Google Vs. Microsoft: Choosing Cloud Apps For Schools

Is Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365 for Education the right choice for your school? Learn from these two examples.
For the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) in Tennessee, being the test bed for Microsoft Office 365 for Education was a no-brainer. The county was already using Microsoft Outlook as its basic email program, and Instructional Technology Coordinator Helen Gooch was a Microsoft Innovative Educator.

When the new product was being readied for release in mid-2012, Gooch got early word on it, and liked what she heard. Microsoft Office 365 for Education would be a cloud-based system providing email, student accounts, profiles, database access, file sharing, and collaboration services for students, faculty and administrators. She also liked the price: free. The district pulled that off by ordering A2 licensing from a partner vendor.

Aiding the Montgomery-Clark roll-out was the team of ed tech professionals shared throughout the district. Similar to the Oregon initiative, Montgomery-Clark held a summer boot camp for teacher training, and then implemented student accounts and email service in the fall. The roll-out was done in stages to enable teachers and students to get comfortable with the new technology. That included collaboration, emailing, and content management to start.

The strategy at Montgomery-Clark was also to target early adopters, and have them help spread the word. According to Donna Baker, a high school and middle school instructional technologist in the CMCSS, the key to bringing teachers on board was clear communication on why the school districts were adopting the technology, what the goals are, and if working in the cloud would change their teaching style. Part of the message was to stress the engagement of students in this new approach, and how the quality of their work would improve in a collaborative environment.

Using Microsoft Office 365 for Education is a voluntary program for each student, because it requires setting up an email account and profile. Instructional technologist Tracey Hoover says the email system is currently closed to the outside, allowing students to share only with each other and with teachers.

The CMCSS ed tech staff this year received training in Lync, the Microsoft unified communications platform that offers instant messaging, video and voice; and SharePoint, a document-sharing, social media, and time-management platform. The next step for Montgomery-Clark County will be implementing a one-to-one program -- a computer for each student -- in the ninth grade this fall.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, they have moved on to Phase Two: adopting Chrome notebooks. Two Oregon schools were among those selected by Google as the test bed for the Chrome Book, with every teacher and student in those schools receiving one. This fall the state will roll out its own one-to-one program in all districts.