Case Study - Operating a school 100% in the cloud

(scroll to the bottom for a TL;DR summary)

Schools often talk of making a move completely to the cloud: Getting rid of servers and desktop software and relying purely on a router and an internet connection to deliver all technology for the school. In practice few actually do it for a multitude of reasons including reliance on legacy software and school management that is resistant to change. One of the only schools I know who has pulled this off is Concordia School in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Myself and the AppsEvents team (including co-organizers +James Sayer +Sarah Woods and +Rowland Baker and +Lee Webster )  had the pleasure to hang out with +David Elliott  the Tech Director (he's also a teacher and wears many other hats) during our two Google summits at Concordia and I have to say David is one of the most inspiring educators we all have met.

I've been pushing David for a case study to share here and finally he's relented. I'm also thinking of recording a podcast interview with David to get more in depth about how they made the move and some of the 'techy' aspects', so if you would be interested to hear this please post in the comments and we'll set it up.

Now let me pass it over to David to explain more:

Concordia International School Hanoi is a small (250)  but growing school which operates totally in the cloud. We began our work a few years ago with 3 principles in mind. 1.) A robust wifi infrastructure 2:) 1:1 program for grades 6-12 and 1:2 in elementary 3.) Developing a Blended Learning curriculum.

All we have are access points going through a switch to the internet. All admin databases are hosted. The SIS (Focus) is in Dallas, the library(Follett) is in Chicago, the web site is in Denver, the Curriculum Management System (Atlas Rubicon) in Portland and Google is everywhere. The only separate database we maintain is our financial system due to Vietnamese legal requirements. Online Quickbooks, which we use for budgeting,  would work well but is not allowed. Educational systems from Pearson and HMH are less robust, but sites like youtube, Khan Academy, IXL, Spelling City, etc, etc. are fine. Last year we had several weeks where the global cable was cut between Vietnam and Hong Kong. Our internet provider did rerouting to keep us going, but it was very slow at home. Schools are 24/7 users of internet. Home speeds are important as well as school speeds. Wifi bandwidth is the major cost of a cloud-based infrastructure. We have no dedicated IT staff and no servers. IT emergency support is outsourced to the vendors.

Over the years the system has developed, but follows the same 3 principles. The wifi infrastructure is now 802.11ac. It is a dramatic change and I recommend it to everyone. It requires faster switches (1 GB min) but all in all, not that expensive. We are constructing our permanent campus this year and will install this same infrastructure at the new location.

We decided to go with a BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) program 3 years ago. This means any computer from any company or operating system can be used, but it must have a keyboard. It can't be a tablet or a phone. My only push is for all-day battery power. Dad's 3 year old hand-me-down just doesn't work in schools. Families buy what they want and we support families using what they are comfortable with or can afford. This means that in a classroom you might have a Samsung ultrabook, a MacAir and a Chromebook next to each other. Students and families care for all repairs and OS issues. Teachers are not involved with the machines, although students help each other and I consult regularly. This is our third year of this policy and I've haven't had one complaint from students or families. Our policy is really just a few pages long.  I help out trouble shooting and have some old machines as emergency loans, but I only need a few for 100 kids and all faculty. When they login to a loaner, all their tabs and data instantly are available. They don't miss a step.

Last year we extended this policy to faculty as well. Annually each faculty member receives  a stipend towards technology which over three years would be enough to purchase a professional computer. The Macs are still favorites but we have various versions of Macs as well as PCs. Multimedia publishing is the only reason we don't recommend Chromebooks for faculty. The online programs are still quirky and slow.

All the above in only possible if you assume Google Apps for Education is your major software infrastructure. We do not require any software to be purchased.  Google Classroom is used extensively by our upper grade teachers.

Our admin continues to find new and efficient ways to manage the school using Google Apps. All meetings, docs, timelines, calendars, even our accreditation files are done using Google Apps. Google forms gather all sorts of information from students, faculty and families.  Collaboration is everywhere. It is a challenge to organize the folders and permissions to manage the tension between access, collaboration and privacy. We are not there yet, but have made significant progress.  We have created "position" accounts (i.e. principal) so that changing administrative  staff and employees can be done with all data intact. Paper documents are limited.

Blended Learning Curriculum remains a challenge. It is easy to say that everything we teach is available right now, online, and for free. Yet the curation, organization and presentation of curriculum is a massive endeavor usually accomplished in the past by textbook publishers and creative teachers. Our school uses extensive online resources, but is at the beginning of the journey towards the ideal personalized learning pathway envisaged by Blended Learning proponents. We would like students to become independent learners, but still achieve skill levels with recognized standards of education. i.e. Common Core. Having tried various options, I see the importance of face-to-face learning even if most of the material and projects are digital. We talk about teachers as mentors and coaches, but what does that mean academically? This is an important area that would benefit from global conversation and collaboration. I'm wondering how Google could help catalyze this process?

One of our goals at Concordia is replicability. Everything we do should be affordable and doable at schools anywhere in the world. I'm glad to share our experiences with those wanting to continue this journey.

TL;DR

  • Concordia is an international school in Hanoi, Vietnam with 250 students
  • Google Apps is the core system for all staff and students:
    • Chrome browser strongly recommended for all students
    • Gmail for email
    • All documents and files are stored in Google Drive
    • Google Classroom is the LMS for upper school but isn't 'top down, i.e. individual teachers choose to use it
    • All meetings, docs, timelines, calendars, even accreditation files are done using Google Apps. Google forms gather all sorts of information from students, faculty and families
  • BYOL program for students. Students tech support each other. Few loaners for emergencies
  • Chromebook carts, mainly used for grades K-5
  • Staff have own laptop and receive a stipend to purchase
  • Wifi infrastructure is 802.11ac (important)
  • No dedicated IT staff and no servers. IT emergency support is outsourced to the vendors
  • Other web based systems used are:
    • SIS (Focus)
    • Library (Follett)
    • Curriculum Management System (Atlas Rubicon)
    • QuickBooks (budgeting)
    • OpenDNs (set to 'moderate') for web filtering

About the Contributors

Dan Taylor | Google Certified Education Trainer
Google Apps Certified Admin

Dan Taylor is from the UK and the Director of AppsEvents. He has been involved in the Google Education community since the launch of Google Apps for Education in 2006.

Connect with +Dan Taylor on Google+



David Elliott
Director of Technology, Concordia International School Hanoi

Connect with +David Elliott on Google+

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