Google Apps for Education or Office 365 for Education

(The following is a post by @jwbrigance and his views are in no way reflective of the official views of his employer!)

This is a pure opinion piece, although I tried to do as much research as possible. This is not an exhaustive comparison, in any sense. Also, to be completely forthcoming, I am a Microsoft fan. I have a Windows Phone [as does most of my family, since I am “in charge” of supporting them], a Surface tablet, an Xbox Music Pass for my wife and I, Xbox Live Gold subscription, Windows PCs, and the school I work at has Windows 7 throughout with Office 2010, and Windows Server 2008 R2 servers. Microsoft fan – check!

  1. Let’s start with the most important piece of information for schools: cost. Google Apps for Education (GAFE here on out) and Office 365 for Education are both completely free to schools. Both have added-cost options, but the majority of services that would impact teachers and students are free.

Email: Free

File Sharing: Free

Online document creation: Free

You get the idea. What are the added cost options for both services? Email archiving, Office mobile apps (Office 365), desktop versions of Office (Office 365), voice services (Office 365) are all extra. Google also charges $30/device for Chromebook management. Office 365 does not include a management portal for devices at all – Microsoft does offer an MDM solution, but it is not tied to Office 365.

  1. The next key item for schools is email. Both services offer full-fledged email services, including lots of storage space, shared contacts, shared calendars, and the ability to use your own domain name.

GAFE: 30GB of storage space per user

Office 365: 50GB of storage space per user

Spam Filtering: Yes, for both.

Support for mobile email: Yes, for both.

Offline email (read and write email without an Internet connection): yes on both (kind of) Microsoft offers full support for this, with GAFE offering the capability only in Chrome.

Archiving: Yes, for both. (extra cost)

Email reliability: Google does not explicitly give what their uptime is, although for most users, we would say it’s never down. Microsoft’s services don’t go down for the most part either, but if you want a guarantee from Microsoft, you do have to pay for it by stepping up to the A3 plan.

  1. An item that any school looking at a 1:1 initiative should consider is document creation. This affects both teachers and students, because collaboration between both parties can be done by both services.

GAFE: includes Docs (word processor), Sheets (spreadsheets), Slides (presentation editor), and the ability to read and edit documents created on these from any web browser, on most any device.

Office 365 for Education: includes Word Online (word processor), Excel online (spreadsheets), PowerPoint Online (presentation editor), and the ability to read and edit documents created on these from any web browser. However, if you have Office on your computer, you can create and edit documents there and sync them back and forth as you see fit. Considering almost every school has Office already, and it is the standard by which documents are created (ever try having one of your advanced documents created on another service not transfer correctly to Office? See the benefit of having true Office to begin with?), this is a huge tool for schools.

  1. The next service that will impact any 1:1 initiative, and will change the way classrooms operate if integrated correctly, is file sharing. This ties in almost all of the above services. This service alone offers:
    1. Collaboration – users that have created or uploaded documents to the online drive can share the document with other users, or groups, or even publicly. Students or teachers can work on the document at the same time, making changes on the fly that replicate out to other users.
    2. Grading – teachers can share a document with students, allowing the students to edit the document, and then the students can send that document back to the teacher for grading purposes. Some teachers have found ways to have an automated grade (exams, pop quizzes, etc.) so that when the students input their answers and send it back to the teacher, the document is already graded and ready for the teachers’ gradebook.

GAFE: Google offers Google Drive, a 30GB drive for each user (expandable as an extra cost). Files created or uploaded to Drive can be accessed from anywhere a user has Internet access, from almost any device.

Office 365 for Education: Microsoft offers OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), a 25GB drive for each user. Files created or uploaded to OneDrive can be accessed from anywhere a user has Internet access, from any device.

This next part is when my opinion really shows through. It relates to the above, but is significant for those schools looking to integrate the technology they purchase with either GAFE or Office 365.

Devices.

This is where Google walks all over Microsoft. You can think about this multiple ways, but it boils down to this:

Chromebooks are cheap. Literally. The school I work for just purchased 30 + accidental damage for each for less than 15 iPads. Not iPads + accidental damage. Just iPads. No covers, keyboards, app vouchers, etc. The entire cost of the Chromebooks and accidental damage was cheaper than just 15 Pad Airs.

