Monday, November 30, 2009

AIMS - The Journey Begins

Let’s face it – Historically, technology has evolved more out of the needs of the business community than those of the education arena. Whereas it’s a subjective issue of prioritizing in this situation, there’s good news that technology creators are now indeed focusing on the requirements of education.Furthermore, we have borrowed technology from the business community to serve our educational needs. There weren’t many such options available in market specifically designed for educational purposes until a few years back. Kudos to the companies who have been putting in efforts to come up with systems and applications to assist the educators. The key however is to look out for a solution that would further help the teachers to remain organized, resourceful and collaborative, some of the most defining qualities of a 21st century teacher.
Jim Collins starts his book “Good to Great” with an interesting statement - “Good is the Enemy of Great.” One can become and remain good enough following the orthodox working methods like using big chunky files to document lesson plans, course materials, test papers and student’s progress reports. All these may become cumbersome to manage within six months time and demand additional resources from the school administration. There are many such things which can be overcome almost effortlessly and effectively with the use of Information Technology, thereby helping teachers to maximize their efficiency and gain 21st century skills.

Some proactive teachers at AVM were on a lookout for such a system and discovered about the opportunities presented by cloud (internet based) computing, especially for educational purpose. Cloud computing is the use of a 3rd party service to perform computing needs over the Internet. The following are the benefits of cloud computing that the schools are certain to want to take advantage of:

  • More Mobility: Teachers can access information wherever they are, rather than having to remain at their desks.

  • Highly Automated: No longer do the teachers need to worry about misplacing a piece of paper with some important information.  

  • Reduced Cost: Teachers’ and administrators’ time saved is actually money saved for the school. Besides, cloud technology is paid incrementally, further saving the school’s money.
  •  Efficient Archiving: Schools can store more data than on private computer systems and retrieve within seconds when needed. 
These benefits and many more encouraged us to hunt for a cloud computing application which we could customize to suit our needs. Google Apps Education Edition came up as a very promising candidate in our endeavor. Apart from Internet based solutions, we considered Moodle and Plone which are very popular intranet based solutions. Whilst exploring those options, we realized they demanded a certain level of technical mindset of the end-user to be used effectively. Besides, Google Apps offered almost everything and more that a
school environment would need from IT. Furthermore, Google Apps was found relatively easier to customize. The Google Apps Education Edition is a broad IT solution that schools can use to bring communication and collaboration tools to the entire academic community for free. Google manages all the technology details, so we can focus our time, energy and budgets on teaching our students.
In other words, it allows us to focus on our bigger aims. Hence we called our customized version of Google Apps as AIMSAtmiya Vidya Mandir’s Information Management System.

Information sharing is the key to success in today’s world and using Google Apps,our teachers can now collaborate in real-time and access documents, presentations, spreadsheets and sites anytime, from anywhere, on any device. Another fascinating feature of this solution is the instant communication of announcements via free SMS delivery. The Google Apps Calendar tool provides a pretty simple way to communicate instantly thereby saving a lot of time for the teachers. Through AIMS our goal is to achieve excellence in whatever we do here at Atmiya Vidya Mandir. The inherent capabilities of our staff are further enhanced towards excellence which is reflected in our punch line - “Where Technology meets Excellence”.

Hence was born - AIMS - Where Technology meets Excellence. A milestone in our journey towards Excellence.

In AIMS, we have configured the following services for our entire school:

E-mail – Individual email accounts to our faculty with 2 gigabytes of storage per account, search tools to help them find information quickly.
Google Talk - Teachers can call or send instant messages to each other for free -- anytime, anywhere in the world. Imagine the possibilities for people collaborating on projects from different locations.

Google Calendar - Teachers can organize their schedules and share events, meetings and entire calendars with others. We can even publish the school calendar on our website to let parents know about events like back-to-school nights, homecoming and vacation days.
Google Docs - Teachers can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations and collaborate with each other in real-time right inside a web browser.
Google Sites – We have created a domain wide site shared with everyone at AVM. This site is like a virtual common ground for our people to share and access information. Moreover, we have created around 7000 pages with a well thought of structure to manage teaching resources.

AIMS allows us to have fast and seamless communication which I think is the key to success for any institution. It has become very easy for our teachers to organize their subject meets or make announcements through their personal calendar on AIMS. Generally, change comes with a certain level of resistance. Truth be told, some of our teachers and staff who were not tech savvy earlier and were apprehensive about using computers, are now enjoying working on computers as a result of AIMS.

Here are some feedbacks from teachers:

“From the floor I am on a skyscraper, is my honest feeling after the training session.”

“AIMS has reduced the paper work and it saves lots of time and other formalities of communication. I liked the calendar updates, home page, document uploading facility and the greatest benefit is that we can operate our server login from anywhere in the world.Its wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!”

“This fabulous program has converted our huge campus into a small beautiful home, in which we can communicate with everybody at any time.”

Some of our staff proactively asked for more training sessions to really get to the roots of the system and some had very genuine suggestions to make it even more effective for the school. Some believed this system will be very conducive in further strengthening of the team spirit in the entire staff!

With the launch of AIMS, we have joined the ever expanding yet exclusive league within the academic fraternity who have been happily using Google Apps to make the teaching-learning process more effective.

Of course, this is just the beginning, we will have our lessons to be learnt on the way, but we sure are another step closer towards consistently delivering excellence.

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