Going Google

 gafe The Journey

In late 2011, a major Sydney system of non-government schools (The System) decided to move from its current Learning Management System (LMS) to Google Apps for Education (GAFE). This system of schools has responsibility for almost 66,000 students and employs more than 9,000 staff. The LMS that the System had been using for 10 years had run its course – it was no longer meeting the needs of teachers and students. The company was unable to provide the tools required of teachers and students and so an alternate LMS was sought.

A project officer was employed to oversee the selection, trial and rollout of a new LMS. The project officer worked in conjunction with other staff at both head and regional offices. The role of GAFE Support Officer was also created. The support officer would be a classroom teacher who is seconded to the position for one term and would take a role in the delivery of PD in formal Bootcamp sessions as well as in-school support of teachers as they introduce GAFE to their staff and students. The GAFE support officer would be replaced every term, with a balance of primary and secondary teachers taking on the role. This role was seen as a capacity building role for teachers to develop their leadership skills as well as providing schools with access to practitioners who have demonstrated successful integration of GAFE within their school settings. Whilst the rollout of GAFE was completed at the end of 2013, the role of the GAFE support officer continues, particularly with regard to supporting schools who have been slower adopt GAFE for various reasons (including staff with limited ICT skills or schools without strong school leadership in the area of eLearning).

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Guiding Principles

The guiding principles for the selection of a new system included:

  • The Learning Management System (LMS) is a critical component of the learning environment in all schools.

  • The LMS delivers learning opportunities that are congruent with System learning documents.

  • The LMS enables learners to develop 21st Century skills, particularly in the areas of communication and collaboration in a multimodal environment.

The LMS must support and encourage learning that is:

Student Centred • Personalised• Innovative• Connected and productive• Multimodal• Lifelong• Supportive of contemporary learning practice• Available to learners at all times, anywhere.• Conducted in a secure environment• Self directed as well as teacher-led

What the LMS must deliver:

The LMS was to be user friendly and highly configurable in order to  facilitate the creation of engaging learning spaces that provide flexible, personal and shareable spaces for each learner.

• The LMS should facilitate collaboration and communication within and between all schools across the System, and with the wider community.

• The LMS should focus on the needs of the learner rather than on school timetable, administration and reporting systems. However, increasing levels of integration with these functions can be expected in the future.

The primary System document referred to for this transition contains a model for eLearning with the purpose of assisting teachers in identifying the learning outcomes which innovative and effective use of technology can bring about. Skills in collaboration, creative thinking and problem solving can be fostered while students are motivated and engaged in authentic learning tasks. The model focuses on three major, learner-centred questions:

How do I learn best?

• The Model places the learner at the centre of the learning experience, emphasising personalised learning which caters for the diverse needs of all learners. Learning is an active and interactive process that fosters independent learning rather than a passive learning experience. The learner at the centre of the model could be a student or a member of staff.

What skills do I need to develop?

• Learners are engaged in a process of guided discovery and exploration which involves collaborative learning, teamwork, project-based or activity based learning. Problem based learning facilitates a process where learners construct meaning to make new knowledge relevant to them. This knowledge can be shared with an audience who can provide feedback to the learner. Students need these contemporary skills to contribute the virtual learning environment.

How do I contribute to 21st Century virtual learning spaces?

• Learning communities are created within schools and also include virtual communities created through Internet contact. The learning spaces include the places within the LMS where students work privately or collaborate with peers. Learning experiences include the wider opportunities of interacting with learners from other schools, systems or countries. These learning spaces provide resources and opportunities to interact with others and to extend knowledge and experiences beyond the physical borders of the school. These interactions are based on respect for others and self and are grounded in the ethics and values of the Catholic faith.

processThe Process of selection

The school System joined with similar systems throughout New South Wales and Queensland to collaborate on finding an appropriate LMS that would serve the needs of schools across the network and, with the power of numbers, would enable a competitive purchase price. Several LMSs were trialled in selected primary and secondary schools. Many of the functional requirements were met by the three LMS trialled but there were significant deficiencies which caused concern eg the ability to manipulate data, ability for teachers to revise learning objects/plans, ability for students to add/edit content, ability for learning sequences to be created, customised, shared and maintained, archiving of learning sequences and student achievement, ability for teachers, students and parents to communicate via the online learning system in real time,

The new LMSs did not seem to offer much more than the one that was to be replaced. There appeared to be similar limitations to the existing LMS; teachers did not report much improved functionality, particularly given the need to train teachers and students in the use of a new LMS. There was also the possibility that it was likely to be outdated prior to widespread adoption.

One LMS looked more promising than others trialled and it seemed that it would probably be adopted. However, not long before the final decision was made, two significant things happened – firstly, the LMS was about to be purchased by another company which left doubt as to whether or not the product would deliver all that was expected and, secondly, collaboration with other school systems saw one system decide to adopt GAFE as opposed to a packaged LMS. GAFE was explored in more depth and all decided that it would, in fact, meet their current identified needs. A bonus outcome was the fact that there was no purchase price associated with GAFE.

