County’s attempt is smart, but lacks execution

FCPS has reason to be proud what it has achieved with its new FCPS Google Apps. Faculty and students now have a powerful suite of professional software at their fingertips. FCPS’ new Google Apps network is a strong step in a smart direction, but it needs work and time before it becomes useful. At the moment the Apps implementation is underpowered.

There are three main problems I have with the new system. First: another username and password for students to worry about is a hassle. It would be easier to allow students to create their own google accounts and network with the school community from those. With private accounts students could use them for outside email and documents, thereby promoting use of the accounts. A Google account that is used minimally is minimally useful, and FCPS should allow students full control of their own accounts so as to prompt greater use and acceptance of the system.

Second, the privacy policy on the FCPS Google Apps system is an impediment to its use, not an incentive. The fine print seen during account activation says that “Users have no expectation of privacy on the Google Apps system.” When the full Google Apps software is available for students to use, including features FCPS does not provide, students will choose the full, private consumer suite instead. I feel uncomfortable with my email being read by the county; I shall use my own Google Account seeing as FCPS Google Apps is “optional.” I wrote this article on Google Docs, using the cloud access and collaboration tools, but on my own private account. I do not want FCPS reading drafts of an article about FCPS, therefore I will forego my county-issued account.

Third: as with all new online education initiatives, this new computer service benefits specific shades of the county and not others. A shiny new tool is great for students with shiny new computers, but it further disadvantages students who cannot afford computers at all, as well as students who have difficulty accessing the Internet. High speed Internet is not free, and low income families struggle with high tech educational demands.

Despite this, Google Apps for FCPS was a great idea. The collaborative nature of Google Docs, Calendar, and GMail is ideal for school work. Using cutting edge sharing and networking tools gives FCPS students an advantage in an increasingly shared work environment. Many Silicon Valley start-ups today use the same software; early student users of Google Apps are already conditioned to use the same software they might use when they get a job. Students can learn teamwork and responsibility from the software suite, working together with teachers and other students on essays and presentations. But, FCPS, bound by various well-meaning laws and regulations, has hobbled the powerful suite from the start by pushing students out of the system. Students are disinclined to use the Apps, as they can be snooped by FCPS and not all are available. While it is useful to have every student networked, those students are more likely to be using separate, fully-featured, more secure accounts that can communicate outside of the closed campus instead.

FCPS has a great tool and a great idea. The power of that tool is diminished, though, by its implementation. With limited, nonprivate accounts, students will not fully embrace the new technology they are offered. A system like Google Apps depends on widespread adoption, yet FCPS has weakened the strength of its offering. FCPS Google Apps has the makings of a powerful and modern system for teachers and for students, but for now its practical value is underwhelming.