Implementing Google Apps Education Edition – the experience so far

Well I am in the middle of my busiest time as a teacher and eLearning Director – believe it or not but I am supposed to be in the middle of the summer holidays. I haven’t posted since September last year with good reason. In Mid October 2009 our school made the decision to go ahead with my recommendation for a Google Apps Education Edition deployment. As you can see from previous posts a small number of staff used Google Docs effectively and were able to share those benefits with key decision-makers.


With staff off on the 7 week summer holiday break around mid-December I felt the need to do the changeover before then so that they receive some training and use the Apps over the holidays.  I set a target date of Monday 30th November with the migration of old email from Microsoft Exchange on the preceding weekend. Our IT Department did the initial set-up but we decided to contact a Google representative in New Zealand, Jan Zawadski of Cloudbreak, to assist with the migration to ensure its success. Although this was at a cost it was well worthwhile as we could use his experience from assisting business adoption of Enterprise Apps. It was also important that the change-over be relatively smooth for the 140 staff involved otherwise we could lose their goodwill.

Roll-out to Staff

First off an email was sent to staff 3 weeks ahead (9th November) informing them of the upcoming change and what it would mean. As you can see from the information sheet (Wellington College Gmail change) we introduced it as an EMAIL change as this is where staff would feel the most impact. Also, all teaching staff were told that they would be given the option of having Gmail running through Microsoft Outlook but not until mid February 2010 – it was important for them to try the Gmail interface fully before they opted back to what they were familiar with.

One of the recommendations from the our Google Rep was to set up a Google Help Site and to modify one of the templates available. As I had already used a Google Site with my rugby team I found this to be a relatively simple exercise – Wellington College Google Apps Support.

Gmail Training

With a successful migration over the weekend, I then ran several 45 minute Gmail training sessions throughout Monday 30th November and Tuesday 1st December for the staff. Here is what was covered [There is a Word Doc copy at bottom of page – feel free to download and modify the training session for yourself].

Feedback from the sessions was very positive with staff pleased with the extra functionality of Gmail. Some who already had personal Gmail accounts commented that they were not aware of all of the extras that they learnt about. One of the things that I promoted heavily was the ability for users to search for old emails using the power of Google search and the advanced search features – this was definitely a winner.

We had made the decision to allow all of the support staff (approximately 30) to run Gmail through the Microsoft Outlook interface. The biggest measure of success is that within 2 weeks all but one staff member (a power user of Outlook) had opted to stay with the Gmail web interface. Outstanding! Of course I was called on to help individuals one-on-one leading into Christmas. The biggest misunderstanding by staff about Gmail that I came across was the difference between folders and labels.

Calendar Training

A week later I followed up the Gmail training with Google Calendar Training. I had already discussed with school management the idea of separate Google Calendars for the school events. The first is for staff events which remains private, however it was decided to have 2 public calendars for school events:

  • Wellington College Public – is a calendar for parents, students, staff and the wider College community events
  • Wellington College Assessments – is a calendar which Heads of Departments agreed to put all internal and external assessment information for Senior classes. This means that parents and students can track when assessments are due and departments can see when there is a heavy workload on students.

Google Calendar was the tool that originally converted me to Google Applications back in August 2008. I can already see from staff reaction that Google Calendar is going to prove to be a powerful tool in the school.

14 Days until  Student Roll-out

Well 1550 students return in 2 weeks time and will be pleasantly surprised to find that staff are confidently using Gmail and Google Calendar. They will also be given new network logins which will sync through to their new Gmail accounts. After some deliberation we decided to name student users in the format: “surname,first initial, first year,@ school domain” eg – the purpose being that we can filter the students by year level or organise them by surname. One thing that we have discovered is that Google will need to improve the their Administration tools very soon to make it easier for administrators to run Apps institutions with a large number of users.

To encourage students and staff to use Google Docs I have been busy over the last few days creating a variety of useful templates. We will also be using Google Forms extensively throughout the school.

Finally, the College is launching a new Moodle Site concurrently with the Google Apps launch. I am also busy building and populating the site. This was another decision, made last October, to replace our old Microsoft SharePoint intranet (Now you can see why I haven’t posted for 4 months). The Moodle site is not ready yet but I will be writing a post about it in early February.

Well that’s all for now. I hope you get something out of this post.

Happy New Year

7 thoughts on “Implementing Google Apps Education Edition – the experience so far

  1. Hi,
    Great information! Good luck with your Google Project. I created a site for our teachers with all the training in one location. The vaclassroom was for a grant we had that is complete now. Lets Google!!

  2. Hi Cristin,
    Yes we are adding the SSO integration into the site in a weeks time. Have tried it already – works great. Particularly like the fact that students can see their inbox on the home page with a plugin block. I am sure that more plugins will be developed over time.

  3. Sounds like you managed to get most things you wanted to do in term 2 done, like the idea of the training sessions for staff, wish we had teh gust to move away from exchange for the staff, as teh students have all the cool toys.

    I too wish google would improve the administrator tools for google apps domains as well, as I have 1700 accounts I have to delete as the ICT comittee voted to change students logins to a more easy format as some students had to type in 47 characters.
    We are just going with first inital first name, first initial surname and their student id number, so you would be mc10001. At least with gmail they have access to a contacts list to find there mates easy enough.

  4. Hi Gerard,

    Yes we thought long and hard about the new usernames for students. We have decided to limit the length of surnames to about 12 characters as we just found that Active Directory has a limit of 20 total characters.
    We decided to go with our current usernames so we could filter easily by year group once (as you mention) Google get there act together with Admin.

    Regarding the decision to make the shift. I implemented a strategy early last year of getting teachers to set up private Google Accounts for teaching and information collection. Then we ran a show and tell which impressed a lot of staff in how Google Docs in particular was being used. It helped to have one of our Deputy Principles become a keen user of Google Forms to gather information.

    Following that it was easy to get the buy in for the change. It did help that we now have an IT Manager who is fully on board with all of the web apps.

    Thanks for your comment.

  5. So how has the implementation gone? Are the students jumping on board or still using their personal email accounts?

  6. Hi Gerard,
    The students are switching to the College Gmail Account in droves. Last week, during a lunch break, the IT Manager reported that over 500 users were accessing Google Accounts during the hour. With 130 staff that leaves up to 400 students. With only 2 computer rooms open during the hour and 60 computers available at the time, it must mean that students are using their mobile devices.
    We have integrated the SSO with our new Moodle site (which I intend posting about in a couple of weeks) and I have disabled the ability for all users to change their email addresses. Their inbox with new email appears in the front of the Moodle site. Students are also using Google Docs with an increasing number of teachers. I created some planner templates to help the students & staff adjust to our new 6-day timetable.

    Last Thursday I had one student who sent me an email over a week earlier come and ask me why I had not replied. I said that I had but he was insistent that I had not. I showed him my sent mail and we discovered that I had replied but it had gone to his personal Gmail address from which he originally sent it. He had not checked it in over a week and was only using his College Gmail address. I know that this is anecdotal, but it is also typical.
    To summarise – Google Apps roll-out has been a raging success.

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