Whilst GAFE was initially considered a short-term measure whilst waiting to find the right LMS, it was soon decided that GAFE would not be a temporary measure but a product that would serve the schools for many years to come.

The Adoption Process

Phase 1: Technical integration – December 2011 – June 2012

This phase included the deployment of user IDs and filtering system as well as transition of mail from the old LMS to Gmail (mail would continue to operate in both systems). Deployment of staff and student domains and user groups would also happen prior to trials.

Phase 2: Outreach (Marketing) Plan – April 2012 – December 2012

  • System branding of GAFE. Logo designed.

  • Website designed and populated – repository for all resources and support materials

  • Credit card sized flip cards  (Quick guides) for all staff members

    • space to add personal user ID and new email address

    • Help desk contacts

    • quick notes on how to create and share documents

    • FAQs for main apps – mail, calendar, docs, sites, groups

  • Resource USB for every teacher

  • Promotional letter and video from Director of ICT and Knowledge Management

  • Press Release for schools to use in newsletters and websites

  • Posters and flyers printed

  • Announcements on intranet

  • Regular updates on school who have ‘Gone Google’.

Phase 3: Pilot Schools Deployment & Viral adoption – May 2012 – June 2012 (end of Term 2)

Target: Up to 42 teachers from 10 pilot schools trained by end of Term 2

  • System eLearning team, under advice from the three regional eLearning Advisers, asks 10 schools to become guiding schools for Google Apps adoption.

    1. 3 schools per region

    2. Preferably 2 Primary, 1 Secondary

    3. Priority criteria for choice of schools:

      1. Executive support, esp. Principal

      2. Willing to do a Google Apps related project

      3. involvement of KLA Co-ord (secondary) or Stage Co-ord (primary)

  • School Principal commits to 3 PD items:

    1. 2-day training of Google Guides

    2. One opportunity for Google Guides (+ project officer + Regional eLearning Adviser) to address all staff → report of PD, introduce local mentor/PD program for their school.

    3. 1 day follow up PD with Google Guides at the school.

  • Each Primary school puts forward up to 4 staff members and each Secondary school puts forward up to 6 staff members to be trained as “Google Guides” for using GAFE in their school. NB: These numbers might need to be increased for larger Schools.

  • Who are the Google Guides?

    1. Generally, the eLearning Co-ordinator/reference teacher should be one of the Google Guides.

    2. At least one Google Guide should be from the school executive.

    3. For high schools, at least one Google Guide should be a KLA Co-ordinator. For Primary Schools, a Stage Co-ordinator should be involved.

  • Each “Google Guide” has 3 days release for Google Apps training, consisting of:

    1. An initial 2 day training “bootcamp”.

    2. A follow up day to report on experiences in school & further training.

  • Expectations of Google Guides:

    1. Lead the adoption of GAFE in their school by using Google Apps as their email, calendar, contacts and virtual learning environment, both for personal productivity and in their classroom.

    2. Be the in-school reference person for questions around usage of GAFE in the classroom.

    3. Mentor other staff in the use of GAFE.

    4. If applicable, transfer their own LMS resources over to GAFE.

    5. Be willing to share experiences (e.g. success stories or challenges) with the wider System community.

  • Run 3 x 1-day Sessions with PS & HS eLearning Co-ordinators/ref teachers and Regional eLearning Advisers from each region.

  • Concurrently, all teachers across all schools have access to Google Apps are and encouraged to take a viral approach with Google Apps to build familiarity with the platform:

  • Capture feedback from Pilot schools and incorporate into Google PD materials.

  • eLearning Advisers to encourage the use of Google Apps in school eLearnimng Projects.

  • As an example, move the LMS eLearning page over to Google Sites. Showcase as a good example of site design.

Phase 4: Early Adopter Schools – June 2012 – September 2012 (end of Term 3)

Target: additional 12 Primary Schools and 9 High Schools trained in the use of Google Apps by end of Term 3

  • Allow schools to self-nominate to adopt Google Apps and enrol “Google Guides” in training program.

  • Process:

    • School completes staff/student registration process.

    • School receives a “Going Google Kit” from System

    • School selects up to 6 Google Guides and enrols them in Google Apps training. They are allocated a place in the 2-day Google Bootcamp.

  • Viral approach continues (anyone can access, explore, build, share).

  • School visits by eLearning team and eLearning advisers to Early adopter schools to view classroom use and get feedback on school-wide adoption. Need to book this with Principals in advance.

  • Incorporate Google Apps into teachmeets. Project Officer and others to do presentations. Encourage Pilot and Early adopter schools to present.

Phase 5: Broader School Adoption – October 2012 – end of 2013

2012 Target: Total of 40 Primary Schools and 18 High Schools trained in the use of Google Apps by end of 2012.

2013 Target: 90% of Primary schools and 70% of High Schools have adopted Google Apps as their primary VLE by the end of 2013.

