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Oregon schools adopt Google Apps to save cash, expand ed-tech offerings

Google’s free online tools are gaining traction in education as schools look for cost-effective solutions amid tight budgets

Oregon schools adopt Google Apps to save cash, expand ed-tech offerings
Oregon parents will have to sign a new consent form before their children use Google Apps.

Oregon parents will have to sign a new consent form before their children use Google Apps.

Oregon’s 540,000 public school students will be able to get teacher feedback on classroom projects in real time and create web sites and online videos, after the state school system announced April 28 that it will be the first to use Google Apps for Education in K-12 schools statewide.

Moving to the free Google Apps for Education – a host of school-friendly features the internet giant has pushed in recent months – will save the state $1.5 million in IT costs because the service is hosted entirely on the web, with no hardware, software, or technology upkeep involved, Oregon Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo said.

Oregon’s districts will have use of Google’s services for up to five years in this landmark education technology deal. The Oregon Department of Education will review an “additional multiyear extension” during the fourth year of the agreement, according to the agreement details. Participating school districts will have to distribute new parental consent forms for any student who wants to use the Google applications.

Having worked almost a year to comply with state laws and regulations, Oregon school officials might have created a template that other public school districts can use if decision makers want to bring Google Apps to their students, said Aviva Gilbert, a Google spokeswoman.

Oregon’s work means “other states don’t have to start from square one,” Gilbert said, adding that Oregon has made its Google Apps agreement available on the internet for other school systems to examine. “No one’s starting from scratch if they don’t want to, and that is a huge plus.”

While Oregon’s Google Apps for Education initiative is not mandatory, school districts that adopt the technology will give students a Gmail account complete with specialized filtering and security features, Google Groups private online discussion sites, streaming Google video, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts, which can be shared with other students and teachers who use Google Apps.

Google Technical Support will be available for teachers or students with questions about the menu of applications, according to the Oregon Virtual School District web site.

Google’s suite of educational tools has proven attractive to school systems and colleges that have converted to Gmail in recent years, and as operating budgets stagnate in a slumping economy, Gilbert said no-cost technology services have education officials evaluating alternatives to their traditional software and hardware options.

“I think it makes a lot of sense … since budgets are hurting, especially in the public sector,” she said. “[Schools] don’t want to cut down on the technology they offer, and they don’t want to be less innovative.”

Castillo said exposing K-12 students to Google’s popular applications could help them become accustomed to tools they’ll use in college and the workforce.

“Educators and students now have access to the same cutting-edge technology used in the business world with added federal student privacy and confidentiality protections,” Castillo said in her announcement. “In a time of dwindling resources, I am grateful for Google’s partnership. Our students have a wonderful opportunity to prepare for the workplace by using workplace technology in the classroom.”

Google’s cloud-computing capabilities – meaning users can access applications from the company’s servers, instead of a local hard drive – could change the way students write research papers, Google officials said. Instead of handing in the project and having a teacher grade the entire paper at once, students can share their work with teachers via Google Docs. That would allow educators to make suggestions in real time.

“It’s critical that students learn how to use the kind of productivity technology they’ll need throughout their lives, and Oregon is helping students across the state do just that,” Jaime Casap, Google Apps education manager, wrote on the company’s official blog.

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