G Suite for Education started out as Google Apps for Education and has been around for 12 years and is the leading platform for schools. The interface is easy to use among technologists and novices alike. Teachers working in schools that have adopted G Suite can rely on a stream of online educational resources and expertise to help build their skills in a blended teaching environment. Teachers can also take advantage of a large library of apps that work with G Suite for Education. Organizations like EdTechTeam hosts summits at almost every major city in the country. Schools can even book the organization to host a summit at their site. Other instructional support systems, like CUE, tend to favor Google tools over other platforms.
Along with the platform, Google offers competitively priced Chromebooks that allow schools to purchase cartloads without worrying about hiring a large support staff to maintain the devices. With their long battery life, students can rely on their devices to last a whole school day without charging. Although there are some applications that can work offline, students do need a dependable internet connection to complete the majority of their tasks using a Chromebook so a robust wired or wireless network is essential.
Microsoft Office 365 is a newer player in the digital collaboration game. First released in 2011, the cloud-based software-as-a-service that we recognize now wasn’t fully released until 2013. For those who are familiar with Microsoft Office, the ability to access those programs on the web and collaborate in real-time was a real advancement. OneNote became the breakthrough tool for teachers and students. Teachers recognized the versatility of the digital Trapper Keeper. Not only could students keep their notes in one-handy tool, but they can also use their draw tools for digital annotation, conveniently grab screenshots and excerpts from other resources, as well as record video and audio. Due to the popularity of OneNote, Microsoft released OneNote Class Notebooks–a digital resource that allows teachers to share resources, host a collaboration space for students in the class, and provide a private workplace for students while still allowing teachers viewing privileges.
The Microsoft Innovative Educator program is an active support community and provides support to teachers using Office365. If you go to any major educational technology conference like ISTE or Spring CUE, Microsoft usually has a strong presence and will offer sessions for teachers.
Office365 Education works best on a PC but since it’s cloud-based, the student can also access Office365 apps on a Chromebook or iPad. Microsoft devices have come down dramatically in the last few years where they are basically similar in price to Chromebooks. Students with PCs have the ability to work offline and install other programs that may be essential for learning like CAD design software or graphics editing software.
If you are on the fence between the two solutions, I suggest working with the teachers to see what tools they would like to use in the classroom. If most of the tools have a comparable cloud-based alternative, then maybe Chromebooks and G-Suite for Education makes the most sense.
If you have a program that includes software that requires installation, like some of the STEM-related software, you may want to choose PCs so that students are not limited in what programs they can use on their devices. In that case, Office365 may be the best fit.
Ultimately, more and more schools are adopting a blended option of using one as the main tool for communication and providing both cloud-based platforms and tools for the students to choose at their discretion.