Moving To Google Apps for Education

Google Apps was a topic that came up in several sessions at the NJEDge conference I attended recently. Actually, the talk was about Google Apps for Education which is different from non-academic users who have a Gmail account or use other Google cloud computing tools.

I wasn't in Denver for EDUCAUSE 2009, but that is where Google unveiled Google Apps for Education three years ago. Schools that have adopted Apps may have made the move to "cloud computing" before most people on campus even knew there was such a thing.

In just the past year, Google has released more than 100 new features and have six million students and faculty. They added a million users just in the first month of this fall semester.

Apps covers a wider range of grades than many other applications. Google Message Service for K-12 schools and integration with learning management systems like Blackboard and Moodle, which probably impacts higher ed more, are good examples.

Why are schools doing this move? Cost saving is certainly a factor. As with individuals, the economy of free is very inviting. Also, taking a school's IT department out of things like the email business is also attractive for economic and responsibility reasons.

iconAccording to the 2009 Campus Computing survey, 44% of colleges and universities have converted to a hosted student email solution, and another 37% are currently evaluating the move. My own Passaic County Community College is in that latter evaluation category. (56% of K-12 schools and 59% of colleges who have moved, moved to Google.)

There are still many people I heard at the conference who are wary of moving to Google for tools. I remember hearing most of the same fears when I was involved in launching iTunes U at NJIT in 2007. What's in it for Google? How will they make money from it? (It can't just be goodwill to education.) What happens if Google goes away or decides to stop offering the services - or gets us hooked and then charges us?

There is also some distrust of "the cloud." All our content stored on someone else's servers? What are they doing with it? Data mining? What happens when I have no Internet access - how do I get to my stuff?

I won't try here to allay those fears. I don't need to do sales for Google. But I would point potential "customers" to those 6 million users at schools and tell you to look at for more information.

Black Friday and the Social Net

The Internet has gotten more and more commercial since it's very early days, but social networks have also gotten more and more commercial letely. (Another reason why academia distrusts them?)

I am creating a social media course to teach next summer, so I am more tuned in than before to its use, especially on the business side. A new guy on the Facebook block is Toys”R”Us which has become the fastest growing brand on Facebook by growing between 40,000 and 95,000 fans a day over the past week.

They released their “Big Book” catalog of toys on the page and a custom Black Friday Preview application which lets Facebook fans find out what deals
are available. They are also (in what will seem counter-intuitive) limiting the visibility of some Facebook Page tabs to only fans.

As of this post time, they have over 421,000 fans.

Disability As Ability

Six years ago, Thorkil Sonne's youngest son was diagnosed with the mysterious developmental disorder. It turned out to be autism. In Sonne's native Denmark, autistics are typically considered unemployable. (Unfortunately, not a view limited to Denmark.)

Sonne worked in IT and his sense was that people with autism and related conditions like Asperger's syndrome generally have excellent memory, a strong attention to detail, persistence and are good at following structures and routines. From his viewpoint, they are born software engineers.

In 2004, he quit his job to found Specialisterne ("Specialists" in Danish). It is an IT consultancy firm that hires mostly people with autism-spectrum disorders and works with companies like Microsoft and Cisco Systems.

Interviewed by the Harvard Business Review, Sonne was asked:

Q: You started your company to improve the lives of people with autism. Why not just create a nonprofit focused on research or job training?
A: I wanted to do more than just provide a sheltered workplace for people with a disability. My goal is to create opportunities for people with autism on an international scale. You might find money to support sheltered working environments in Scandinavia but not in Poland or Spain or Brazil. To extend its reach, our organization needs the kind of funding that only a profit-making venture can generate. It must succeed on market terms.

His employees usually go through a five-month training course, with communication skills being a particularly important part of the preparation for them and clients to have a working relationship.

Instead of verbal communications and interviews, Sonne uses sophisticated LEGO Mindstorms "toys" as a screening tool to identify their thought processes and to try to find out what motivates them. He also needs to determine their limitations. His employees may need to work fewer hours and would typically have few ways of coping with stress.

Most of our consultants with autism have a mild form called Asperger’s and are high functioning. Still, because they’re often hypersensitive to noise, they can be uncomfortable in open-concept office spaces without doors or walls. They also have trouble working in teams and understanding social cues, such as gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. You have to be precise and direct with them, be very specific about your expectations, and avoid sarcasm and nonverbal communication.

On the other hand, these employees are also likely to stay focused beyond the point of most of us and will make fewer mistakes.

Specialisterne is an example of a model of commercialism called Social Enterprise. This is when a business and the social sector combine forces to provide a product or service that can compete in a commercial market. It is people buying products or services - another example might be environmentally-friendly products - because of corporate social responsibility.



I discovered, a bit late, that the National Day of Listening is this Friday, November 27, 2009. Not a great day to choose for teachers (who are likely to be off from school digesting turkey) or for most Americans who might be shopping on this "Black Friday."

StoryCorps launched the first annual National Day of Listening last year. The idea is to encourage people across the country to record and share conversations with loved ones and neighbors using our Do-It-Yourself materials. (I suppose that's the Thanksgiving connection - family gatherings.)

Their target audience includes schools, libraries, and service organizations.

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Since 2003, more than 50,000 Americans have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps, making it one of the largest oral history projects of its kind.

Record a conversation with someone important to you and preserve the interview using a cell phone, tape recorder, computer... check out the Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide.

Teachers can download a kit to use on the site. There's even a question generator to get conversations going.