As you probably know, G Suite for Education is arriving on Hwb. Some schools are already trialing the new build, and the plan is to roll it nationwide by the new school year. This is something that some of us have been hoping for for years and we've got to applaud the Welsh Government and Google for getting it sorted.
For schools new to Google, this will be a great opportunity to develop digital skills and make life easier for teachers. But what does it hold for those of us already used to Google services? Will schools who use G Suite benefit from switching to the Hwb version? I have had a little play with the Hwb build, and here's my first impressions.
This post is aimed at those who already have experience with using G Suite in the classroom and want to know how the Hwb version compares. If you are new to Google for Education, I'll have an introduction to G Suite post up soon.
So, you may have been wondering what G Suite looks like on Hwb. On the whole, very similar to what you're used to (with one or two important caveats, which we'll get to later). Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sites, Slides, Sheets, Maps etc all work just as seamlessly as you're used to. Team Drives are available to simplify working across year groups and Key Stages and all the accounts have been created and set up for you.
Logging in through Hwb
There are plenty of different ways to log in to G Suite, but Hwb does tweak the process a little. It's clear that Hwb's preferred method of login would be for people to visit Hwb's website, log in, click on Tools and select Google. This takes you to a Google login page, but you only need to type in your hwbcymru.net email, not your password as that's supplied by the Hwb page. If you take this route, it takes you straight into Google Classroom. From there you can easily click on the 'waffle' or open another tab to visit the other parts of G Suite (Drive, Slides etc).
Logging in through Google
Personally, that feels like a very drawn out process, so I was glad to see that you can simply visit any G Suite service and log in as normal. Once you type in your hwbcymru.net login you will be redirected to the Hwb login page, but once logged in it takes you to the service you originally chose, it doesn't send you to Classroom automatically. If you're using Chrome on a Windows/Mac, you can also save your hwbcymru.net account as a person, and you'll be automatically logged in when you boot up (it does take you to Hwb when you reopen the browser, but you don't need to log in, just go to Google Drive etc and you'll already be logged in.)
Apps and Chromebooks
Another bonus is that your hwbcymru.net accounts log in to iPad apps just fine, so you can continue to use the Google Drive app to get images and videos off your iPad. Again, it will redirect you to Hwb when you first login via a Google App, but once logged in it works just like any other account. Unfortunately however, I could not log in to my personal Chromebook with the hwbcymru.net account. This would be a problem, as we clearly want our pupils to be able to access their work on any Chromebooks they have at home, but I'm sure it will be solved by the time it launches in September.
Once logged in, most of your Google experience will be the same through Hwb as it is through any other G Suite for Education accounts. There are a few things to note however:
- All of Welsh Education is one organisation, so you can't restrict sharing of a document to your own school (i.e. there's no 'Anyone at My School with the link' option).
- For the same reason, if I start typing in a name to share with, it doesn't automatically suggest accounts from my school.
A big question I had, which I do not yet know the answer to, is how they are planning to deal with the Admin settings. Clearly some settings will have to remain on government level, however Google enables you to delegate specific admin rights to other users. Schools will surely have the ability to deploy extensions and make some changes to settings, but where the line is set between school admin rights, consortia admin rights, LA admin rights and government admin rights I don't know.
Missing in Action
The one big gap between using Google through Hwb and running your own accounts is the lack of Gmail. Hwb have decided that we will not be allowed to use Gmail, because they want to force everyone to stick to Outlook. Google have promised that this won't affect your use of all the other Google services, and that the important functionality will still be there, but it's obviously frustrating. Schools who are new to Google will not really be affected, as they are probably used to Outlook and have never used Gmail professionally. But for those of us who have deployed Google in our own schools for years, leaving Gmail may be the dealbreaker. Hopefully Hwb will relent one day, and let us choose between Outlook and Gmail, but that day is not today.
A more unexpected gap however, is that Hwb have also decided to block Jamboard. Most of you may not be familiar with Jamboard, but it's a great new app for taking collaborative notes. Whilst it was developed to go along the expensive physical Jamboards, the app is free and works on any iPad. For some reason however, it's blocked on Hwb accounts. I'll be very interested to find out what the reasoning is for this.
The final thing currently missing is the Welsh language version. Hwb made it very clear that every core service of G Suite would have to be in Welsh, but currently Drive, Classroom etc are all till in English (even when you set Welsh as your account language). I know that Google have been working very hard to translate everything into Welsh across all of their separate teams, and therefore I'm not concerned that this will remain missing for long. I'd expect the majority of services to be bilingual by the time it launches in full in the autumn, with the rest not far behind.
To switch or not to switch?
So, for those schools who already use G Suite for Education, the question you're going to have to face soon is whether you leave your separate school accounts behind and start using Google through Hwb. There's no clear answer here, it will be a judgement call for each school. Here's what I consider to be the main positives and negatives:
Reasons to switch to using Google through Hwb
- Accounts all set up ready, less admin work.
- Simplified admin panel, with only the delegated settings to learn.
- Peace of mind that you're using a system approved and promoted by the Welsh Government.
- Easy to collaborate with other schools, as you can email and share with every school in the country.
Reasons to keep using your own G Suite accounts
- Access to Gmail and Jamboard.
- Able to quickly create or edit user accounts.
- Full access to the hundred of settings in the Admin panel.
- The ability to restrict sharing from certain accounts so that they can only share within the school.
Whatever you decide to do, it's great to know that many more schools in Wales will be using G Suite next year and that the days of the "Google isn't secure" myth are over!