Google Apps – The Educator’s E-asy Button

Google as e portfolio resized 600In preparation for eighth grade, I recently purchased a netbook for my step-daughter. Unfortunately it wasn’t equipped with Microsoft Office. I began weighing the pros and cons of adding the office suite to her netbook and realized that everything she really needs to create, share and archive her documents is already available online via GoogleApps. I was excited to give her the news only to discover she had no idea what GoogleApps were. Her school had never used it!

appsk12 resized 600This was shocking to me since schools can set up ad-free and cost-free Google Apps for Education accounts as a secure and private space to collaborate and communicate. Google Apps for K-12 education come with a domain name and a variety of tools including iGoogle portal, an integrated Google calendar, Google talk, Google groups, Google sites, Google Video, and Gmail along with the accompanying Google services such as Google Docs, Blogger, Buzz, and more (all of which can be turned off and on depending on your needs).

If you are an administrator, teacher, or parent at a school not privy to Google Apps, here’s a brief overview of some of my favorites. For a more thorough overview, check out this wiki or the ePortfolio Mash Up with Google Apps site.

Develop, Collaborate, and Create

Google Documents, a service attached to Gmail, is a web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, form, and data storage service. It allows users to access their documents from anywhere, share documents via email and collaborate in real time with other users. Students can peer edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations and participate in classroom or even global projects.

Archive, Share, and Present

Google offers many services for sharing and presenting documents and projects. Google Documents including presentations, an online equivalent to PowerPoint, can be shared with anyone via email or embedded in blogs. Google even offers a free blog publishing tool attached to Gmail called Blogger. Entries are documented in reverse-chronological order and easily sharable via a web address. Teachers and students can subscribe to each other’s blogs via Google Reader, an RSS service attached to Gmail. For more professional looking projects or as an e-portfolio students can create their own websites using Google Sites. Google sites works like a wiki. All Google Documents can be embedded here as well.

Evaluate, Comment, and Reflect

Both Blogger and Google Sites have share functions that allow users to add and edit comments. These tools can also be made public or private. They serve as a great way for students to reflect on their own and other’s learning; students can get feedback from other students and their teachers. For a less public method of feedback and evaluation, students can choose to share Google Documents with teachers privately.

Blogs, Wiki’s, and Docs Oh My!

If you are having a hard time distinguishing between when it is most appropriate to use blogs, wikis, or docs, check out this comparison table entitled Blogs, Wikis, Docs: Which is Right for Your Lesson? And remember, giving kids the choice to determine the most appropriate tool is always an option!

How to Get Started

  • Students 13 and older can get started by creating a Gmail account here.
  • To get started as a school, register here.

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