Tuesday 15 February 2011

Google Apps User Group

Today I spent the day at Loughborough University at the first Google UK User Group for Education. Very good attendance - well over 100, probably more, made up mainly of Google customers but also some who were in the process of making up their minds. A good mix of sessions, some business and strategy based, some more technical. Lots of backchannel action as well with nearly a thousand tweets. A very useful day, and some notes rather than a carefully thoughtout blogpost follow.

Kicked off with a demo of some new features of apps. In Gmail, threading can be turned on and off.
Priority inbox sifts through your inbox using an algorithm to select important messages. eg those you reply to, and how fast you respond.  Can be trained to increase priority and learn.
 Unified search across mail and docs has been introduced.
Google translate demo'd in chat window in browser.  Also  on email, docs and sites.  Demo'd using Hindu, Japanese and Welsh. Thought it was encrypted.  Translates in real time on the fly. Is machine translated but is learning all the time.
Intelligent  scheduling in calendar demo'd. Looks good. Gives you best fit for meetings, and indicates who's available and who's not and makes suggestions. Quick add for meetings looks powerful - even adds map etc.
In docs,  doclist was shown. Can manage versions on non google documents in the cloud eg PowerPoint.  Can share docs in cloud and collaborate on them - emails a link, not the document.
Can do real time collaboration - looks like a reincarnation of Google Wave. Works on iPad, or any other device because done through a browser. Can see revision history and can convert back to word or other format. Docverse allows collaboration on docs produced using Office. Can synchronise document to google apps.

Google Sites very powerful and integral part of rest of apps suite. Easy to set up straight from a document or a search result. 

Then we saw a Chrome OS device - first time in UK apparently. A small black laptop running a browser only. No desktop. Stateless. If lost or damaged you lose nothing. Very quick to turn on - "Cold to Chrome in <10 secs".  Would like to get my hands on one to try. Looked very impressive but will be interesting to see ow easy it is to cope with just a browser.

Second session was delivered by the Open University, and was about their migration to Google Apps which is currently in progress. They have a strategy that puts Moodle, Elluminate and Google Apps at heart of their collaboration and content delivery  service. They haven't completed thier migration yet, and I was interested that they still have contractual issues which they are yet to resolve. They also had a concern that their Helpdesk would get an increased number of calls - the distributed nature of OU students can put a big load on the helpdesk. Interestingly, if depts or members of staff put out incorrect information to students - mistakes in course material for example - and this results in calls to the helpdesk, they are charged for them. Interesting business model!

The OU also had concens about the accessibility of some Google Apps features, but this was being addressed by Google.
They had plans to use mashups to create eportfolios, and there was some interesting discussion about whether we needed Moodle, Blackboard etc, or whether we could mix and match Google apps to create a LMS.

A panel session, which me and friend and colleague Aline Hayes from SHU were members of,  then looked at building a business case to move to Google Apps. To me it was (and still is) a no brainer. Why would you run an email, calendaring etc service with the associated hardware, software, staff, power, space and other costs - when someone is offering to do it for you for free?  As expected, we had lots of questions about security,  risks, whether or not we'd moved staff, what the reaction had been and what our plans were for future deployment.

After lunch we had a presentation from @edintheclouds about moving primary schools away from traditional virtual learning environments  towards a VLEcosystem based totally in the cloud. He had pulled together lots of software - as long as it was  "Simple, Safe and Free"  - and was using Sites as a front end. Lots of info about it here.

Following on from this a session on cloud based learning environments in Universities. Similar sentiments to those expressed in previous sessions - can we get away from the walled gardens of insitututional VLEs to more open systems. Students use Facebook when they want to, but institutional VLE when they have to. Both Blackboard and Moodle  (or Bboodle), are developing Google integration and using it for features they haven't got. Eg personal web tools, calendars.

Finished with a panel session from the Google guys where we touched on Google books, YouTubeEDU and engagement with customers. Slightly unnerving to have a picture of me on the screen - publicising the interview I did for them last year.

A very interesting day, and lots of ideas. My concern is that at the moment we are just rolling Google Apps out - how we get people to see the potential and use them to get the most benefit out of them will be a big challenge.


George Credland said...

"Then we saw a Chrome OS device - first time in UK apparently. A small black laptop running a browser only. No desktop. Stateless. If lost or damaged you lose nothing. Very quick to turn on - "Cold to Chrome in <10 secs". Would like to get my hands on one to try." - probably worth comparison with the new MacBook Air which also uses "instant on" flash storage... :)

Unknown said...

Not the right comparison at all. The Chrome OS laptop runs on very low cost hardware. Requires far less processing power. The MacBook Air is an expensive computer that uses a powerful processor. Should compare the Chrome OS laptop with netbooks.

Cyclesheffield said...

I think we need to learn to walk before we can run with this stuff. We currently have a major job on our hands migrating email and dealing with the changes to business processes that are needed to bring in Google Calendar. Then we need to get people aware of the potential of Docs and the other apps. Once we've got all that done we should have a sound basis for all the other whizzy things we would like to do.