GoogleApps for Education in Texas Panel #gtadmin

Image Source: http://marketculture.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/panel-discussion.jpg


Next week, I will have the opportunity to moderate a panel on GoogleApps in Education at the TCEA TEC-SIG Spring meeting. The web site for the panel appears online at http://bit.ly/tecsig2010 and I continue to invite Texas Technology Directors--ok, anyone in leadership positions in the United States--to contribute questions that could be posed to the panelists.


The panelists include a Superintendent, TCEA Representative, Google and Postini staff members. I had hoped to secure a principal or two, but failed in that attempt...there just don't appear to be enough people in Texas using GoogleApps for Education in K-12 public school districts! (but if you're out there, it's not too late!)


One of my responsibilities for the panel is to set the stage. I had hoped the illustrious David Jakes would give me some pointers, but I suspect I may have caught him too busy to offer feedback. So, I'm back to trying to remember how to best accomplish the job of "setting the stage" for a panel discussion.


An approach I have decided to take is to start the conversation off with a short slideshow that highlights the importance of being open to new possibilities for K-12 schools. For example, school districts should always be open to different options because of these reasons:


1) 50% of Texas school districts are facing financial hardship. We need access to free, or nearly free, services, as well as free open source solutions that can be implemented in schools. We need to cut the umbilical cord to commercial, expensive, proprietary solutions who are focused on vendor lock-in, siphoning precious District funds AWAY from school districts--using them as a passthrough account in a federal budget, so to speak--and KEEP that money in our schools to enhance and deepen the impact of what we--teachers, staff, and community--do for students.


This is especially true as those educators who have embraced for profit services (e.g. Ning, EduVoiceThread) realize that nothing in life is free of cost, although if you have the time and are willing to learn, you can avail yourself of free, open source software solutions...a point that Alec Couros makes eloquently below:


I have noticed that Ning’s announcement has made some people angry which has caused others to temper concerns until more is known. No matter what the outcome, or the options within Ning’s new pricing plan, there is a more important issue here. I do not see a future where there are more free (of charge) services available. It is more likely, at least for the short term, that more Web 2.0 companies will focus on premium services. For the many teachers who have benefited from the wealth of free services available over the last few years, this ‘less free’ reality becomes difficult, especially when schools are increasingly budget-conscious.
This is why the F/OSS movement becomes important (again). With all of the free services that have been available, fewer educators have likely felt that the time and expertise needed to install, maintain and host open source software is worth the trouble. However, with this impending shift, I do believe that this is the time for schools & educators to (re)consider and (re)discover the importance of F/OSS and self-hosted software.


It is easy to fall under the spell of free services that are appear rock-solid today, but may be gone tomorrow. What happens to in the cloud services--like GoogleApps for Education--if such a solution were to collapse and school districts were left without a comprehensive email/calendaring/document sharing solution? And, does adoption of solutions that are based on ubiquitous free today, fee-based tomorrow services essentially weaken the overall availability of free software solutions in the future?


Of course, some would argue that using GoogleApps for Education for a few years might actually result in significant savings. As budgets shrink, outsourcing important services like email/calendaring/document sharing as large districts like Prince George County Public Schools have done for students and, eventually, staff, may allow savings that enable building up powerful infrastructure for the day that GoogleApps fails.


2) FERPA, CIPA, the alphabet soup of words that describe the need to maintain student data confidential can easily be used to justify keeping such data hosted on district servers. While the hosting of such confidential data on district servers may not be done in the most efficacious way and collaboration on document development may fail, at least we can know that technology illiterate or digital immigrants, as many have termed classroom teachers and administrators, will not make as many mistakes about safeguarding data. Why borrow trouble by granting powerful collaboration and sharing resources to people who don't know how to use them, and that have "bigger fish to fry" in helping students achieve achievement goals?


An alternate point is that these kinds of tools MUST BE, SHOULD BE taught in schools so that all, including the techno-illiterates, will be able to develop the digital citizenship heuristics they need to be successful.


3) State endorsement of GoogleApps for Education. At a recent conference in San Antonio, a colleague came up to me and shared that the regional Education Service Center that services their school district was embracing GoogleApps for Education. This would result in significant savings. If GoogleApps for Education is going to be a viable solution for schools, saving the District money, why isn't the Texas Education Agency (TEA) getting behind it to endorse, or at least, certify it for school district use? "Thrifty" Republicans would certainly endorse free over at-cost, wouldn't they?


What would be the reaction of Google, School District leaders if the State Education Agency were to endorse--or ban--the use of GoogleApps for Education? Would it be business as before?


REFLECTIONS
I'm still considering the kinds of information that I should mention in the 5 minute portion of my presentation. I'm just not sure how to best manage the panel at this point. I'll be spending more time reflecting and welcome any feedback!


Some articles to read on facilitating panels that I will be reflecting on:


How would you approach organizing a panel discussion about GoogleApps for Education?







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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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