Since all students and teachers have 1 to 1 laptops, that raises the bar as to what can be expected. The 7th Grade is in a domain, but the expectation is working toward paperless classrooms. The best way to understand how this works is to see it in action. The classes in our district that have embraced it fully are so fun to watch. The best part, the students have no idea that it could be different. "Of course we hand in work this way Mr. Kelley, how else would you do it?" Reminds me of the saying, "How do you explain water to a fish?"
Side Bar: It's important that the onus of the digitization of work ultimately falls upon the students. The teachers are expected to score the results, but the students are responsible on converting, uploading, or whatever needs to be done to get the work there. The students are in charge of their work. They have to be. That doesn't mean that every student jumps on board initially just because they're using a computer. The reality is, if they are allowed to get away with the excuse. "the computer ate my homework," then they'll use it. But if the understanding up front is that they have to develop ways to manage they're own work, that's a life lesson we all need. Back up often.
Here it gets interesting. Eighth grade starts with the work of creating individual Google accounts outside of domains with students and transfer their work from the existing domain to the new account. This is a good time for portfolio weeding as the digital portfolio was never meant to be a 'glut' folder of everything. This can be a time for students to manage what stays and what goes. Remember, no real names, no scores and permission slips.
There are a couple reasons we go from the G.A.E. domain to individual accounts.
1) Portability. A portfolio's got to be web based now. The idea of handing out a Powerpoint on a CD isn't going to cut it. Traditionally the work a student creates in school, stays there when they leave. I think it's important for students to realize what they've learned is worth taking with them.
2) More features. A full account has a ton more services available to the students than a Google Apps.
As for Google Account creation, there are a couple important things to know before you dive in. Since we presently use First Class for our student email, that is the address used as a second account. This technically gives us a 'back door' into the account if something dramatic occurs and we have to take action. At the same time, because we are not going to maintain a students First Class account once they've graduated, we release our way in once they graduate.
9th & 10th Grade
Portfolio building time.
Student manages their portfolio. At this point a student probably has a good idea of what career path they're interested in pursuing. If it's the arts, then they can focus the portfolio on the arts, if science, then they can splash their best science work on the front. They can customize and focus their portfolio.
For a few years now, R.S.U. #19 has gifted every graduating senior with their own domain name. Something like, www.nathanielrhowe.com This is the first time we have linked the students real name with their virtual one. When my students go to a job or college interview, they can give their website as their 21st century business card.