Professional Development in OK centers on GAFE. This one is huge. This is the main reason that the school I work at chose to migrate all of our main services to GAFE. What use is Office 365, and its main advantages over GAFE (mainly Office compatibility), if schools can’t find a good way to learn how to use it?

Let me dig more in to detail into both points here. With both GAFE and Office 365 for Education, students and teachers are given a login to those services. With both Chromebooks and any Windows 8 machine, students and teachers can log on and receive a customized interface for them. Students only see what they have created in Docs, Sheets, or Slides, or what was shared with them. Students only see their email. The same goes with Windows 8. However, most Windows 8 tablets or computers are nowhere near as fast or as cheap as a Chromebook. Put the blame where you want, it’s just the way it is right now.

If you mention Windows 8 machines, IT people automatically think about domains, group policy, etc. So, in this case, the Windows 8 machine would have to have Windows 8 Professional. RT and 8 Core do not connect to domains. So, the pricing of those machines that can handle Windows 8 Pro is much, much higher than a Chromebook.

Take away the need for Windows 8 Pro, and, for the most part, you’re still not in the ballpark pricing-wise as a Chromebook. A Surface 2 (not Pro, just 2) is $449. This machine has 2GB of memory, and 32GB of storage. The Chromebooks we just purchased (Acer C720) have 2GB of memory, and 16GB of storage. They cost $199. And, since they’re basically a glorified web browser, they are extremely fast. I’ve seen them boot to the log in screen in 2 – 3 seconds. Battery life is really good as well, around 10 hours per charge.

That’s a large difference for devices in schools. Because schools usually purchase in large amounts, a $250 difference multiplied by 100 could buy many more devices. Or lower the purchase price in case there weren’t enough funds.

I put some blame on IT people, and I’m pointing every finger at myself seeing as I am one. When we hear about iPads (or we purchase iPads), we don’t care if they won’t connect to the domain. Or work with Group Policy. If Android tablets or Chromebooks were rolled out throughout the school, we don’t care that they won’t work with Group Policy. But as soon as the word Windows is thrown out there, we just have to make sure it works on our domain. I have a Surface 2, and it connects just fine to my servers at school so I can get files from there. It doesn’t run older Windows programs, so I can’t get viruses like other Windows machines. It has Office built in, and it is a really fast machine. Do I care that it can’t connect to the domain, and that I can’t push policies out to it? No, because I can’t do the same with iPads or Chromebooks either.

If your school is blessed with a good MDM solution, then some of this is handled for you. But Chromebooks still beat Windows machines (cost wise) here, with Google’s option for a $30/device management console. I believe it just adds on to the Administration Console that you already have if your school is enrolled in GAFE.

The second point (Professional Development) may not be entirely accurate, but from what I have seen and heard, there’s not much talk about Office 365 out there. Businesses may talk about it, but not schools. Every EdCamp I have been to or read about always centers on GAFE. I’ve even heard some people talk about Office 365 not being an option because it costs. But it doesn’t. It’s free. The costs would be the same for Google for the same services (archiving is an example).

I guess what I’m saying is – don’t discount Microsoft. Look at both services equally. Look at where you want your school to be, and what devices and services you want your students to use. The decision you make will change the future. I mean that. Look at what Apple did to mobile. Google is doing the same thing, not just in mobile, but to devices and applications also. We may be on the verge of a major shift away from the current standard (Microsoft) to a whole different standard.

Currently, at my school, we have Chromebooks. And iPads. And Windows 7 machines. A few Windows 8 machines. A few Macs. Hardly any Androids, other than students’ phones. Students are on the verge of being able to pick up any device and get to work. This is a major shift – I’m surprised by how quickly it seems to be happening.

@jwbrigance

The Long Passionate Kiss Goodbye

There are those relationships our brain has had to make the choice to end for our own good but the heart holds on to for a long time… That type of separation is like a slow burn of conflicting emotions that culminates in that last long passionate kiss goodbye. We know it’s the right thing to do but dang it hurts… But that kiss… That’s something…

To that end… We’ve been suckin’ face with Windows XP and the hardware it runs on far too long.