  • Continue and refine school self-nomination process as per Phase 4. Use eLearning Advisers to increase number of training opportunities and ramp up the scale of adoption (more schools in less time)

  • Continue viral approach. Capture viral success stories and add to Google Site?

  • Capture and share student work created using GAFE

  • Continue to incorporate Google Apps into teachmeet opportunities and school eLearning projects

  • Heavy focus and promotion of Google Apps for 2013 eLearning Showcase.

  • It was expected that the rollout of GAFE to all schools in the System would take up to three years to complete. However, it was soon established (following very successful trials) that this time frame was more generous than required. The process of moving from the old LMS to GAFE subsequently took only 18 months.

    There are several  reasons why the rollout was completed earlier than first anticipated. One reason may be attributed to the extensive support material provided from the outset. A Google site was set up which contained tutorials and documentation that supported and extended the face to face professional development days. Another contributing factor was the enthusiasm of the early adopters who began using GAFE before their school was scheduled for formal professional development. These early adopters were able to contribute to the bank of resources which demonstrated use of GAFE in their schools and were also able to highlight possible stumbling blocks as teachers and students began using it in their daily work.

    Other educational institutions have adopted similar processes on the strength of this success.

 Surprises along the way surprise box

Google Group

A Google Group was established at the beginning of the process. As teachers were scheduled to attend the professional development days, they were added to the group. Other teachers were also added to the group upon request. There are currently 910 members of the group, including Google Guides, eLearning coordinators, interested teachers and leadership members.

This group was set up for members to post questions, discuss ideas and issues and submit solutions. The impact of the group has been substantial. Teachers post questions when having issues, crowdsource ideas for using GAFE in the classroom, share the latest updates and apps and generally seek advice from each other. The group is very active throughout the day. Often, teachers post to the group rather than contact the help desk due to the fact that a response is usually attained more quickly (there is always someone online willing to help).

BYOD – Primary Schools

Seeing the potential of GAFE in the classroom, primary schools began to express interest in exploring the viability of adopting a BYOD program for some classes (secondary schools in The System are already operating in a 1:1 environment). Whilst initially hesitant to go down this path, the Director of KMICT approved a trial with four primary schools. This trial was very successful and word spread. There are now 12 schools which have a BYOD program in at least one Stage (predominantly Years 5 & 6 and Years 3 & 4) with a further 20 schools involved in a program of preparation for moving to a BYOD program. One of the trial schools is now BYOD from Kindergarten to Year 6.

The integration of GAFE into the classroom is more evident in BYOD classrooms, as well as classrooms with ample access to technology, than those schools with limited access to technology. Schools who increase the number of devices available to students (either through school purchase or BYOD programs) have reported increased use of GAFE by teachers and students, more developed skills in the use of ICT and greater use of GAFE outside of school hours.


With the adoption of GAFE spreading, the need for access to more devices was evident. Chromebooks were appearing on the market and were seen as a viable option for use in the GAFE environment. Schools were selected to trial the use of Chromebooks in both primary and secondary classrooms. Limited success was reported in secondary school. Primary schools, however, reported great success. The purchase of Chromebooks in primary schools is gaining great traction and the number of schools purchasing them is increasing. In some schools, they are the preferred device for BYOD programs.

Physical Space Change

An unexpected outcome of the move to GAFE has been the increased interest from schools in redesigning learning spaces. GAFE has provided tools for teachers to see new possibilities for the personalisation of learning as well as incorporating more multimodal forms of learning. Students have more tools for collaborative work and publishing options. As teachers begin to change pedagogical approaches, they have seen the need to re-think their classroom spaces – both physical and virtual.

Parent Concerns

Although students have had access to email for many years through the previous LMS, parents have expressed some concern with regard to student gmail accounts. Further concerns have been expressed with regard to the sharing possibilities with Google Drive and other apps such as Blogger and YouTube. These concerns have been addressed differently in different schools. As well as newsletter items, some schools have chosen to conduct parent workshops or parent information sessions. When parents have GAFE explained to them and understand the necessity for gmail accounts as well as the limited sharing of Drive apps in the student domain (cannot share publicly). When parents see the power of GAFE and the possibilities for instant feedback, collaboration and easy integration of the various apps, they have a deeper understanding of the positive impact GAFE tools are having on teaching and learning.

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One thought on “Going Google

  1. What a fantastic post. This post really fits in well with what I am looking at in my essay. I can see that planning the project and supporting staff and students was critical in the overall success of project.

    If governments invest in technology projects like this and provide funding for great teachers who have the ability not only to use the technology but are there as mentors, structural designers and trainers means the opportunity for success is greater. There have been many projects rolled out because they are reactionary to whatever is the technology fad at the time but this project was well thought out with a mind to longevity.

    I found this post enormously helpful. Thanks for all your hard work in putting it together so I could read it so easily. I appreciate the sharing that goes behind such work.

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