ORANGE COUNTY This month in Boston, Orange County School Board Member Kat Gordon accepted a national Digital School District Survey Award from the Center for Digital Education. This recognized Orange County Public Schools as one of the top 15 large school districts at integrating technology at all levels of district-related work, from classrooms to the board.
“Last year, we were recognized by the same organization but for a digital content achievement award, and that was focused primarily on curriculum work,” OCPS Director of Digital Curriculum and Instructional Design Mariel Milano said. “Adopting … any cloud platform across the entire enterprise at all work locations for administrative, classified and instructional staff is one of those things that made us competitive for this year's award. That's a huge change for a district our size.”
Milano referred to OCPS's agreement with Google to integrate its Apps for Education program across the entire district for staff and students.
“Google Apps for Education was intermittently used by some teachers in the past – we didn't have a district-level agreement with them,” Milano said. “When the pilot program first started three years ago, the first seven schools that we provided laptops for every student at – Ocoee High School being the only high school at that time – used Google Apps for Education, and then after we saw that it was successfully used … we decided it was time as a district to provide access to these resources and really support them at scale.”
Thus, all OCPS students and staff now will have access to all of these Google tools for learning purposes, regardless of whether they have laptops from OCPS. This allows them access to an immersive, collaborative environment more quickly than OCPS can provide students with individual laptops, Milano said.
Google programs available to all students and staff will be Docs, Drawing, Drive, Forms, Sheets and Slides.
“Google Apps for Education is unique in that it allows unlimited storage to every teacher and student … of any file type ... which is one of the reasons it's such a great value for the district, because storage is incredibly expensive,” she said. “To provide students that level of production and creativity freedom is terrific for us.”
Moreover, students can transfer their files elsewhere when they leave high school, instead of some formats in which storage is temporary and then obliterated, Milano said.
But this is not unlimited access.
“If I've ever heard a concern about Google, it's always, 'What would happen if my child contacted somebody outside the district?'” Milano said. “Students in elementary and middle school can only use Google to share or collaborate with other students and teachers that are inside the OCPS network. You have to have somebody who has an OCPS in their email address. Students in high school have the same limitations, with the exception of being able to submit college applications, scholarships – things they might need to do for academic purposes – and those are limited … because safety is our No. 1 priority for kids.”
Also, other than the aforementioned programs, students must reach a certain grade before they can use these apps.
Gmail is off limits until third grade; Calendar, Groups and Sites are unavailable until middle school; seventh grade is when Google Plus is allowed; and only high-school students can use YouTube.
“The Children's Internet Protection Act and the Children Online Protection Act require that students 13 and younger have different safeguards for privacy in place,” Milano said. “Google Plus is a form of social media, and in our district … only approved for students over the age of 13, so we decided to make that cutoff in seventh grade … even though it's still limited to use within the district … to that particular age group.”
Parents also have the right within district policy to opt out of social media, she said.
But overall, these technologies could drastically enhance student learning capabilities and put them ahead of the curve when it comes to entering tertiary school or the workforce.
“We're hoping all this will help students be more ready for college and the workplace, where now there's a greater emphasis on collaboration at work than there ever has been, and also that they'll be ready to take on whatever technology is available at their college,” Milano said. “I know when I went to high school, there was a very limited use of technology, but when I came to UCF, there was a lot of technology, and it took me a long time to catch up with those things. I think this will give our students an advantage other districts don't have.”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].