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Personalizing Learning with Google for Education

A District Administration Web Seminar Digest • Originally presented on December 2, 2014

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has been California’s most improved urban school district for the past eight years. A key part of the district’s improvement plan has been a personalized learning vision that utilizes technology, including providing all students with access to a reliable wireless device, a Google Chromebook. This web seminar featured an expert from the Google for Education team and an administrator from OUSD, who discussed how tools like Google Chromebooks can be used to improve student learning, collaboration and innovation.

John Krull
Information Technology Officer
Oakland Unified School District (Calif.)

One of the reasons we chose Google was because of Google Drive. We allow students to move from computer to computer, and all their documents are saved in Drive. Google also gives us single sign-on; once students log in to their Google for Education accounts, they have access to other applications, which makes it convenient and saves time for the teachers and the students.

We’re trying to move toward a model of personalized learning where the focus is on the student. Yes, technology may be part of it, but not necessarily. We start with learner profiles—we want students to move at their own pace. They create their own learning paths, and we want those learning paths to be for college and career readiness.

We believe in flexible learning environments. That comes from the blended learning model where a teacher might be working with small groups of students, other students may be working in a collaborative conversation, and other students might be on a computer. For us, social/emotional learning is important—we want the teachers to have a connection to the kids, and the kids to have connections to their education.

How did we get going down this path? We started with a lot of engagement. We had meetings. We had surveys. And most importantly, we did pilots. And what pilots lead to is a groundswell of enthusiasm. So it’s not the district or the technology office pushing something—it’s actually coming from the teachers and the students.

One of our mantras was that we needed this to be equitable, supportable and standardized across all of our schools. So every school got Google Apps, and then every school got Google Chromebooks as a base platform. We ended up choosing the Dell Chromebook. It passed all of our tests for durability and speed. It was the only computer at the time that actually came with 4GB of ram and a fast Intel processor. That was a game-changer for us, because it basically acted like a high-priced laptop.

We also looked at the cost of ownership. The Chrome console is easy to use. The Chromebooks come ready to go—you don’t have to be a computer scientist or a network analyst to use them. We were able to roll out 10,000 Chromebooks without having to hire any extra staff.

The other thing is that there are no installations. We had to roll out the SBAC online tests to all of our Chromebooks. In other environments that could have been very challenging, but with the Chromebook, there was actually an app that we were able to just roll out with no problem at all.

When your districts are looking at going Google or going with Chromebooks, I highly recommend that you try free the Google Apps first and get it rolled out. Then if you choose to go with Chromebooks or other Google devices, it’s already a familiar interface to all the students and staff.

Mark Renne
Google for Education Team

The Google for Education team works with school districts around the country to help them understand not just how to use the Google application tools, but to understand how to use the internet overall, how to reach out from the classroom to various places.

The nice part about Google for Education is that our offerings are tailored to districts’ needs. So as you come up with new ideas, as you come up with new ways of doing things, we incorporate those in the products.

Schools are in the position of trying to prepare students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Look at some of the large Fortune 500 companies and how they are transforming themselves. How do you enable students to work in those environments? What are the skills that they need? It’s certainly not about memorizing things that you might have previously found in an encyclopedia, because all of that is available on the web. So how do we get students ready for those jobs?

One of the ways we can enrich that school experience is to reach out from the classroom.

I can reach out to specialists. I can literally reach out to a rocket scientist and talk about rocket science. I can reach out to political leaders. We’ve had Hangouts with the president and the first lady, and with experts at the Super Collider. We have digitized paintings, so people can visit these amazing art museums; I can actually zoom in on a painting and see the brushstrokes and compare the different strokes of the masters. And we have our mapping software, for which we’ve not only mapped the terrain, but also underwater—so we can give students an underwater look at the Galapagos Islands or at different places in the ocean that they may not be able to visit physically.

Students can visit all those places no matter how economically challenged the school district is. And those are all things that can be done irrespective of the particular tools that a district has. You are able to exchange information and open up the walls of the classroom in new and exciting ways at no additional cost.

This open technology allows us to improve learning for everybody everywhere. It’s not based around a specific device. It’s not based around specific software. It’s just about, How do we encourage this learning?

We look across four areas:

1) Empowerment. How do we take all these resources and deliver them in a way that teachers can make use of in the classroom?

2) Choice. We want to make sure that our offerings aren’t committed to a particular device. Whether you use an iPad, or a Chromebook, or a Windows Surface tablet, we want to make sure that our tools are able to work.

3) Working together. Learning is collaboration. If you don’t have students working as a team, it’s not completely educationally beneficial.

4) Scale. We want your district to be able to use our resources no matter how many students you have, whether it’s 1,000 students or a million.

We have our tools, such as the word processor, the spreadsheet, the email. We try to create devices that are transformative—the Chromebook, the Android tablet, Nexus phones. We try to show folks what devices could look like when they are web-centric, affordable, and are able to be used by students anywhere in the world. Lastly, we add content—YouTube, our Play Music, Google Books, and so on. And we recently announced unlimited storage space for everybody, including all of your students, faculty, staff and parents.

Over 30 million students, teachers and staff are using Google Apps for Education in 180 countries around the world. Also, we’ve worked in the U.S. with a number of cable providers to make sure that students on free or reduced lunch who don’t have internet access can get it for $10 a month.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to www.districtadministration.com/ws120214.