Saturday, May 30, 2009

Change is Hard - Thoughts on our switch to Gmail

We are in the process of switching our email provider from FirstClass to Google Apps for Education. I am excited about the switch and feel that we will be gaining a great deal by moving to Gmail. However, I do acknowledge that we are also loosing some features (conferences and history to name a few) and that from many user perspectives FirstClass works just fine. Here is part of the email that I sent out to our community. (Thanks to my Twitter network for helping me with this list!)

We believe that Gmail is the best email client for Belmont Hill as an organization. Here are a few of the benefits that Gmail offers:
  • More Space - Share and store large files, emails are saved forever.
  • Collaboration Tools - Collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
  • Personal Calendar - One calendar to rule them all.
  • Web Based - Get your email easily anywhere you have web access. No client to install.
  • Easy to use - Same interface as regular Gmail, similar to other web based emails (Yahoo, Hotmail).
  • Searchable - No need for folders, search your mail as you would search the web.
  • Portable - Get your email on your mobile phone.
  • Spam Filtering - Built in spam filter catches most unwanted solicitations.
We are excited about this switch, but also recognize that change can be difficult. We ask in advance for your patience and understanding as we embark on this new adventure. We will do everything we can to help make this transition successful.
I started training on Friday and will be training all next week. It has been interesting to see the way different people have responded to the change. Some people are very fearful, some are excited, some are angry, some are anxious, but willing to give it their best.

I wonder if this would be the response to any type of change, or if technological change is more difficult in education?

I wonder what it is like in the business world when these types of technology infrastructure changes take place. Do businesses provide training and information and hand holding? Or are employees just expected to suck it up and deal with it?

If we just expected our teachers to figure it out and deal with it, would they?

What do you think?

Image Source: Mail Box from the Flickr photostream of zizzybaloobah


Cathy Nelson said...

we changed from Novell's Groupwise to Microsoft Outlook (Exchange) and many had the same kinds of responses. The only feature I truly miss from Groupwise is the ability to see when someone receivess the mesage and when they open it. (I always loved to look at messages sent to fellow librarians in the district, and see who did and did not open them, AND who immediately deleted them LOL. Their deleting action did not really reveal anything, but it was amusing and a healthy imagination caused me to jump to many conclusions.) In SC, we could never as a school change to gmail because far too many districts block all the Google Apps, despite their being specifically for education. Naive professionals running filters is the only conclusion I can draw form that. Their loss. I think your post here is a good example to show others Google apps CAN successfully work in education. And you are absolutely right--change is hard no matter the context.

Liz B Davis said...

Cathy thanks for your comment. The History feature in FirstClass is just as you describe. It allows you to see who has read your message. I think that will be the biggest loss from our switch. I believe and hope that we will gain so much more.

Do you think we baby teachers too much through changes like this?

mrichme said...


It is too funny that you're switching from First Class to Google because we're going in the other direction (not by choice). We've been using it for a couple of years and our teachers are very happy with the system and they're constantly finding new ways to use the tools (like Google Sites). Keep fighting the good fight!

Curt Lewellyn said...

Hey Liz,
I am really interested to hear how the switch goes. We have been using Google Apps this year (mainly Docs & Calendar) and the response form faculty has been largely positive. The collaborative advantages are huge! I would like to switch to Gmail because that would mean increased integration with those other products. I also don't like FirstClass very much (I think it is too clunky and not intuitive enough for novice users.) We are worried, however, about the inability without using Postini or another such service ($$$) to deal with spam filtering from the admin side.

Liz B Davis said...

Michael why are you switching back?

Curt - doesn't gmail have spam filtering built into it? I think it does a better job at than FirstClass.

SIS Media Specialist said...

In a prior life I was an internal organizational development consultant in a large corporate environment, and no doubt about it, change is hard for many no matter the industry. A site that may be of interest presents CBAM (Concerns Based Adoption Model) in a school context. Might be helpful,

Laura Deisley said...

Hi Liz!

Glad to know there is another brave soul out there! The school where I have finally "settled" (Lovett, k-12 independent in Atlanta) uses First Class, but I've managed to get them to pilot a Google Apps platform grades 6-12 this year. We are going to run both side-by-side this year, with intensive use of Google Apps in the 6th grade 1:1 program. It has been a bit difficult to get people to think about switching, and the switch hasn't been committed for the very reason that a lot of folks are wed to First Class. However, it is indeed clunky and not very intuitive (nod to Curt), and I think they will see far more benefits than losses.

If you want a pretty thorough vetting of the First Class/Google Apps debate, you ought to talk to Matt Montagne at Casti in CA. He has Google Doc with a running comparison of the two platforms, he's done two installations (one at USM middle school before he moved out west), and they flipped the switch at Casti six weeks ago or so. He was very helpful to me when we talked about this with our IT folks earlier this spring.

