By Chris Keegan
Although FirstClass icons still linger on many school desktops, the BB&N community now uses Google Apps in combination with a new program called Haiku as its primary online communication tools. The transition has received mixed reactions from both students and faculty.
According to Director of Technology Demetri Orlando, the school decided to switch to Google Apps to give users a “more reliable [and] robust communication and collaboration platform.”
Google Apps includes not just email but also features such as Google Drive. Drive is Google’s new version of what was previously called “Google Docs,” where one can, for example, write a paper, make a spreadsheet, or create any other document, and then share it with others. Also included are Google Groups, Google Sites, an integrated calendar, contacts, and many other features.
Mr. Orlando said he is very happy with this switch.
“I love that we now have so many people sharing Google docs and using the Google calendars, sites, and groups to get their work done,” he said.
He added that he also believes Haiku to be a valuable tool for both teachers and students. Haiku LMS is an online service that allows each teacher to upload content and assignments
“It makes it easy to host online content including text and embedded video, discussion boards, class calendars, online quizzes, and I’m proud that we’ve been able to tie it into our student info system so all the class rosters are automatically generated,” he said.
Math Teacher Matt Kardon especially likes the mailbox chat feature on Gmail, because it “allows me to talk with other teachers, as a lot of the time we’re all over the building.” He added that he enjoyed the video chat feature for the same reason.
Graham Coffman ’13 also likes the new inbox feature. “Google apps is way better. [It has a] better inbox, as in your emails don’t get deleted after a long time,” he said.
Another benefit to the switch is better mobile integration, which Mr. Orlando called a “big plus.”
Andrew Kahn ’15 also agreed. “The Gmail is nice for iPhones and Androids, because you can add it to the mail applications and receive an immediate alert whenever you get an email,” he said.
However, not all of these features are well received.
“The Google groups are 100 times harder to use than the FirstClass Conferences,” Andrew said. “[Also,] Firstclass is an icon…which allowed us to have one click access to email from the home screen.”
According to other community members, they miss some of the FirstClass features not found on Gmail.
Spanish Teacher Gabriela Gonzenbach said she wished there was “a button to unsend emails inside the school network.”
Mr. Orlando misses “the little ‘ding’” FirstClass made to announce a new email.
Switching over from FirstClass to Google required moving everybody’s data from one system to another. There were special stations set up in the Commons last year to ease the transition and familiarize students with Google while transferring their data and files. Andrew, who opposes Google Apps in general, said, “It would consume too much time to switch back over to FirstClass, and in the end it’s not worth it.”
In addition, Mr. Orlando said, “Users have more space [on a Google account] and we don’t have to maintain an expensive in-house server for this purpose since Google apps are hosted by Google…Maintaining the FirstClass server used to keep me up at night, so now I sleep a little better.”