We must move on… We on the tech side of the school house are fully aware of this.

Where we move to though is a big expensive question and the paths to take still aren’t completely clear… We bought XP and we have ridden it very successfully for many years and we want to duplicate that success to get more bang for the buck… But bucks are hard to come by and trying to pick a path to accommodate a student’s needs for their education while being chained to the seemingly ever obscure requirements for state testing seems next to impossible. Plus, anything we buy today will never last as long as our XP boxes have… Google even tells you with a ChromeBook you basically have three or so years to use the device before it is “end of life”… Not the software… The device.

Flipping the switch on a commitment like this is huge but that’s exactly what needs to happen. And while I wouldn’t say “Pick this! This is the way to go!” because what I would suggest may not fit your district, I will say this… It is time to implement a plan and allocate money from whatever source to move on… However your district can do it.

Here’s why:

1. Microsoft considers XP dead. It has for several years now… It will remain that way. As time progresses, the lack of support for XP from Microsoft will introduce security vulnerabilities into the network.

2. Early XP boxes have less computing power than some smart phones but yet we try to provide all things educational including state testing on them. Does it work today? Yep… barely and with effort and patience from a techie… Will it work in the future? No… The main reason is the more “Technically Enhanced” test questions of the future will be too big of a challenge for hardware bought in 2003. The tests are going to be difficult enough without having a student wait for a test question to “paint” onto the screen and respond to clicks. Testing as we all know, has become far too big of an influence on education and we should try our best to not let the tech be the weak link and get in the way of a kids performance.
—2a. Processor and memory hardware from the XP era may or may not work with future test clients regardless of what operating system they run.
—2b. The standard issue and affordable video card of the XP era is also going to have a real issue with future test clients because the amount of resources those clients will demand in order to render test question elements.

3. XP is far removed from any modern operating system. With XP we always said “What difference does an operating system make, its just a way of launching Word so you can type.” Not anymore… The modern operating system, regardless of which one, is a basis for not only interacting with those legacy type programs but also used for collaborating inside those programs and others in an effective way… Its a level of computing XP and the hardware it runs on was never designed for.

Replacing XP is no longer about keeping up with the “cool districts” who seem to get new tech constantly… It’s about making sure the tech associated with Education and accountability doesn’t get in the way of student performance.

Thank You @EdCampOKC

Now that was interesting…

There is really no way to accurately describe EdCampOKC this past weekend that would do it much justice… I could tell you a bunch a fluffy stuff that might give you either the desire to go next time, wax nostalgically because you were there, or puke because platitudinous sounding phrases have that effect on you… It all depends on your particular personality disorder.  So I won’t go there…

But here is where I will go…

First – To the people who put the many, many hours of their PERSONAL time and PERSONAL money into pulling Saturday off… Great job and thank you!  You guys did good.  Your efforts embodied everything that is good and works in #oklaed.

Second – While this is not an endorsement , because this blog actually does loosely represent a group of over 90 members,., I would like to say thank you Joy Hofmeister, Republican candidate for State Superintendent (@JoyHofmeister), for taking the time to see Oklahoma teachers in action.  What you saw was a very small sampling of what is really happening in #oklaed. There are great things going on every day in Oklahoma schools, regardless of what my Republican party seems to think right now… (Ooops… might have slipped a bit there)

Third – I came away with a few things to consider for my district… But the one biggie I came away with is the importance of Tech Mentors in my district… There are many teachers who are still on the sidelines of tech for whatever reason.  Some are there by choice.  Some are there because we let them sit there.  They want to get in the middle but its just daunting to look at such an absolutely huge landscape of possibilities and picking a place to even start. Identifying those teachers who actually use tech in there classroom, even just a little, to pair up with someone that wants a little guidance would go a long way to pull a teacher off the bench and into the tech game.

Assuming people are self motivated learners is a mistake we often make with students… I am guilty of assuming the same of teachers.  Big pictures are great… But big pictures get started from a single small brush stroke…

Unless of course your starting out with “Happy Clouds”… That’s generally a bigger brush stroke… But I digress…

It’s a New Day!