See you at NECC!! (No BLC for me this year...)


Talia said...

Hi Liz,

We released Google Apps for Education into our system recently too (we train electrical apprentices). Our 'support' for both students, and staff has been minimal, as we have (rightly or wrongly) looked at the Google Apps Suite as not being complicated.

Our staff have taken it on fine, and our students have taken it on in different ways- some have embraced it, and others have just used the email. I guess the benefit of it is that people using can do that- just use it in it's most simple form, or use it for all it's worth...

I added basic 'how-to's' and benefits in the manual we have for all new students, and for staff, well, we expect that they are capable of asking a question of someone else in the room, working it out, or googling it!!

Hopefully you'll get a lot out of it, I know we have!

Mrs. Cicchetti said...

Hi Liz,

Please keep posting on your process. There has been talk about a similar switch for our district, so I am very interested in hearing how it plays out for Belmont Hill.

To your question as to whether we baby teachers too much through a change like this, my response is yes.

Lisa said...


Our school switched to gmail this year and I personally think it is fantastic. It keeps all your correspondence with someone together, so you don't have to search for the initial email. I also think it is very user friendly. Many of our technologically impaired teachers enjoy the simplicity of gmail.

I do think that in many major changes teachers are some times babied. It is part of being a professional to be open to change. A change so simple as switching email providers is considered drastic by those teachers who would be devastated to switch curriculum even if the benefits outweighed the negatives.

I hope the switch goes well at your school!

LESLEY said...

Hey Liz-

Good to hear about other schools trying gmail. We started using gmail for our student email accounts last year and are trying to test using a custom igoogle page for our students next year, hopefully we can get it figured out. Our teachers have regular outlook accounts and we are thinking of giving them gmail accounts as well because of all the cool collaboration you can do with google docs.

As for other business areas, I used to work in consulting in the health care industry and found it to be the same sort of deal...they would send me in to train new staff and to handhold when they went live with a new software, and I would have people that were fans of it to people who threatened to retire and quit in the first few days. :) We would always say don't step back to evaluate until after 3 months of using the new software, when most users make the switch from being uncomfortable and nervous to being comfortable with using it in everyday work. The one area I have found to be different is in the health care industry you learned to use the software or you were in trouble because you couldn't do your job, while now in education I still find teachers that are working around the system in some way or just refuse to use it if they don't like it. I think that is one of the main differences!

Page said...

Hey Liz - We will be changing from FC to GoogleApps this summer as well. We had an interesting discussion with the Admin Team about making the move and whether or not to ask the faculty whether they wanted to change email programs. It seemed silly to me that we would be prepared not to go to Google if faculty didn't want to change. I don't think it is a good enough reason especially when I have some very valid reasons for making the change.

Sounds like we are in similar situations - I think the biggest hurdle I have is finding a substitute for our conference in Firstclass called "Public" which is basically a bulletin board for non-school items/issues/questions. I'm still trying to figure out the best replacement for that.

Good luck in your switch and I'd be happy to share resources as we develop them.

Dad80 said...

Our district (Brookline, MA) uses Firstclass and while at times we've considered giving out student e-mail accounts, the cost of adding more FC accounts has been prohibitive. I assume that this is not a problem with gmail. Is your school (anyone's school) giving kids e-mail accounts? I'm wondering how this is working.

RantingCaveman said...

Training to be a math teacher, but currently working in a software/business analytics company.

In our case it is the employees' job to discover new tools (like google docs, wikis, etc.), and people are very open to experiment and use them. In the end, whatever works is adopted, less through stated policy than through force of habit.

vwv said...

We are in the midst of finishing our transition. Yes, people are interesting when having to learn new ways to access their information. And it is not always who you expect.

Meghen said...

We migrated 28,000 users from Exchange to Google Apps this year. About a month before the migration began we sent out mass emails alerting everyone to the change and set up an information page that included a timeline and why we were making the move. We implemented a phased roll out process: IT, Admin offices, HS, MS, then ES. We also offered optional training - although it was mostly attended by admin office personnel. For our first year we focused on mail, contacts, and calendar. We are now beginning to offer training on docs and sites, although many people have jumped right into using those tools.
Most of the resistance was from the offices, not the schools. However, after attending training most people ended up loving Google Mail....bottom line - training matters.
We were also implementing a new student information system, which required a much more significant change in practice which inadvertently helped Google.

I can't wait to start the next 2 phases: Doc/Sites and student accounts.

If you're going to be at NECC we will be presenting on Wednesday, July 1 at 1:30.