The GAFE vs. MS Question For K-8

My thoughts on GAFE vs. MS for a small(ish) K-8 district…

We are a 5600 student K-8 district. We are Microsoft (MS) Windows and MS Office for the Business and school office folks but we are GAFE district wide for email/calendaring and online Docs. We did not go the O365 route. If staff want docs in the cloud, GAFE is the platform. We are MacBook, MS Office for Mac and GAFE on the instructional staff side. MacBooks are not in AD. For students, we are MS free with GAFE on Chromebooks grades 2-8 (with the exception of some legacy Windows n-Computing devices I try not to think about). We are moving towards iPads in K-1. We use #ubermix (Linux) for Minecraft at the Middle Schools.

We are, in effect, a multi-platform, OS agnostic environment. Each platform has it’s strengths and I believe we are using each one where it is best suited to be used, however, the unifying element across all of them is GAFE. We are all in it, everyday and that does make a big difference. It was a bit more work on the backend initially, but now it’s just the way it is. We continually look for ways to “manage” less.

A few more thoughts for Robert’s particular case study:

  • Go all in with GAFE. Why support Exchange, AD and Office on the Instructional side if you are already paying in the Google playground? When you get to 1:1, 95% of your “users” will be in the classroom, go with the collaborative web based platform that works best for learning (that would be GAFE, in case you missed the hint).
  • Upgrade those old teacher laptops. Like yesterday. You can’t teach with tech on 8 year old crap. The Internet will break, and often.
  • Go free willy with teacher laptops. Why tie them to AD if they are using Google Apps? Laptop “Management” and “Control” suck time and resources. If a teacher hoses a laptop, re-image, login to GAFE, done. Better yet, buy them MacBooks (or Chromebooks!).
  • You effectively have 4-6 “labs” per school. The more the carts move, the faster the wear and tear and support needs go up. Staff up end user tech support at the school sites to support increased technology use. Go part time if you have to, but make it available every day. Backfill them with district dispatched support.
  • Replace any desktop that is over 5 years old (3 year old refurbs with 5 year warranties are cheap). Or better yet, swap them out for Chromebooks, Chromebases or Chromeboxes. Basically, anything ChromeOS!
  • Get rock solid Wifi. If you can’t add a new SSID in under a minute, you can’t adapt your network fast enough to deal with 1:1 mobile devices in a K12 environment. Stuff comes up at school sites. We’re rebuilding the plane in mid air, we don’t have weeks to make things happen, we have minutes.
  • MDM those iPads. Then, strategically buy some teachers sets of android tablets. They aren’t as flashy, but they are way easier to manage.
  • Think “Cloud Based” and “Hosted” whenever possible. It’s easier to focus on the needs of the classroom with less servers around.
  • Cisco isn’t a four letter word, but it should be for small K-12 schools. Cisco anything = time, complexity and money. Small districts should run for the hills when the Cisco people come knocking. But Cisco Meraki is another thing entirely.
  • Do EdTech PD like crazy.

All you really need to build the environment for transforming learning for kids is decent bandwidth, rock solid Wifi, good teacher laptops, a device for every kid and site based support (both tech and edTech). Done.