Independence Local Schools is a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) district. This means that every student and staff member is given a username and password to log into the Google Apps for Education suite of products. GAFE allows for collaboration, creation and curation in the digital world. GAFE utilizes "the cloud" to store all files, bookmarks, and other digital content.
Android, Mac, PC and iOS can all access GAFE. Students can move nearly seamlessly from device to device and continue working on documents, spreadsheets, presentations and webpages that were previously opened on another device. In the cloud, work follows your account, not your device. No more worrying about a dropped device, flash drive that went through the laundry or a bent floppy disk.
Every Google Apps for Education account comes with a core suite of creation apps. These apps automatically save to a user's Google Drive. Think of Google Drive as your digital flash drive. The core apps are Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drawing, and Forms. These Google apps are comparable to Microsoft Office and Apple iWorks. While they help teach our students how to create using a word processor, presentation, spreadsheet and image application; they offer much more. Built-in collaboration tools like the "share" button allow students to work on the same document, at the same time. No more chasing down multiple versions of a file via email attachments and flash drives.
What Else is Included
Beyond the core apps of GAFE, Google allows third-party companies to create apps, extensions and addons for use with Google products. These apps are vetted by Google and available either in the Chrome Web Store or directly in specific Google Apps like Docs, Sheets and Forms. Independence students and staff also have access to products like Google Calendar and Gmail to help them organize and communicate digitally. These products also follow a user's account, not their device, meaning information can be synced with a smartphone app and bookmarked on multiple devices.
Control and Transparency
Every Google Apps for Education account (@ipride22.org and @independence.k12.oh.us) is supervised by the Director of Technology, Mike Pennington. Google allows school districts to push apps and bookmarks and user settings to help give our students a better online experience. All email and files stored in Google Drive are backed up in a free application by Google called Vault. Within Google Docs, Sheets and Slides is a built in revision history. Every change in these files is stored and connected to the user that created those changes. Teachers can visually see the edits a student makes to an essay, students can track the changes members of their group make during a group assignment and parents can check the time and date that their child is completing their work. There are other free features with the Google Apps Ecosystem that also aid in tracking student work and provide clarity to paperless workflow.
At Independence Schools we want our students to Leave Digital Footprints Worth Following. Just as in the brick and mortar world, decision making in a digital environment is seldom as simple as black-and-white. There is always a grey area that influences students and staff to make the choices that they make. As a school district, our job is to educate and empower our students to use quality decision-making skills to choose what to do and what not to do online. Programs like our Middle School iPad academy help students understand the far reaching effects of being digital citizens.
When I was in school, the refrigerator door was my largest audience. Now, students can publish their work digitally on websites, blogs, in apps and on streaming services like YouTube. Understanding what it means to collaborate with the world is a hard concept for students to understand. As the district continues to expand our 1-to-1 program and as teachers integrate more technology into their classes, we will continue to change and expand our digital ethics programs.