Thinking out cloud


I received an email from a primary school recently along these lines:

I wonder if you can offer advice. I have put off updating our office software for quite sometime now as what we had (MS Office 2003) (I know, an ancient relic) seemed to do the job, teachers were familiar and the costs were quite high. I think it is time to move on but unsure what to. I wonder if cloud computing services are the way to go, or other free packages in terms of traditional software such as open office. Or should we look to something completely different.
I would value your thoughts and observations of schools on your travels! us casinos 18

I responded something like this:

Hmmmm Depends on a few things really but here are some considerations:

  • Do nothing – consequences are what? Stuff gets even more out of date and misaligned with what’s out there in the world. But it is an option for a little while yet maybe.
  • Upgrade your MS Office software and licences to something a little more contemporary – consequences are quite severe in terms of a financial hit and you will also need to think about any ‘transitions’ staff (and pupils) may have to make to ‘new’ software which is fairly different from a user point of view.
  • Install ‘Free’ Office applications (such as Open Office) – ok, this is a cheap option and one that many schools I know have taken. It certainly does the job and has a similar enough look and feel to the ‘authentic’ applications to be manageable. singapore online casino
  • Cloud solutions – I’m thinking Google Apps for Education (GAfE) and Google Drive here (although Microsoft have their own equivalent – Skydrive (more later)). If you were to explore this option, it requires a fundamental shift in thinking about how everything works. Stuff is no longer done ‘locally’ on a machine (although it can feel a bit like it) but it is done via a browser. The other essential difference is the way in which documents become far more fluid in terms of sharing and collaboration – this is powerful stuff and potentially truly transformational. However, it is very much a new and different way of doing things with new and different approaches to workflow. This takes some considerable getting of the head round things (especially as a whole-school thing). The same is true for the Microsoft offering, they provide online storage (Skydrive) and a set of cloudy, browser-based software apps called Office365 (think Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc) that look very much like conventional MS software (comfortably familiar for some perhaps). All the same sharing, collaborating etc is available with Office 365 as with GAfE. The difference between these two though is that you can get going with GAfE immediately cos it is part of the (the local authority solution) thing every school has. Now you’ll ask me how to do that… erm… I’ll find out. I know of schools doing this stuff extensively (but not sure about within our local authority). So, as with anything, I recommend a bit of trying stuff out. Why not install and play with Open Office? For one class? Why not see how (one class?) gets on with GAfE? Then informed decisions are easier to make.

I offered to extend the request to this blog, see what responses people came back with, and there came the following response:

Thanks for that, very comprehensive! We have dabbled with open office and I have used google docs a little, just not quite the same, but all valid points you make. It would be interesting to hear what other people do so no problem with sharing via a blog. Also, I find that some features get blocked by the firewall, so if we moved in that direction I would want to be sure we can use it. The issue of having to log in too bothers me for cloud computing. The children log onto the laptop/server and would have to log into the cloud service too, unless we can find a way to facilitate a single log on.

So, what are you doing in your school?
What do you do about ‘Office’ applications or software, licences etc?
Have you elevated into the clouds? Is it sunny or stormy up there?
What are the pitfalls? The advantages?
What about firewalls? Logins?
Do you do different stuff with different ages of pupils?
Have you recorded your progress for us and others?

I’d love to see some replies! Many thanks in advance!

I suppose some people just like the speed and efficiency of Twitter as I got some useful replies there:





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12 thoughts on “Thinking out cloud

  1. We use Google Apps and I loathe it.
    It is fine for simple admin stuff – if all you need it a very basic text editor, or to be able to carry out straightforward calculations on a spreadsheet, but absolutely hopeless for making anything more complex.
    You can’t merge table cells or change the text direction on the word processor (which meant all of our planning templates were useless). You can’t import anything other than the simplest of powerpoints without having to completely re-edit them. You can’t make attractive or effective features half as easily as you can using Office software.
    I’m afraid I’m not impressed. It’s probably bearable for some behind-the-scenes stuff, but as a classroom teacher I can’t stand it. video poker download

    That said, it does have some uses for work with older students – probably great at secondary school, and usable with upper KS2.

  2. We have just turned to Google Docs as a collaborative alternative for planning, I like the concept of collaborative planning my initial plans for it use were
    -Sharing planning with me as Head is easier for monitoring purposes. Simply drop into the shared folder.
    -Sharing annotated planning with various experts ie Senco, Reading Recovery teacher, PE specialist, IT specialist etc for support with teaching progression before lesson or support after if a particular child ie with SEN doesn’t ‘get’ the learning and you need help.
    – Sharing planning with your TA before the lesson or your TA being able to annotate your planning after the lesson to inform you so and so hasn’t understood, therefore you can amend your planning for the following day. We are all busy and making time to speak to colleagues is often difficult and I hate having a pile of post its on my desk with comments on.
    Collaborating in real time over the web with colleagues via chat section. the best online casino for mac usa

    This was an ideal dream and as yet two weeks in, we are yet to achieve it, yes we have had problems, uploading Microsoft doc and them being converted into bizarre designs, merging cells in tables, creating templates. But I believe planning templates don’t need to be ridiculously fancy or overly detailed its simply a lesson plan – we have simply put 2 separate tables on one page to overcome the merge issue. If you create the file in Google docs first then export to Word then the formatting stays the same regardless of whether its in Google or Microsoft.
    The biggest problem has been the staff letting go of Microsoft and embracing something new – which my staff are starting to do.
    I can see for presentation / teaching purposes it has limitations but as a simple collaborative planning tool I believe it is going to be very powerful.

