Error 404. We are sorry, but you do not have access to Google. Please contact your organization administrator for access.
This error message is common throughout the Oyster River Cooperative School District (ORCSD) when students try to access blocked Google sites such as YouTube and Gmail. However, with an impending district-wide switch to fully Microsoft programs, this message could become the reality for any Google sites.
For many students and even staff, the news of this transition was a surprise. According to administration, the switch has been in the works for more than three school years. The district began using Microsoft because of improved security and privacy over Google. Eliminating the use of Google will be a big adjustment for many, and students and staff have mixed opinions and questions about the coming change. Administration’s hope is that although Microsoft is a more complex system, it will be a beneficial change for the members of ORCSD.
While there have been plans in the works for a few years, there is no clear plan for how it will happen. The general idea is that at some point everyone will need to move all files from Google Drive to their Microsoft OneDrive. Both administration and Oyster River High School (ORHS) principal, Rebecca Noe, could not give a clear answer to when this will need to happen.
According to the Google website, “more than 140 million students and faculty rely on Google Workspace for Education. Google Workspace for Education can be used in compliance with FERPA, our commitment to which is included in our agreements.”
Director of IT at Oyster River, Joshua Olstad, said, “Google only recently, 2019 I think, started to offer paid addon services. [These] add security for their education products. We had transitioned to Microsoft 365 around 2017 because Microsoft had better security tools than what we had available.” He continued to explain that if the district decided to keep Google, they would be paying for ‘Google Workspace for Education.’ This would mean spending thousands of dollars to keep data secure.
He also mentioned that FERPA is not the only law which companies need to sign. He said, “FERPA was written in 1974 for paper documents, and it hasn’t adapted well.” The U.S. Department of Education explained FERPA as “a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.” There is new legislation related to student data privacy and security such as NH law RSA 189:66. To read more about specific legislation, visit education.nh.gov. (Who We Are > Deputy Commissioner’s Office > Office of Governance > NH Education Laws)
Security is something that is very important to the district. Superintendent Jim Morse explained how many companies such as Google won’t sign privacy agreements. Microsoft has signed an agreement with ORCSD. Programs which are free, unlike Microsoft, usually make their money off of advertisements using your personal data. Morse said, “we don’t want to be the school system that inadvertently gives [student and staff data] to them.”
Although there is a new, more secure version of Google available, the district is still moving forward with Microsoft. Morse and Olstad feel that it would complicate issues further to keep Google and get rid of Microsoft especially with all the years of work that have been invested. Olstad said, “our entire system has been based on Microsoft products. To change that now would be challenging financially and [challenging] in the time it would take to make changes and train staff.”
The news of this change seemed to surprise many, but Noe explained that this year teachers are supposed to be switching to using mostly Microsoft but there is still access to Google. Next year, Microsoft will remain the main program with no access to Google. Her interpretation of what is happening is that “over the summer teachers are supposed to take whatever is on Google Drive and transfer it over, then next year we would start off and there would be no more Google Drive.”
ORHS science teacher, Jon Bromley, has been using both Google and Microsoft in his classes this year. He is concerned about the rollout and hopes that he will be given preparation time to switch over. The reason he uses Google is because he feels that “[Google] was sort of revolutionary in how you could set up class activities and assignments. We talk so much about collaboration for students and what a wonderful place to do it.” Bromley described how OneDrive is more complicated than Google. He also felt there was more of a learning curve to OneDrive, especially when it comes to sharing and saving files.
Justin Partis (‘23) is looking forward to the change since it will mean there will be no more switching back and forth between softwares. He said, “for me it’s about having consistency. I think it’s going to be better for students coming into the building and having that consistency because I know at the middle school they’ve been using mostly Microsoft.”
Morse echoed this statement and said, “[having] one standard creates a more efficient, cost effective and labor effective solution.” He also mentioned how there are seven technology repair staff to support over 2,500 users. Having one system will mean that those seven people will be experts and be able to help people more easily.
Most middle school students in Oyster River have been using Microsoft, however, students at the high school were all taught using Google. Ulysses Smith (‘25) is not looking forward to the transition and said, “I feel like the school shouldn’t force students to use Microsoft instead of Google because for some students it’s more convenient to use Google.” He continued about how he’s experienced many issues with saving and sharing documents through OneDrive like Bromley.
Lexie Frangos (‘23) shared Smith’s opinion but was more neutral on the overall switch. “Google has a lot of opportunities that [students] will need to understand in the future.” She felt that it was limiting to use just one software versus having the skills to use multiple.
The concern with having knowledge for the future was addressed by Olstad. He said, “in my opinion, I think knowing how to use Microsoft Office and Microsoft 365 benefits students. I don’t have the data but I feel like most colleges and universities use Microsoft 365.” Since many staff and students agreed that Microsoft has more of a learning curve than Google, being taught a more difficult system in high school could be useful in the future.
Olstad also explained how Microsoft is a stronger system. It has a lot of built in tools which Google doesn’t have. He gave an example of the comparison between Microsoft Word and Google Docs. “The core of a Google document is great, but I need Grammarly to start doing all my edits because the built-in [spell/grammar check] isn’t great. I don’t have a citation tool that I like so I need to add on a citation tool. By the end of the day, you’re adding all these extensions and all of them have to have access to your Google account.” Microsoft has better built-in technologies so extensions are not needed. Using extensions also brings back the issue of security. With Microsoft having everything in one place, there are less issues with privacy and security which are ORCSD’s main priority.
According to Morse, there is still a question of whether next year will be the full transition to only Microsoft. However, instructions from Celeste Best, Digital Learning Specialist at ORHS, have gone out to students on how to save all Google files to Microsoft OneDrive. Although things are not fully finalized, when you walk into the school next fall, be prepared for the likely chance of saying goodbye to Google.