Google Apps is a collection of services provided by Google. Services such as email, office software, sites, calendar, video and chat are run under your own domain name (for example, www.delhims.org). An adminstrator selects which functions to use and creates user accounts via a simple dashboard.
A Solution to a Need
Due dates for history papers were always a chaotic time. I would have students unable to print their files at home, bring uncompatible formats to school, or corrupt new versions of a paper. Excuses, some legitimate some not, would flood my email box. I needed a uniformed way for my students to write their papers in once central location.
The solution was Google Apps. While there are a number of features to Google Apps, I signed up for it because of Google Docs. Google Docs is an online office suite that features a word procesor, spreadsheat, and presentation. As long as students had an internet connection, they could type their papers. Plus, Google automatically saved edits every 30 seconds or so, allowing students to compare edits. And, most importantly, a number of people could work on the same document at the same time (so students could add me as a contributer to their paper, allowing me to write comments on their assignments).
Best of all, students could login to a computer at school and print out their papers in one uniformed format.
Google Docs has been a praticle success in my classroom. Indeed, a number of students have extended the application to their other classes, writing their English and Science papers while using their account.
Because Google Apps has a number of features, I did need to disable some components my district frowned upon. While students were assigned an email account (for example: “firstname.lastname@example.org”), they could not use email. I also disabled the chat feature. I left Google Sites as an option for future use, but have yet to design a lesson around it.
I’ve also peaked the interest of a number of colleagues. At one point our district assigned three teachers from three separate schools to write a set of history tests. Instead of driving to district office during a school day, we all worked on the test documents, in real time, from our individual schools (occasionally using the chat feature to communicate ideas). Being able to have different users edit the same document or spreadsheet has many advantages.
Google Apps is offered free of costs to educators. I was recently told that my district is looking at it as a serious alternative to Microsoft Office. Google’s office suite is by no means as robust as Microsoft Office, however, for student use, it is a very functional tool.
Image Credit: Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon. Colorful Paper