Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from Martin King, Head of IT Services at Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College (EHWLC). EHWLC is one of the largest further education colleges in the United Kingdom, with over 21,000 students and 1,000 employees across four campuses in London.
Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College (EHWLC) is one of the largest further education colleges in the United Kingdom. Like “continuing education” programmes in the U.S., further education colleges focus on teaching post-secondary school students the skills they need to succeed in today’s competitive workforce. As a result, a lot of education takes place outside the classroom. For example, we might help students find mentors from the BBC or Michelin-starred restaurants, or show them how to produce their own music album under the College’s own record label.
Going Google perfectly supported our approach by providing anytime, anywhere access to a productivity suite that encourages collaboration. In 2008, we rolled out Google Apps for Education to students, teachers and support staff. We give every student a Google Apps account for life, so in total, the IT team manages about 75,000 accounts.
We began by using Google Apps in simple ways, such as collaborating on group projects in Drive or sharing assignments and feedback in real-time, even if the student isn’t in class. With our Apps account we can also use other Google products, like Google+ and Hangouts. Teachers use Hangouts to connect students to outside mentors. In one of our technology classrooms, we held a Hangout with someone at Google. That was a popular session.
Google+ has added a new social element, when it comes to learning. With nothing more than a smartphone, teachers and students across all campuses can instantly share photos of college projects, post thought provoking articles and announce college events. The teachers and students have many G+ communities where they exchange ideas and encourage each other.
From an IT perspective, Google Apps was easy to set up. Every year I can deploy over 20,000 new student accounts with 600 terabytes of storage in less than five minutes. Our environmental cost savings are substantial — in terms of staff email alone, we will be able to save at least £2,000 ($ 3,365) in energy costs and reduce emissions by 16 tonnes each year, as well as eliminate expensive server disposal costs.
Although we talk a lot about openness, our administrators would not have allowed us to use Google Apps if it didn’t meet the UK’s high standards for data privacy and security. After consultation with UK academic institutions the conclusion was that with Google, we’re actually even more secure. In the past, we had the occasional problem of someone losing a thumb drive with important information, but by storing everything in Google-managed servers, we no longer have to worry about that issue.
It’s been six years since we began going Google and we’re still discovering new and delightful ways to use Google Apps to broaden our students’ learning horizons. This is especially important at a further education college where a lot of education takes place outside the classroom.