We herby declare, the day February 25th is set aside to honor those who are giving their lives to better education through the use of technology…

Yes, February 25th, from this day forward, will forever be known as:

TECH DIRECTOR’S DAY!

That’s right… If we have learned anything over the past several years in #oklaed, we have learned if you don’t toot your own horn once in awhile it won’t ever get tooted!

Plus, I’ll be darned if we will loose another generation of Tech Directors! We must save them by giving them Starbucks gift cards and maybe buying them lunch once a year!

We must let these dear overworked, and mildly cranky, individuals know they are appreciated!  Otherwise, all these private companies who are showing such great interest in education right now, will realize what a great resource Oklahoma Education’s tech people are and start hiring them away!

Now… Why February 25th you may ask… Well that’s a good question…

First, it is the 56th day of the year in honor of the infamous Question 56.  Question number 56, you may remember, was a question posed during state testing by CTB-McGraw Hill to a bunch of Junior High kids all across the state of Oklahoma that had no correct answer assigned to it as a choice… (#56) One of many defining moments CTB provide us in the Spring of 2013!

Second… and most importantly… it is the birthday of Zeppo Marx!  Zeppo was born February 25, 1901 in New York City and started out playing the straight man to the rest of the Marx Brothers until he got tired of it and moved on.  In his next career, he used his engineering skills to start up his own company in 1941 and is credited with the production of the bomb clamps used on the Enola Gay to carry and release the first atom bomb as well as a wristwatch used by heart patients to monitor their pulse.  He was also known to be a musician, a commercial fisherman, a talent agent, and a couple of other things. For more info on Zeppo go here

Notice the diversity in Zeppo’s careers and interests? He was Multi-talented… He could work with a diverse group of people… He was a hard worker… He was good at more than one thing… He was the kind of guy who could identifying needs and then design a solution and implement it… Yes… Zeppo was a generalist! And a really good one!

So, it’s in the spirit of Zeppo, and his dedication to excellence in many disciplines we say:

Stand proud Oklahoma Tech Directors!

    You    Are     Appreciated!

 

Mesonet.org

I’m not a weather professional… I’m more of a “Weather Generalist.” I do know enough to know there is a Zen art to actually coming up with what’s going to happen three or four days down the road.  But if I could have done something different in life I would have been a meteorologist…

Or a ninja…

That being said, if you have never visited Mesonet.org and you are a classroom teacher or one of those people who get to make decisions based on severe weather you should check it out.  There are several classroom resources and It’s a great tool to go along with the live coverage we get from our local weather outlets.  Plus, it makes the weather channel information look silly.

Also on this site is a piece of free software called WeatherScope you will want to take a look at… Its basically your very own customizable weather map designed to give you the most recent weather info from all across Oklahoma… To check it out and download the software go HERE. My district has been using this program for the last few years to help make school closure decisions as well as assess other severe weather threats and have found it an important piece of our weather puzzle…

Because the map in WeatherScope is so customizable, it can be a little confusing until you find what you are looking for and figure out the software’s terminology for its element layers… The good news is, on the download page there are several different ready made scripts you can download and open up in the WeatherScope program to get you started… And if you want one that has a combination of several of those downloads you can get the one sponsored by oktechdirectors.com RIGHT HERE!

Play with both the site and the software a bit and then you can impress your family, co-workers, and the old farts at church with your meteorological ninja skills the next time a weather event happens!

Money 101

(The following is a post by Jason J. And his views are in no way reflective of the official views of his employer!)

In light of the recent misinformation concerning school finance, I thought I would put together a basic primer on the subject.

First, public schools receive funding from basically four sources. (There are others, but they are typically very small allocations, so we’ll stick with the big boys.)

1. Ad valorem taxes. These are personal and real property taxes. Most of these taxes are assessed and collected at the county level, but there are some “centrally assessed” properties which are collected at the state level and then passed on to the schools. BEFORE last year when we passed State Question 766, these centrally assessed properties included “intangible property” – things like software licensing and intellectual property and made up a large portion of what companies like AT&T and Cox paid. The loss of revenue from intangible properties is tremendous, and the ones who are saving are the big corporations. Let’s see if they pass those savings on to you. This money usually makes up 50% or more of a district’s funding.

