Open University Adopts Google Apps For Education

And so it came to pass that The Open University announced that it was going to adopt Google Apps for Education, and in one fell swoop sign up over 150,000 students to the platform.

And what bounteous riches would those students henceforth be able to benefit from, with “a service level agreement with higher levels of availability than [the OU] could achieve itself”:

  • email: “students will be offered their own Gmail accounts with addresses ending in”
  • calendar: when the OU’s student calendaring team held a consultation about future plans a couple of years or so ago, I lobbied hard for iCal/ics feed support, as well as tentatively suggesting that we might be use calendar feeds to transport payloads (documents, or audio files for example) either to students or within the context of a feed powered VLE. (I think I also suggested that they just not bother and embed Google calendars instead, and did a working demo to show what it could look like). So here’s hoping that course calendars also get put into Google Calendar… But what’s gonna happen to all the effort that was put into the Moodle Calendaring support? I guess that if they’re making feeds available, it’ll be low overhead to just pipe the info into student’s personal calendars?
  • online document creation and space for shared documents: I wonder – could this be used as a way of getting students to submit their assessments? By sharing them with markers, or Exams and Assessment? As for online documents – Google Gears and (in the fullness of time) full support for HTML5 local storage means that docs can also be edited offline; and even if Google docs don’t work natively in smartphone browsers, the app economy will probably have produced something equivalent;-) As far as storage goes, I have no idea what the current state of the OU eportfolio is…? I always favoured using a service like (OU Open Sources Moodle ePortfolio – But What Flavour is the API?), which as it happens opened up a comprehensive in browser document preview service this week (Reinventing how Businesses Share with Cloud Content Management).
  • instant messaging and contact management: I don’t think our current VLE or StudentHome pages support contacts, presence indicators, or chat? (So for example, in the last presentation of T151, and at the request of students, I embedded a Meebo chat room into a wiki page in the “Course Labs” area of the course I set up to do dangerous and unapproved by the system type things. The chat wasn’t used much though, because it was: a) hard to find; b) not obvious when other people might be using it.) As far as Contacts go, I personally think we should view users with OUCUs as the population of a social network, and develop internal apps like Course Profiles and My OU Story to service that network. IMVHO, of course…

No Google Reader though? Because that’s not really a producer/creator tool, it’s mor of being just a consumer tool?

Here’s what the Goog has to say about Google Apps for Edu:

One thing that interests me in the short to medium term is the extent to which course teams will be encouraged to integrate content that is pulled from Google Apps into the VLE. Around about this time last year, I set up a quick survey using Google Forms for a course. Issues around the need for Google authentication to view the results meant I need to come up with a workaround for producing results charts (Creating Your Own Results Charts for Surveys Created with Google Forms). It’d be easy enough to mbd this charts in th VLE, but that would be competing with the VLE’s own survey tool (which I assume it has got?). So a question I have is to what extent we should drink the Google Kool Aid and spend effort not on developing Moodle apps, features and extensions (that is, apps that use Moodle datastores) and instead focus on apps that use Google as the backend. As for what widget containers to us (bespoke Moodle widgets or Google gadgets, for example), a standardisd intermediate container such as Wookie might be a better bet for a couple of reasons: 1) if we dump Moodle, we can take the widgets with us; 2) if we drop a particular back end service for a widget and replace it with another, we can retain the WIdget UI and just replace the service.

Anyway – enough. As and when this rolls out, it’ll be interesting to see what students do with it, and to what extent OU developers start developing around the apps. As far as the VLE goes, I’d be interested to know whether the powers that be are keen for us to look at ways of integrating Google services into our course delivery. Or maybe they haven’t thought about that yet? ;-)

PS to complement this, see also @andypowe11’s post On the use of Microsoft SharePoint in UK universities

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

10 thoughts on “Open University Adopts Google Apps For Education”

  1. GDocs = end of eTMA system can only be a good thing right?

    A few key bits of the Google offering seem to be missing for the students. Groups, Picasaweb and Reader would make a lot of tasks much easier.

    Picasaweb in particular is useful for my portfolio. So as a student I’ll need to use a personal Picasaweb account if I want to manage my images. Or put up with gDocs file uploads.

    Reader – best way to aggregate bits and bobs from fellow students, tutors etc.

    Groups – remove the need for those pesky moodle forums.

    It’s not obvious to me if staff and ALs are getting equiv offering though? Seems that it could be a bit confused since ALs will be using MS Exchange.

  2. what’s possibly attractive here is the transition from in-house VLE to Cloud. Many people are considering switching from one in-house to another. but the time and difficulty of shifting this data puts many off. with this switch to old data remains, but the easy of social interaction renders much of this obsolete.

  3. Hooray! I will be one of those pushing very hard indeed for integrated and direct use of google apps in a course: can’t wait to get a decent performance IM system and shared documents: those two by themselves will be absolutely fantastic for our courses compared to their absence right now!

  4. I think it takes for an institution to have a cloud based service floating on campus (such as microsoft share point or Google Apps) for people within it to see how a cloud based learning environment can work for them.

    You ask if an assignment tool can be built and used on top of Google Apps.

    Well this is exactly what I have built and can share details with you separately.

    In fact me an Steve Wheeler presented in Barcelona on our work on building a cloud based (personal and Virtual) learning environment.

    Several blog posts on this work have been in circulation for now…(a few represented here):



  5. An interesting recent development for OU to consider is the emergence of VLE/LMS systems directly within the Google Apps Marketplace, such as CourseDirector, which allow for courses to be created directly in Google sites.

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