e-learning,  IT services,  OU,  VLE,  Web/Tech

To the ghosts who write history blogs

Okay, maybe it's not an Obama moment in history, but, as you may have heard, the OU has adopted Google Apps for education for its students, and I think this may be a significant move in educational technology. Niall announced it and Tony has given his reaction.
We're by no means the first to do it, but I think the OU's adoption is significant for a number of reasons:

  1. It ain't Microsoft – there will have been strong lobbying to adopt an MS solution, so the move to Google marks a shift in the power base or at least the default assumption that it's MS who do enterprise solutions.
  2.  It's the cloud – a lot of other universities use the OU as a benchmark I think. I know that when we adopted Moodle, that made the decision to go with open source easier for other institutions. A kind of 'well, if the OU is doing it, then it has to be reliable' argument can be put forward. So, just as Moodle acted as a seal of approval on open source VLEs, so Google Apps signifies a reliability of cloud based solutions. 
  3. It puts powerful collaborative tools in the hands of students – I commented on twitter that Google Docs might end being the most significant educational technology around. Not because it's fantastic, but because it's there and it's easy to use. Or maybe it'll be chat. Or large email storage. Whatever it is, I think students (and tutors) will start to use the technology in ways that we don't predict or demand, but because it makes their lives easier. We have struggled to crack collaborative learning for distance students for ages – maybe Google Apps will do it in one move.
  4. They are not education specific tools – although it's packaged as Google Apps for education, it is really just standard Google Apps. Like a lot of ed tech people I have argued that our role is no longer to develop bespoke educational applications, but rather to take existing tools and see how these can be used in education. Google Apps reinforces that view and makes you ask the question, 'why do I need a Virtual Learning Environment, and not just a virtual environment we use for learning?'

So it'll be interesting to see how it pans out. One disappointing aspect is that staff don't get it until later. As I'm already in Google I'm waiting for everyone else to come and join me.

Oh, and the pretentious title is really just an excuse to embed this song from the Low Anthem:

The Low Anthem – To The Ghosts Who Write History Books
Found at skreemr.com


  • Mark Smithers

    I’m interested in OU’s move to GA not so much about the apps themselves but the feeling that the OU should offer them as an institution. Are we not at a point where students can control and manage their own spaces and make their own choices about what email address to have and whether to use MS Live or Google Apps or Zoho as an office tool?
    Maybe the OU student body is different but it is not just the OU making this decision.
    I’m increasingly of the opinion that we should de-institutionalise as many systems as possible (including a lot of edtech) and put a lot more effort into creating powerful and usable systems for managing assessment. A process that has had precious little investment by universities but represents a key component of the learning process and a fundamental part of every frontline academic’s life.
    Nice song. BTW.

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