Google Vs. Microsoft: Choosing Cloud Apps For Schools - InformationWeek

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Google Vs. Microsoft: Choosing Cloud Apps For Schools

Is Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365 for Education the right choice for your school? Learn from these two examples.

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Cloud gazing -- trying to figure out which cloud-based platform is right -- has become a favorite pastime for school districts.

The activity is driven by the desire to provide 24-7 access to educational material for students and faculty, and the opportunity to save considerable dollars. A majority of school districts are now looking to establish a presence in the cloud, or want to know more about it.

A first step in the process: deciding between the two primary educational platforms: Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365 Education. Which direction you head in will depend on your previous technology investments, your current licenses, relationships with both companies, and your comfort levels.

Oregon's State-Wide Google Apps Initiative

One of the best places to look for insights on adopting Google Apps for Education is the State of Oregon and the The Oregon Virtual School District. Oregon is two years into the first state-wide roll-out of Google Apps for Education.

[ Does a Facebook for education sound like a good idea? Read Edmodo: Social Collaboration For Teachers.]

According to Steve Nelson, director of the Oregon Virtual School District (OVSD), the state-wide effort started as a simple quest for broader email service for students. The cost of new licenses for so many students and teachers was daunting, so Oregon officials sought an alternative. Fortunately, Google execs were looking to pilot a state-wide project. That led to Oregon becoming a test bed for full Google Apps for Education services: email service, content-management features, file sharing, peer-review features and administration controls.

By moving to Google Apps, Nelson estimates the state has saved $1.5 million per year on license fees with Microsoft. The Google Applications for Education program has been free, with no hidden costs, he says.

The key to initial success was the existence of the Oregon Virtual School District, which was created prior to the Google effort. The OVSD is the umbrella technology-provider for all school districts, from applications platforms to software availability to teacher training.

Participation in the Google Apps program is not mandatory. Still, 122 of the 206 of Oregon districts already are on board, up from 20 in the first year, Nelson says. When a school district wants to move to the cloud, it requests a domain from the Virtual School District and signs a legal obligation. It is then given access to cloud-based services through the state's Open Data Portal.

Other keys to success have been top-down support from the Oregon School Boards Association, and lots of training. Instructional technologist Corin Richards, a teacher trainer at the Williamette Education Service District, says school superintendents were targeted first for training, to get them excited and open to bringing their schools on board.

The most tech-savvy teachers were the next targets, attending a summer boot camp two years ago where they received extensive training. Those champions then fanned out across the state to spread the word on what Google Apps was doing for their schools.

The Oregon model is not difficult to copy, says Rachel Wente-Chaney, who directs the training efforts for the Oregon Virtual School District. Start out small, and add elements as you go. The best approach is to start with the most tech-savvy staff, early adopters, and core subject area teachers.

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