2. Basic state aid. This is an amount allocated to schools based upon average daily membership or average daily attendance depending upon the fund. State aid is offset by chargeables such as gross production taxes and rural electrification taxes. This amount is also affected by PER PUPIL WEIGHTING. The formula is very complicated, but the basics are as follows: first each pupil is counted in each grade. Next, the pupils in some grades are affected by a multiplier. For example, second graders count as 1.2 child each. Once all the multipliers are applied the number is added up. Next, students with special needs are counted again and a multiplier is applied. This amount is in addition to the grade-level amount. Once all these multipliers are applied and the results added up you have the weighted ADM which is multiplied by the per pupil expenditure. Last year that amount was $1577. This is the amount of basic state aid. In districts with high chargeables, the offset may mean the district receives $0 in basic state aid. This money usually makes up between 0% and 40% of a district’s funding.

3. Federal programs. The federal government also contributes to school funding through programs like Title I (for at risk students due to economic disadvantage) and IDEA (for students with disabilities). This money usually make up 10-15% of a district’s funding but is quite variable by district.

4. Special funds. These are taxes levied and designated by law to go directly to schools. One very important example is gross production tax. This is a tax on the amount of oil and natural gas produced within a school district’s boundaries. The important thing about most special funds is that they are chargeable, meaning they REDUCE the amount of state aid to the district from which they are collected and to which they are remitted.

In general, I think the funding formula scheme is a good attempt at equalizing the per pupil funding for public schools. However, when the STATE is putting in only $1600 per wighted pupil, that means districts are hard pressed to make the difference in property taxes to provide a quality education.

Now to the question of “CARRY OVER FUNDS.” Much as been made by our esteemed Superintendent of Public Instruction over the amount of money schools are keeping in their reserve fund each year. Let’s dispel the myths.

First, you must know how schools actually receive the monies I’ve just talked about. Ad valorem taxes BEGIN to come to the school in January. Most schools end up getting a trickling of unpaid property tax for several months. In districts with tax incentive zones, they have to wait for reimbursement for the loss of property tax until the legislature and the state agencies send that money. Last year it happened the second week of June. So schools do not have around half of their revenue until at least January, while the fiscal year starts in July. That means they have to live on other monies until January.

Next you may say, “Ok. they get state aid.” Some do, but that comes in 11 payments beginning in August. So none in July but then 1/11 of maybe 40% of their yearly budget in each month from August on.

So what about federal funds? Federal funds are paid on a REIMBURSEMENT basis. That means the school has to spend the money first and then ask the federal government (via the State Department of Education) to pay them back for the money they spent.

Finally, we look at special funds. These are also paid on a per month basis based upon the previous year’s collections. For MOST schools, these funds make up very little of their budget, perhaps 2%. It is true that some schools receive huge amounts of gross production monies, but remember this offsets basic state aid.

So the truth is that school basically have to pay all of their employees and bills for six months with 5/11 of 40% of their revenue plus whatever they had in their “carryover fund.” Now it doesn’t seem like they are the evil hoarders they’ve been portrayed to be, does it?

Granted, this is a pretty simplified explanation and it is still ridiculously complicated. Imagine what it is like for school officials trying to budget for the year when they do not even know what state aid they will get until August (as happened this year). As a conservative, I understand market principles, but when the Republicans in state government inject outrageous amounts of instability into the “market” by continuously monkeying with how, when, and whether they are going to fund public education, what do they expect but that schools will try to be fiscally responsible by scrimping every last penny they can and putting it in savings? Then they suggest that we are hoarding money. Then they say that we better stop complaining or they won’t give us any more.

Oh, and I have not even touched upon the allocation process and how that can further curtail a school’s ability to address their fiscal needs.

Some thoughts on the state of ed tech in Oklahoma:

(The following is a post by Jason J. And his views are in no way reflective of the official views of his employer!)