  3. Hi Dughall,
    Well, if this was a request around teacher/administration use, then I’ve little to add. however, if it also concerned pupils accessing the curriculum, then here’s my tuppence worth.Tuppence? There’s an age definer!
    Well, most of my work is done in primary schools, so both Google Drive/apps and Office365 suffer from the fact that… they’re just like Office. Arguably not the best vehicle for younger pupils.
    I’ve been a fan of the J2E suite for many moons and the more I use it, the bigger fan I become. OK, it’s not free, but then again, some things in life are worth paying for to get a quality product and it’s hardly a bank breaker at around £200.
    Occasionally we need to get a filtering issue sorted so pupils can save their work, but this has always been down to local filtering and is quickly remedied.
    Anyway, here isn’t the place for me to air my thought s on J2E, especially as I’ve already done that on my blog.

    • Paul, many thanks for taking the time to comment. I know what you mean about the UI of the standard Office apps being a little bit ‘grown up’.
      I am also a fan of J2E and, as an entry-level, infant appropriate, browser-based tool(s) it is perfect really. Thanks for reminding us.

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  4. Which one of Open Office, Google or Office365 would I/we use?

    It’s a bit of a story. Things usually are.

    The time but one that we spent money on new hardware we had the choice of Open Office or £2500ish Office. We went for Open Office (and subsequently OpenOffice4kids)

    The children weren’t the slightest bit bothered that they were using OpenOffice and it meant that could have it at home for free as well. How many took up this offer I don’t know but when work was brought in from home done on Office by the children we had no problem importing it into Openoffice. It doesn’t work the other way. virtual blackjack machines for sale

    The only problem we had was with staff. They wanted and liked Office and school paid for it on an individual basis. I don’t think I used Office for 3/4 years. Incidentally, my son Luke did his entire Law degree using OpenOffice. He couldn’t see the point of paying for Office when OO did everything he needed it for. He had Google Docs provided by his university but he didn’t use that either.

    Google Docs came along and in my class OO just didn’t get used though in other classes and by TA’s using curriculum PC’s and laptops carried on it did. We became a Google school with our own google domain. It was mainly used by me.

    Office365 became free for schools in July 2012 and we subscribed. As not all teachers made use of Google and their preference was for Office it seemed to be an all round ok solution. The version wasn’t bad but I found it difficult to get my head round stuff like Sharepoint and without the local version of Office on the teachers’ laptops they (the other teachers) didn’t use it. We bought Office licences and the teachers were happy (though the kids never get near it)

    The use of Google in school by pupils increased through last year. One because our Y5 teacher used it in a live writing session for an observed lesson and our HT, who had never seen it before, was seriously impressed (so much so she forked out £6500 on Chromebooks)

    The other reason was our fab HTLA who does ICT in quite a few classes and with iPads and Chromebooks delved into the world of Google, amongst a whole load of other things and had Y1 sharing and collaborating on lesson stuff.

    Oh and another thing we have a regular supply teacher who loves doing Google stuff when she’s in,

    As well as the curriculum thing we also had our Y3 class. Last year it was job shared by three teachers. Might sound tricky but it worked real well. End of year reports were tricky. Done on Office, stored on a pen drive – everyday present constant danger of losing or overwriting reports.

    This year we tried to do things differently. Initially I returned to Office365 in March and set up a shared document. However that was too far away from report writing time and it wasn’t touched.

    Nearer the time I logged back into Office365 and saw a huge change in the way it looked and, more importantly the way it worked. much easier and quicker. Another report format was set up. One of the two teachers of Y3 had a go but it didn’t quite click.

    I did exactly the same with Google and my the end of the week the two teachers had fallen in love with Google. One has a gmail account but never really touched docs. The other, not techy in the slightest. They both raved about how easy it was. A side benefit was that in previous years the HT waits till each class reports are finished, checked, proof read, printed and then end of year comments added in the end of summer term scramble. This time she could add her comments as soon as the the reports were shared and before they were finished. Made her part of the job much easier.

    I did my reports in the same way. One teacher said that she wouldn’t be using it because in the Google version text boxes don’t have borders (they may do but I just didn’t look).

    We had a bit of an issue with Y6 writing moderation at the end of last year and in particular with digital writing. Not easily accessible to the moderator. So this year our Y6 teachers, who were our Y3 teachers last year, have now got the pupils to organise their Google Drives in subject areas and have one folder called “finished work” which is shared and then QR coded and stuck to their “Big Write” book. Bingo! They want to stick the QR codes on the class photographs which are stuck on the wall outside the classroom. Not often have I seen a completely no techy teacher excited about techy stuff!

    I was in a brand new secondary Academy last week as part of my ICT Big Adventure training the teachers on how to use……Office365! I found it much better than before – improvements over a couple of months but not as quick, collaborative or intuitive as Google Docs. It does however have much more advanced features (but I don’t know what they are or how to use them) Mind you Google Forms are pretty advanced!

    My kids loved Google last year. This stuff that Michael Gove comes up with about extending the school day sort of already happens with Google because they spend their time doing shared presentations and nagging me for homework on Saturday morning!

    I guess in the end it’s what you like and what works for you. For the kids in our school we want them to be device agnostic(!). Thinking about it we want them to be tool agnostic (we came up with a better term in a meeting yesterday but I can’t remember what it was but @janweb21 will know.)
    Hope it helps! (that’s if you managed to keep reading till the end!)

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    • Pete, this comment is pure gold! A brilliant blogpost in its own right!
      Your candid, first-hand account of the journey you have taken and the hurdles you have encountered and cleared will be so useful for passing readers – I will now know where to point people in future who thinking about these tools.
      Thank you so much for taking the time and for such a comprehensive and informative comment!

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