Google Apps and the ‘democratization’ of IT departments in schools

With the launch of our ‘AppsEvents Certified Admin’ online course a week ago we started thinking about the recent movement to decentralize some of the IT functions in schools, with teachers and other non-IT department staff getting involved in many tasks previously considered the domain of the IT department.

Of course it’s been a gradual move, starting with classroom technology integration specialists who bridged IT and teaching, but the widespread adoption of cloud technologies, and Google Apps in particular, has really accelerated this trend over the past twelve months.

I consider Google Apps to exemplify the first 'ground up' technology adoption in schools. Teachers often tried Google Apps and pushed school IT admins to adopt it or it was actually teachers who applied to Google for their schools to be approved for Google Apps for Education. In many schools I have worked with, teachers started using Google Apps in their class and it spread gradually around the school by word of mouth before being ‘officially’ adopted school-wide. This meant that many of the people administering Google Apps in the beginning were teachers. A phenomena we noticed even from our first admin training events.

Of course, the whole picture showed more variation and a large number of Google Apps applications were initiated by forward-thinking IT Directors working with academic staff to produce a more traditional roll out. However, the prevalent trend in the past two years is that, once Google Apps is live and running across the school, more and more teachers are looking to get involved with administration.

The reason it’s even possible to get non-technical staff involved the in traditional admin roles is the relative ease of safely accomplishing the most common administrative tasks in Google Apps. If you take a look at what Google Apps replaces in the Microsoft world it’s essentially:

  • Exchange as email and calendaring server 
  • Outlook as end-user email client 
  • Microsoft based file servers, backup and NAS arrays 
  • Office suite management and distribution for document production 
  • SharePoint for custom applications, document management and web-hosting 
  • Active Directory and Roaming profiles for user management and software permissions 

This is all serious stuff requiring MCSE certs and multiple years experience.

That's not to say that all Google Apps admin is simple. These are tasks such as email and groups policy administration, large installations of chromebooks and mobile device management which still require considerable technical knowhow and clear understanding of the educational IT space. The ‘democratization’ of admin tasks in the Google Apps world has been most prevalent where the technical understanding required is lower, the interface is clear, and the requirement for swift action on the part of the teacher is paramount to ensure lessons and innovation can continue uninterrupted.

Two examples exemplifying this pattern. Google Apps allows specific ‘Admin Roles’ and gives granular permissions by ‘Sub-organization’. What this essentially means is it is not necessary for a school to give complete admin access to the whole domain, just controlled administrative rights to a specific technical area and for a specific grouping of users at the school.

The admin roles available in Google Apps are shown below. From what we have seen, the ‘Groups’, ‘User Management’ and ‘Services’ roles are the ones most often delegated out to non-IT staff.

This is possible as each of these admin roles can be restricted to a ‘Sub-organization’ - a hierarchical grouping of users - so typically a school will have one sub-org for all students, with sub-orgs below that for graduation year, or even down to the level of individual classes. Teachers often get limited access to their sub so they can, for example, add some specific third party apps from the Google Apps marketplace (which otherwise only admins can do). In some cases they are granted rights to add and remove users on the fly.

I recently had the pleasure to spend time with David Elliot at Concordia school in Hanoi, who we have partnered for the past 2 years for the Vietnam Google summit. It’s a small school and the first I’ve worked with where the IT infrastructure is simply a router and an internet connection. The schools runs Google Apps (including for all their file storage), a bunch of Chromebooks, Google Classroom for the LMS, and a web based SIS. The hardware and on-site IT has been reduced to a minimum and the new offline Google Apps functionality means they can survive short internet outages. The small IT department meant they found involving teaching staff in the administration of Google Apps was not only desirable but a necessity.

None of this is to say there isn't a need for IT departments in general or even that they need to shrink. Even in a small school you need central oversight, but the role is shifting to be more of a ‘curation’ role; seeing what is working in some areas, then looking to standardize this across the school. Of course, the nature of cloud computing results in regular changes to the system which must be communicated to staff in a timely and sympathetic manner so the training role for IT departments is only going to increase.

There are plenty of other examples of ‘democratization in the Google world and this new approach is perhaps best exemplified in Google Classroom, Google’s new classroom management tool and incipient LMS. It has been designed specifically to place administration in the hands of the teacher, without affecting the wider ecosystem administrative decision-making. While this approach has downsides - it explicitly places the administrative load on teachers - most staff appear happy to to see this as an acceptable trade-off given the benefits to teaching and learning. Given how liberated and empowered many teachers around the world now feel with access to these tools, it is difficult to imagine how this genie can be put back in the bottle.