I. On the ever-present angst of testing and technology

I know that I have been one of the most vocal critics and complainers surrounding the state testing scheme. I continue to be skeptical that any of this is truly designed to assess how well students are learning. In fact, each month I become more resigned to the idea that we are simply going to have to allow them to send public education into the dustbin of history and degenerate into the feudal society the powers that be seem to be hell-bent on recreating. I console myself in the knowledge that even in feudalism, the talented and hard-working were rewarded by the patronage of nobles who saw their value.

Nonetheless, it does appear, given recent reports, that the full court press is on to convince the public that any future problems are the squarely to be the fault of local school districts. In order to begin the process of protest now, I encourage you all to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING that goes wrong. Record dates and times and specific details. Generalizations such as “it didn’t work 70% of the time” will not get us anywhere. I know you all know this. I am just reminding and encouraging. I was not the best at doing this, but I did keep some records. I’m convinced if I had even more, I would have felt that much more smug when throwing them in the face of SDE and CTB. =) Seriously, I know it will take precious time and energy, but just like you can’t fire a bad teacher without documentation and consistent proof of failure, you cannot apparently fire a state vendor without such either.

II. On the state of ed tech in Oklahoma

As I’ve been ruminating over a number of interactions I’ve had in the last three months and specifically over my impressions of the recent OTA-Encyclomedia conference, I have come to a few conclusions which I think you should all take to heart. First of all, I am amazed at the vast deep talent pool we have. From masters of Linux, to wizards of Windows, to Apple geniuses (that’s not me, btw), to network gurus, education in Oklahoma is blessed with some pretty amazing technologists. Moreover, these are people who perform miracles with almost nothing. Treading on the edge of heresy, it is as if you all are creating new worlds of possibility ex nihilo.

I truly am proud of the amazing work done by the technologists in our schools. From huge districts to tiny schools, there are outstanding examples of how technology can serve education in new and old ways. I am further impressed at how focused you all are on truly trying to support the educational missions of your schools. When I listen to those in power who deride what you do and the state of technology in our schools, I am disgusted and frankly quite angry. They refuse to see that the real problems are coming from above and the pressures of budget–not the people who pour their blood, sweat, and tears into making things better.

III. On fads in technology and education

I have long been an opponent of fitting in. I know. You’re shocked! I have grown even more frustrated by what I see as an attempt to centralize education policy and practice. While I do believe that technology immersion programs can have significant impact on the teaching and learning paradigms in schools, I also believe that the same approach will NOT work in every case. This can even be said about sites within one district. It is outrageous to claim that if every school just did what Howe did, or what Catoosa did, or what Ponca City did, or what Jenks did we would solve the problems of education. Every time I hear that argument, I have to practice my breathing exercises. The problems of Howe are not the problems of Catoosa, or Ponca City, or Jenks. They are not even the problems of Copan, Hooker, or Erick. The truth is that education has deteriorated every time more power has been taken away from the local control mechanisms. Isn’t that interesting?

IV. On presenting a united front

I know it is not popular to speak in metaphors of war or battle, but that is where we are. In fact, that is the state of everything in the country today. Look at the recent debacle in Washington, and you need no further evidence. We simply cannot work together. And we cannot compromise. I’ve given a lot of thought to this. Why can we not compromise? That is because no matter how willing one party may be to compromise, BOTH parties must be willing to compromise. Compromise means no one gets everything they want. What we face is a state of affairs where, in truth, neither side is willing to compromise. This is what happens when we look at our ideological stance and become even more convinced we are right.

I’m in that boat. I believe that we who have been in education, who have been making things work–despite the attempts to thwart us–are right. And I am convinced that what is at stake here are the children of Oklahoma and ultimately the United States of America. Given those convictions, how can I be willing to compromise? What I’ll be compromising is the future of our children. That being said, if we take the other side at its word, there is common ground. Why can’t we reach agreement there? I have my thoughts on this, but I’ll simply say that taking part and not the whole is a form of compromise, and again neither side is willing.

So what do I suggest? I don’t know. At the risk of being religious, I think this problem is bigger than any of us. Finding a solution is going to be difficult and going to take more than I have. I encourage you to do whatever it is you do when you hit walls like this: pray, meditate, talk with trusted friends or colleagues, research. Do something, and see if there is a way we can together present a front that is both willing to compromise yet unwilling to sell our children short.

Jason