I became a Google Certified Teacher (GCT) after attending the UK’s first Google Teacher Academy in London in July 2010. Part of my certified status was to develop an action plan demonstrating the use of Google tools within my school and further afield, so I set myself the task of creating a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) based on these tools. Based on my experiences, this article outlines 10 steps to take after you have applied for your Google Apps for Education domain and you want to set it up as a learning platform for your own school.
1. Draw a map of your learning platform
Drawing how you envisage your learning platform to look like, how it operates, how pages link together etc., will greatly ease the planning of your VLE. If you don’t do this you will end up going round in circles. Think about who will use it and what they will use it for. Figure 1 shows my first idea:
Figure 1: Outline plan for a VLE based on GoogleApps
2. Create a csv file of users and their passwords
You will need to upload this to your Google Apps admin account before you can start thinking about handing out user names and passwords to staff or students. You can get this ready whilst waiting for your application for a Google Apps for Education account to be verified.
3. Create groups and organisations
Once you have imported the user names for your platform assign them to groups and organisations. I’ve created staff and student groups which are then sub divided into class groupings, senior management team, activities and support staff. These are essential as it makes sending emails to many staff or pupils easy. It also means you can quickly add many users to sites you create in the domain.
4. Set up Postini to filter email
Google Postini is a very powerful mail filtering software tool and can be used to filter email coming into and going out of your domain depending on organisational groups you have created. Figure 2 is an example of how I have set it up for my own school domain. All student mail in my school is restricted to the domain using this filter.
Figure 2: Mail filtering with Postini
5. Create test accounts to help iron out any issues
Log in as a test account to see if your domain works the way you want it to. You want to test everything using that account so ensure you have given it the correct user privileges to access every part of the site, or stricter privileges to access less.
6. Create a resource user for each curriculum area
A resource user will be a member of the platform but will only be used as the uploader of curriculum files and documents that everyone else can have access to, meaning that staff users don’t have to use their individual spaces for curriculum resources. It may not be essential to some but it means the administrator can make sure essential curriculum resources are protected from editing or deletion.
7. Ensure you share uploaded resources with only those groups or individuals you choose
If not, every resource will be freely accessible to everyone on your domain: perhaps the most recent minutes from the Governor’s meeting is not what a year three pupil should have access to!
8. Consider using freely available icon sets instead of links throughout your domain
These provide not just an aesthetic function but younger children, and some of your staff, will find it easier to navigate your domain than purely through a link based environment, although you should remember to include “ALT tags” to ensure that navigation is available to visually impaired uses.
Figure 3: Navigation icons
9. Start off using Google docs, email and/or the calendar
Rather than adding as many market place apps you can find and seeing what’s possible, start with the three most important tools for collaboration. I really want to use Aviary, which is a selection of creative tools, but I’m holding back until my school tries the domain for a few weeks before adding new apps. However, if you can’t hold back, you can turn apps and services on or off for groups and even individuals.
10. Control what gadgets users can use
Once you are ready to build your sites you will discover that Google provides a gadget tool to help you install wonderfully engaging and informative gadgets into your site. However, some of these gadgets can be completely unsuitable for primary and secondary establishments. By installing the Domain Gadget Directory Manager you will have the control over which gadgets users can have access to and can install and use within their sites.
The ten steps I have detailed were developed from my use of Google Tools in a Primary school but I am sure they will be applicable for any educational establishment.
Old Mill Primary school, Broughton Astley