Battle in the Cloud – What productivity suite is best for Education?
I (And other contributors) have written at length previously here about the undeniable benefits of cloud based tools and applications in the classroom. Granted, these have been primarily based on Office 365 but Microsoft’s ubiquitous productivity suite isn’t the only game in town, In fact, Google’s G Suite (Formerly Google Apps for Education) was the ground breaker, launching its online office suite back in 2006. Jump forward twelve years on and the battle for supremacy in the cloud between these two technology behemoths continues to rage with the education sector seen as a key battleground. Both Microsoft and Google offering bespoke solutions for education that are specifically tailored to be used in classrooms and schools.
So let’s cut to the chase here, the perennial question is, which suite is best for education? Well, how long is a piece of string? There’s no winner takes it all here as choosing one over the other is a complex decision and inherently subjective depending upon who you ask. In fact, hands up on my part, this writer works in a primary school using O365 exclusively and to boot contributes regularly to a blog supported by Microsoft. That said, I promise to do my best in presenting as impartial a comparison as possible.
The adage, “Horses for Courses” immediately springs to mind, deciding which suite to deploy depends on a myriad of factors and will come down to each individual school. Whilst I can’t speak for other schools, I can explain why we chose Office 365 in our school and counter this with some of the best (And most impartial) online resources I’ve found on the subject, which should help inform those still to make that call. For others, the decision may already be made so this debate maybe irrelevant but irrespective of what camp you’ve found yourself in, over a series of upcoming posts, I plan to focus the how to get the most from the cloud in your classroom no matter what tools you’re using. But first things first…
This post isn’t an in-depth review of the functionality of online productivity suites. However, as we’re trying to compare apples with apples, I’ll outline briefly what exactly both Microsoft & Google offer for free (MS also offer two per user subscription-based Office 365 solutions A3 and A5) to schools…
Office 365 Education is an online version of Microsoft’s productivity suite tailored for the classroom. It boasts the standard tools (slides, spreadsheets, doc editors, email and notes) you’d expect in any suite worth its salt and enhances these tools with a host of collaborative tools for sharing lessons, assignments and managing projects. All this is complimented by a generous dollop (1TB) of OneDrive storage.
G Suite for Education offers equivalent online functionality with Gmail, Docs, Slides, Presentations, Forms and Calendar and enhances these essentials with a host of management and collaborative tools including Google Classroom, Hangouts and Sites. All this is complimented by unlimited Drive storage.
So which suite boasts the best functionality? Suffice to say, there’s little in it, and in most cases certainly not enough to claim outright superiority. In fact, the decision on what suite to deploy goes way beyond functionality and ultimately depends on your existing infrastructure, current needs and future plans.
In our school we chose Office 365, Why? Our three key reasons…
- Familiarity: Going back to the heady days of Windows 95, Office had been our preferred productivity suite and as a result staff and students were already familiar with the tools. Rather than start from scratch, it made more sense to build on existing knowledge.
- Integration: Office 365 online apps work seamlessly with desktop-installed Office apps. Albeit not a fair comparison as Google’s suite is online only and locally installed versions of office come at a cost. However, in our situation this was a key deciding factor, we already had Office deployed locally and its offline functionality essential for patchy Wi-Fi and low bandwidth (And occasionally) undependable broadband. In addition, as we already had a windows server in situ using Active Directory, the idea of single sign-on was appealing. We’ve not tapped into this of yet but it’s certainly one for the future.
- Collaboration: A more subjective one as both suites offer a very similar toolset (Familiarity again maybe?) but we found Outlook more intuitive than Gmail, 365 Groups, powerful and easy to setup, OneDrive a fit for shared folders and docs and OneNote (No real equivalent in G Suite) indispensable for lesson, grade and whole-school planning.
There were of course many other factors we took into consideration but those listed above were the game changers. For other schools the landscape may be completely different (those already with Android devices and Chromebooks for instance) where G Suite is the obvious solution. Both O365 and G Suite have their plus and minus points and as mooted earlier, an evaluation of their minutia would require a lot more than a blog post. Bottom line, both offer a wealth of productivity and collaboration functionality in the cloud that, when deployed appropriately can bring teaching and learning to a whole new level. The question here shouldn’t be, which is better but instead which suite is the best fit for your classroom and school. For us it was Office 365, for you, maybe a completely different ball game. The challenge is to make an informed decision about which suite is best suited to your school
Below, more food for thought on the subject…happy reading (And watching)!