This time next week I will be in the middle of my day at the Google Teacher Academy. Before I go, I thought I'd put down what I currently see as the key differences between using Google Apps and commercial Learning Platforms. This is probably setting myself up for a fall, as I am sure that many of my preconceptions will be proven to be misconceptions by the end of my time at the GTA and actually, I hope that is the case. This may come across as a pro-commercial blog post but I am pro-anything that can support schools and enhance learning and teaching for pupils - I simply have more experience with commercial Learning Platforms.
The obvious one, registering to use Google Apps for your school is free, commercial Learning Platforms are not.
Many commercial LPs come with child/primary interfaces making them easy to use and navigate for younger users (my primary concern). In my limited experience, the Google Apps interface is something I'd be happy to use with Key Stage 2 pupils, but more reluctantly with younger pupils. I'm sure with time/experience you could simplify and personalise the Google Apps interface, but this may require knowledge of CSS style sheets and other more technical expertise not always found in Primary schools.
Most commercial LPs have (varying) links with the major management information systems found in schools. This supports user administration and in some cases the online reporting agenda where attendance, behaviour and achievement information held in school's MIS systems can be accessed through the Learning Platform. To my knowledge, there is no such link up with Google Apps.
Open vs. closed system
Without getting into an Apple vs. Android style argument, there are pros and cons to both sides. The main advantage of a closed system (commercial LP) is the consistency of functionality and the security for schools of knowing that everything is self-contained supporting the e-safety agenda. However, there is definitely an argument to say an open system provides a more real-world experience and that work produced in one school can be carried across in transition - not always the case in a closed system.
Commercial content providers
Many schools I work with purchase additional content for their Learning Platforms, whether it be online resources (Purplemash, Educationcity, Espresso etc.) or SCORM content (Sherston, SUMs Online, Rigolo). This content can often be imported within commercial LPs using a single sign-on. Is this possible within Google Apps or are additional logins required?
This blog post is long enough already so the only other 2 points I would like to consider are whether there is equivalent functionality (quizzes, submitting work etc.) and whether the administration of Google Apps is more technical/more time consuming than a commercial LP, but will call it a day for now.
I am looking forward to learning more about Google Apps next week at the Google Teacher Academy and I'm sure many of my questions will be answered and misconceptions corrected. I'm also aware that as part of my responsibilities of becoming a Google Certified Teacher, I am required to support at least one school through the Google Apps implementation process which will enable me to have a more balanced view of this discussion. My primary concern is to support the schools with whom I work as best I can, and this can only be enhanced by the knowledge I gain and the connections I make at the GTA.