Over the last term or two I’ve noticed a growing number of schools showing interesting in, or actually implementing Google’s G-Suite for Education (formerly known as Google Apps for Education.) Like many people, I’ve long used various Google services and apps for personal use, and recently I have been working alongside my colleagues in SITSS as they develop Chromebook and G-Suite services for schools.  I have also recently had the pleasure of visiting a local Hertfordshire primary school that uses G-Suite, more of which later.

Since then it has seemed like the right time to ‘get certified’ and take the Google Certified Educator – Level 1 and Level 2 exams, and then become a Google for Education Certified Trainer, and build on my own knowledge of the way G-Suite for Education works. It’s been, and continues to be, an interesting journey as the use of cloud services becomes more and more prevalent in education, business and our personal lives.

So, this post is in no way meant to be an advert, but if you are interested in finding out more about G-Suite for Education, read on.

To summarise it all in one sentence, if you are entirely new to G-Suite for Education , it’s a set of powerful online tools which can be used in schools and beyond to provide content, communication, administration and workflow to the learning environment.

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And first of all, being entirely cloud based, there’s nothing to install! Other than, of course, a web browser. Ideally this will be Google’s own Chrome browser so that apps and extensions can be added. So once you’re logged in, you’ll be using the browser more or less like your desktop, to access the online programs, storage, messaging systems etc. And as G-Suite for Education develops, iPad/iPhone and Android apps are appearing so you can access the tools whilst mobile, though some of these apps may have functionality that is limited compared to the full versions .

I’m not going to describe every tool available through G-Suite for Education in this post, and depending on the type of school you are in, you probably wouldn’t want to use all of them anyway. Your G-Suite for Education administrator can switch apps on and off, so you can choose which tools you’ll use.  But central to it all is Google Drive – your storage area. When deployed through G-Suite for Education , the storage is unlimited, and being cloud based it’s available from anywhere. You can put all sorts of files into your Drive, not just those created through G-Suite for Education . You can share particular files and/or folders with colleagues, or students, so there’s no more passing around memory sticks or emailing attachments back and forth.

And then there are the creative tools. Docs is your word processor – which happily

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Docs allows you to download files in different formats

opens Word documents. You can also create work in Docs and download it as a .docx, to pass on to those who aren’t using Google apps themselves. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Docs is how a document can be edited simultaneously by different users. So you could display a Doc on the whiteboard and have pupils/students work on it in real time, adding suggestions, giving feedback to your questions etc.

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If you are familiar with Excel, you’ll have no problem applying your skills in Google Sheets

Sheets is a fully functional spreadsheet, also compatible with Microsoft Excel files, and I was relieved to find my Excel knowledge was easily transferable to this app. Slides is, you guessed it, for making slide-based presentations. You can seamlessly add YouTube videos (also a Google service,) transitions and animations to produce engaging presentations. One of my favourite features is how you can quickly generate a web address which the audience can use to ask you questions from their own devices, as you present, and you can choose to display the questions, instantly, as part of the presentation. But I think one of the most useful tools is Forms. This enables us to create interactive questionnaires, quizzes , tests etc. which can be shared with others to complete. Their responses can be automatically collected in a Sheet, for easy analysis. And let’s not overlook that we also have Google Drawings, for your online graphic design needs.

Pupils / students and staff can make their own websites, remarkably easily, using Google Sites, and they can choose from different privacy settings so that it needn’t be public. You could, for example, create a class website for different topics you are covering. And each of these tools allows for collaboration, so that more than one user can work on something, together. Group work; any time, any place.

The tools I’ve mentioned so far are all available to anyone with a general Google account (though it’s important to add at this point, that ‘standard’ Google accounts should not be used with pupil/students, and their educational access should only be through a school

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Google Classroom is a base for efficient classroom workflow

G-Suite for Education deployment.) In addition to these tools, G-Suite for Education offers its Classroom app. I suppose this looks a little bit like a time-line that you may be familiar with through social networking. But it’s a time-line based on classroom workflow. The teacher can post assignments, with attachments and due dates, to Classroom. Pupils/students can see and work on these assignments and then hand it back through Classroom. The teacher can comment on the work, directly through the app. Not just assignments – announcements, questionnaires (remember Google Forms?) and more. If enabled, pupils and students can ask questions to the class through Classroom, encouraging peer support and online discussion. Newly introduced is a facility to send email updates to parents, about the work the class has been covering.

G-Suite for Education offers a number of communication apps, each of which lends itself to different uses and situations. For email, there’s Gmail of course. You can create Groups, either as web-based discussion forums (limited to your school, if you want) or as email groups. So sending one email to a Group address will send the message to everyone in that group. Hangouts facilitates text-based instant messaging, or video-conferencing with up to 15 people in a video meeting. And with Google Calendar we can work with shared calendars, add attachments to events and more.

During the summer term of 2016 I visited Peartree Spring Primary School where teacher Dan Cumberland is leading the integration of G-Suite for Education  in KS1 and KS2. Peartree Spring is a large primary school with 530 pupils and around 100 staff. G-Suite for Education is mainly used through a suite of Chromebooks, all of which were set up by the Herts for Learning SITSS team. Chromebooks are a bit like ‘normal’ laptops except they run the Chrome operating system, and access programs and files from the cloud. This means they’re fast to boot up, they have a long battery life and they can be managed from a central online portal. Pupils can log into any Chromebook using their own G-Suite for Education  accounts to access their own work and the suite of tools available to them.

Whilst it was still early days for their use of Google, Dan was very enthusiastic about how effective it was proving, especially in enabling collaborative work between pupils. Whilst acknowledging that there are very real training implications for both pupils and staff in using the apps,  the speed at which the tools can be used, and the convenience, were both remarkable. All pupils in KS2 now have their own G-Suite for Education  accounts, giving them a personal Google Drive to store their work.

Teachers had been making materials in Google Slides, for example, and these can be shared to the pupils’ accounts so they can access these on any internet-enabled computer. Another favourite activity is for the teacher to create a Google Doc with a table, and labelling each cell of the table with pupils’ names – perhaps working partners or small groups. The document is displayed on the classroom screen and, using the collaborative features of Docs, the groups of children can simultaneously write into their cells, on their Chromebooks, in response to whatever prompt the teacher may have given for the particular activity or lesson. The whole class sees the writing appearing ‘live’ in front of them, leading to a genuinely collaborative learning environment.

Collaborative activities aren’t limited to the classroom, however, and group work can be set as homework so that pupils can log-in from home. It is easy for the teacher to see which pupils have collaborated on different documents, and what the individuals’ input has been, as shared documents have a revision history.

The school also enjoys access to other online tools such as 2Simple’s Purple Mash, and as these are web-based, they can also be accessed from the Chromebooks.

It will be interesting to see more schools adopting Chromebooks and G-Suite for Education for both student/pupil work and school administration (email, calendar, shared documents etc.) and hearing how they use the tools. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like more information or to share your experiences of using G-Suite for Education.

You may also find it useful to visit the G-Suite for Education FAQ, here: https://support.google.com/a/answer/139019?hl=en

Chris Carter
Herts for Learning Ltd.