Using Google Apps for Education, each student has access to assignments, class materials, including texts, videos, and a free suite of productivity tools. Ferguson’s students have been able to complete homework assignments online, read and listen to assigned articles, and most importantly, complete collaborative assignments in the virtual world.
Due to the recent cold snap, and a need for students to review for midterm exams, Ferguson held online review sessions. Utilizing the LCSD network to protect students and provide archiving ability, Ferguson worked with several students from school while they were at home. Google Voice provided students a means to call in or text questions, while Google Hangouts and Google Docs were used to provide a protected forum where students could review with each other, under the guidance of Mr. Ferguson. Video conferencing was disabled to create an appropriate academic environment. Students could participate utilizing any device with a reasonably good internet connection.
Ferguson strongly noted that the lack of affordable, unlimited broadband is still a major hindrance for the neediest of students. He hopes that Time Warner and the expanding services of Clarity Connect will rectify this situation. However, one of the reasons Ferguson hosts online review sessions at school, is that a reliable broadband internet connection or service at his home in North Lansing is currently unavailable.
Ferguson developed the Google Apps project after meeting with the Lansing IT Department headed by Mike Lockwood, Fred Coon, and Nancy Raza. Thanks to support from LCSD administration and the Board of Education, Ferguson’s Global History class was supplied with a class set of Chromebooks and a secure storage cart. This purchase was also possible due to the continued financial contributions of the Lansing Corporate Development Committee totaling over $500,000.
Chromebooks have several advantages over other popular technology education tools, including iPads. At half the cost of iPads, Chromebooks include a physical keyboard, critical for High School students, and are equipped with essential cloud based applications that are of of no cost to the district. Unlike many cloud based devices, Chromebooks actually maintain some essential functionality without an Internet connection. Furthermore, all of the devices can be managed remotely saving time and money for the IT Department.
In developing the project Ferguson collaborated with Glenn Cobb, Eastern Regional Director for CipherCloud, a San Josebased cloud information protection company and John B Snyder, CEO of Bansec,
Incorporated, a company that works with the online security of financial institutions . Cobb and Snyder stressed that students need to have the 'hard skills' of managing cloud based applications, while having the 'soft skills' of appropriately collaborating in the virtual world. Ferguson adds that student can learn World History and how to eventually work in the 'real' virtual world at the same time.
Ferguson hopes to offer an open house for community members to see the cloud in action as soon as the district is able to improve school access points.