Google: A Beacon for Education?

This guest post was written by Andy Waters @peorbust.

In this, the latest post on everything Google in Education, I wanted to talk about the next technological trend that is going to hit mainstream schools and especially 1 to 1 schools. I am of course talking about Beacons. Apple have managed to coin the term and magically every Beacon is now known as an iBeacon. But, this amazingly good marketing strategy is not quite true. Most Beacons can actually push out information to both Apple and Android devices, so the potential in most school and not just 1 to 1 schools is promising.

Beacon Pic 1

What are Beacons?

Beacons are Low Energy Bluetooth emitting devices. They can run for several years on a small coin sized battery and can interact with most Bluetooth devices. They can push out messages, give directions, take you to a specific website or tell you exactly where you are. Simply put they are a very simple and low cost way of getting information out to the people that want it. Beacons are slowly revolutionising the consumer market with more and more retailers starting to use Beacons to push out special discounts and announcements to shoppers already in the shop. This allows the shoppers to stay up to date with the best prices and to catch any bargains! The catch? The shopper/customer/student must have the same App that is being used to push the information out. This might mean that if you are in a specific shop you will have to have their app loaded into your device. The beacon will then send a notification to the device via the app. In a school setting this might mean that every student will have to have a specific app for the Beacon system to work or it might be the excuse you have been waiting for to design your own school app for both Android and Apple that incorporates Beacon technology.

Beacons in Education.

There are several schools and educational groups around the country taking the lead on Beacons in a school setting and it would be no surprise to know who they are! What I want to share with you in this post is how, by using Google apps for Education you can turn a simple Beacon into a super educational tool.

Google forms Pic 2

Google Forms and Beacons are the obvious partners to work with. Once a form has been set up and published (please see this previous post on how to do that) you can use the Beacon to push the Forms URL out to anyone within range of the Beacon (so long as they have the necessary app). The range of the Beacon can be adjusted and can start with just in the immediate area ranging up to about 50m depending on what is in the way. The further you ask the Beacon to push though the shorter the battery life will be, so be careful. Once the form has been pushed to a device it will open and then the fun can happen. The form could be a student survey on the canteen food and is pushed out by a beacon in the food hall. The data will be collected in real time and you can target a specific audience. Most Beacons can push multiple messages out to specific audiences at the same time, so with a school app that has an indication of the year group of the students you could push a message out to the Yr7’s at lunch asking about the quality of the food and to a different year group asking them about the discussion point for the next student voice meeting.
A Beacon in the library or resource area could collect book reviews via a Google Form and could let students know when events are happening.

Beacons in classrooms could also push out to the devices specific websites. If you have used a Google Site to build a class website this would be an easy way of making sure that the students all end up on the right site! You could also make sure that the electronic resource that you wanted the students to be interacting with is easy to find and accessible. Beacons can also be used to highlight areas within the classroom that are used for certain things. For primary school level students this would create a very interactive classroom and would certainly help them feel more independent.
This is definitely going to push the boundaries of what is possible in schools and as we move into a time of mobile devices becoming ever more popular things are going to start to get interesting!

Google blogger Pic 3

The second half of this post I want to devote to blogging! And in particular Blogger, Google’s integrated Blogging system. As an avid reader of Blogs and a writer of a few myself, I was impressed with the ease in which I could set up and start a class blog. Blogger is linked to and thus managed by the school admin team via the Google apps for education dashboard. As long as it is active, any member of the student body or staff team that has had their normal school account linked to a school Google account can start a blog. The ease of this setup means that it is less intimidating and can literally be used by anyone! Even those technophobic fossils amongst the teaching staff. There is a good choice of themes available which means that the blogs can all be customised and reflect the individual nature of the blogger. But, because they are linked to the school admin any, less than positive posts, can be filtered. In fact I would actually suggest that this is the norm and that all content is viewed by an adult before it is allowed to go live. Blogging by its very nature is about expressing your creative and individual spirit but with teenagers being who they are, I for one would definitely make sure that I know what is going live in the name of the school before I get told about it by a parent. From a schools’ point of view it is easy to manage Blogger because it is linked to the GAFE dashboard and is not an outside site that is not controlled.

So, if you are thinking about setting up a class blog then I would definitely consider using Blogger!

Next time I will be looking into Hangouts, after the positive comments I received regarding how we have been using them at school!

Hangouts Pic 4

As always, any and all comments are welcome!

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