GA Goes Google, Kicks Tech Office Into Overdrive

GA Goes Google, Kicks Tech Office Into Overdrive

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This past April, Greenwich Academy’s email system underwent a massive transition from FirstClass to Google.

Hurricane Sandy was the driving force behind this change, since water from the hurricane partially flooded the GA basement, where FirstClass’s server was located. During Sandy, nobody could communicate via school email, and the FirstClass server continued posing problems throughout the year.

The other event that triggered the Tech Office to begin considering using an alternate server was Brunswick School’s switch to Blackboard, a class management system, in 2011. Once Brunswick began to use Blackboard, GA’s use of FirstClass became impractical, because GA and Brunswick students could no longer host mixed conferences and easily share work.

As a result, the GA Tech Office responded by creating its own type of class management system: Wikis.

Despite the development of Wikis, class management systems still were not compatible between the two campuses. Therefore, both GA and Brunswick decided to use Google so that teachers and students at both schools could communicate and share class materials more easily.

So far, the transition to Google has gone smoothly. Although FirstClass’s class conferences are universally missed, many useful Google functions have filled this gap. Google Drive is a particular favorite of Mr. Joe Knowlton, the Director of Academic Technology at GA, because “I can get info from anywhere with Google Drive—it’s terribly convenient. It’s like having your own hard drive in the cloud instead of sitting on your desk or computer.”

 

So what exactly is “in the cloud”? Mr. Knowlton further explains, “In the cloud means off-campus. Google is a perfect example of a cloud based system rather than a local based system, because our Google system is being managed off-campus, or ‘in the cloud’, instead of on servers in the GA basement.”

This way, Google functions only rely on Google’s servers, which are located in the cloud, instead of on GA’s servers in the basement.

The major disadvantage to using Google’s server is that GA cannot control any of its malfunctions. “If Google’s server breaks,” comments Mr. Knowlton, “then we have to wait for Google to fix it.”

In addition, using the Google server has created a newfound reliability on Internet access, which is necessary for storing anything in the cloud. Mr. Knowlton comments, “[Now] the viability of our network is really important. [We] have to have a robust network.” Thankfully, as long as there is Internet connection, not many technical issues can arise.

In order to anticipate issues and questions that may arise from the transition to Google, the GA Tech Office hired a professional consultant well versed in the Google operating system. Over the summer, the Tech Office conducted many teleconferences with him in order to prepare themselves for the challenges that tend to come when switching to Google.

They still occasionally call the consultant when they need answers to various inquiries. “What you don’t want when you change to a new system is the students and teachers feeling helpless,” Mr. Knowlton adds.

One issue that the Tech Office has had to deal with is how to transfer old Wikis to the new server. Since the original Wikis had been stored on an irreplaceable server, the tech office has had to set up a new forum for this crucial resource to many GA students and faculty. They have also researched how to move old Wikis onto the new server, and some teachers have elected to do this. Currently, the server where many new Wikis were located is down, and teachers are considering using a program similar to Brunswick’s Blackboard, called Canvas.

By and large, most of the GA community is content with the transition to Google. Mr. Knowlton states, “The Tech Office is still answering some questions and learning every day—there’s a lot to learn. It’s a little frustrating sometimes when we need things Google doesn’t have yet, but if enough people want something, Google will put their brains together to make it happen.”