For those who are ready to step up and want to learn the ins and outs of the Google Apps administrator dashboard and be able to administer a live Google Apps domain, make sure to check out our fully online AppsEvents Certified Admin Course – Level 1 course lead by +James Sayer

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Learning at #GIESummit Arkansas

As a Google Trainer at a Google for Education Summit I am focused on teaching but I walk away from every event having learned so much! Throughout the Bootcamp and Summit I am in awe of the relationships that are created in such a short time. I left Arkansas recharged and revitalized!

Here is a recap of some things I have thought about after participating in the latest #GIESummit in Arkansas sponsored by AppsEvents in partnership with Conway Schools.

Leadership matters.

Superintendent Greg Murray, Director of Instructional Services +Debbie Miller , Technology Coordinator +Joel Dean are experts at creating a culture of enthusiasm and professionalism. Conway teachers are open minded, forward thinking, ambitious, self~directed and most of all 'happy.' Happiness and positive energy fills the air. This not only sets the stage for a successful days for Google training but it is clear that this is the norm all year.

From the Conway Schools, Tina Lampe and +Katti Bowen hosted Google Classroom; Debbie Miller with support from the Conway students hosted 'Google Through the Grades' highlighting how students advanced levels of Google Integration and higher order thinking skills progressively. Be on the lookout for this to be bigger and better at the 2015 Summit. +Stacy DeFoor , +Leigh Masterton and +Crystal Rehm hosted Chromecast and AddOn's ~ a session I would have very much liked to have attended.

This combined with the fine coordination by +Rowland Baker and +AppsEvents and a crowd eager to learn and shared created the perfect storm for an extraordinary event.

PS ~ Go to Arkansas after a 5 Day Fast with a Big Appetite

"Conway Public Schools did a wonderful job hosting this event. Their high school is beautiful and the facilities were great! Lunch was outstanding and the warm cookies and hot chocolate/coffee hit the spot in the afternoon. I hope to attend again next year."

"This was my second year!!!! I have enjoyed both and became Google Certified after last year's training. I have taught for 20 years and both conferences are the best planned and most beneficial of any conference I have ever attended. Thank you!!!!"

AppsEvents' own Daniel Taylor, hosted the new Admin Certification Training on Saturday as an entire strand which will in the future be a stand~alone event the same day as Google Bootcamps. You can also take the Admin Certification Course online at

Support matters.

You cannot lead without support! +Adam Stroman, +Don Clifft and +Craig Niswonger make sure the technology delivers seamlessly makes it all happen. Mitzi Pratt is superwoman when it comes to coordinating with Debbie's lead.

Conway School District has the organization of a 'successful business' and that I think is key. Schools looking to make positive change should see what they can learn from the folks here.

Google Continues to be a Treasure Trove of Opportunity.

  • The Research Tool! Obvious to some Googlers a mystery to many. If you don't know what the research tool is (available in Docs, Draw and Slides) and you are a teacher, watch this video. Show your students. They will want to hug you. 
  • If you want to really impress your kiddos, show them the EasyBib AddOn. AddOn's are fairly new so many are not aware that you can create your works cited page within the Google Document with the EasyBib Add On. 
  • You can leverage the use of the iPad with Google by taking advantage of the new Google Classroom! Thanks to Jennifer Scheffer for those tips in her session. She also dazzled us with Student Help Desk for GAFE and many left with that in their 'action plan!' 
  • Hangouts on Air for Morning Announcements? Brilliant. Want to learn more? Ask Brad Cowger. How about Hangouts for Virtual Office Hours? Daniel Moix is your go to person for that! 
  • Universities really ARE taking advantage of the Google Tools as +Michael Mills showed us in his 'paperless classroom' session. 
  • We are always lucky to have +Donnie Piercey as he knows how to teach and entertain. 
  • And thank you +Rachel Small for arranging last minute travel so you could lead sessions for those 'new' to Google.

I love this comment from one of the attendees in response to the announcement about Arkansas Google for Education Summit (#3) 2015: "Like the Terminator, "I'll be baaaack."

Another writes: "I have attended both years of the Arkansas Google Summit and was excited when I left each time! The topics covered were diverse, informative and very applicable to me as both a classroom teacher as well as a person who provides professional development to others. I will make all efforts to attend every year as long as the conference "grows" with us i.e. providing more and more advanced and new tools from year to year. Thank you Conway School District and Google trainers!"

Thank you to all that attended, presented, and coordinated/hosted the #GIESummit in Arkansas. It was truly an energizing and uplifiting experience and I am already looking forward to seeing you again next year. ~ Allison

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