Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Google Apps

I just spent $699 (of my school's money), to purchase 2 copies of Microsoft Office 2011 Home and Office Edition with a total of 4 licenses.  This just seemed ridiculous to me when we can pretty much do everything we need to for free on Google Apps.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to convince my administration or staff that this is the way to go.  I think there is real fear in the idea that our "stuff" is stored as part of "the cloud" and that it might somehow disappear or security may be compromised.  In "Supporting 21st Century Learning Through Google Apps," Nevin (2009) points out that many schools are using Google Apps Education and some schools are even "dumping" their email programs in favour of gMail. (Nevin, 2009)  I can understand some hesitation about this when thinking about the nature of some of the emails we send - confidentiality is definitely a concern.  The optimist in me, however, says it must be safe if so many secondary and post secondary institutions are making this choice.

The cost saving measures for schools, as pointed out by Nevin (2009), can be significant. I think of the $699 I just spent and the time our tech support people spend on email issues, setting up accounts, and updating software.  Just today, I spent an hour configuring a laptop for a new staff member and I know that time could have been cut in half if I didn't have to do all the email account information and add Microsoft Office.

There are a lot of advantages to cloud computing and I am trying to introduce some of the basics to my students.  As I said in my inquiry update, my school uses Mac computers and many of our students have PCs.  Knowing how to use Google Docs is saving me as the librarian, and my students, a lot of time.  Before Google Docs, many students (and some still do) would come to me because they could not open their file at school.  Now, every time I help them, I also show them Google Docs.  Most of the students, like I was, are unaware that they already signed up for Google at some point in their internet explorations and thus Google Docs is only a "click" away.  I also tell them that they can just cut and paste a document from their word processing program into Google Docs to access it at school - this has a much higher success rate than emailing the document and sometimes even better than bringing it on a USB drive.

Google provides a multitude of ways for us to connect to each other and our work.  I am finding cloud computing more and more helpful as I use a laptop and desktop at school and then have another desktop at home.  Because my versions of OS on my desktops and laptop are not compatible with iCloud, Google Docs is functioning in the same way for me.  I like to work on the larger screen of my home desktop, so by saving my work in Google Docs I don't have to worry about my small USB drive or emailing the work to myself for school the next day.

In looking at my list, I realize that I forgot to mention, in my discussion of my inquiry into surveys and polls, that I also used Google Forms to create a survey for my library web site.  I just set up the initial form but did not finish creating my survey.  After thinking about my learning with Google Apps I think I will revisit this survey tool and reread some of the suggestions from the "Google Form Uses" shared document that I have saved.

As part of my introducing Google tools to my students, I always take the time to introduce the navigation tabs at the top of their Google search page.  Often they are only familiar with Images, and do not notice the other options available.

I haven't had an opportunity to explore Google Play yet, but it is interesting, and probably a good move that they took it from the "More" tab, to its own position on the navigation bar.  My quick browsing of this app seems to indicate that it is Google's answer to iTunes.    

Under the "Even More" tab, my favourite Google App is Google Scholar.

When I was teaching my English 12 students how to properly cite sources, we used Google Scholar as a source for documents on which to practice our citation skills.  It was also a great way for students to see the difference between a "regular" Google search, and the results they get in Google Scholar.  Of course this does not replace the access to post-secondary libraries but it offers results that are more credible than Wikipedia.

Another Google App that I am endeavoring to make part of my Web 2.0 world is Google Calendar.  I like the features of Google Calendar and that it is very similar to iCal, the program I am more frequently using.  I think the problem for me in adopting Google Calendar is that my Entourage email has a calendar feature and I also have iCal on my computers.  The need for a mobile device like an iPhone (ok, last shameless plug directed at my husband, LOL) is again an issue when thinking about a calendar program.  I think the reason I return to my handwritten notes in my hard copy daybook is because I have too many calendar options.

As mentioned by Nevin (2009),  Google Apps like the calendar tool, give users the opportunity to access their calendars wherever they have internet access or a mobile device with this ability.  Google calendar has the potential to be a great service for students who often do not write down due dates or deadlines, but always have their phones or iPods.  (Berger & Trexler, 2010)

One of the features I like about Google calendar is the colour coding and notification features.

I tend to favour the "pop-up" reminder over the email, but it depends where I think I will be when I schedule the reminder - the great thing is, I can also choose both.

The funny thing about all of the calendar options I use and have explored is that I still rely on a "traditional" book style, one-month view calendar at home.  Perhaps if I had a computer screen built into the cupboard in my kitchen that tends to be the "hub" of our home, I would move to a digital calendar for our home, but right now that is not an option and the home computer in our office is not accessible enough for this purpose.

I feel that I still have a lot more exploring to do with Google Apps.  Like most of the other tools in my inquiry, one exploration leads to another, and another, and another.  I found that Google was changing as I was learning, and that I sometimes had to be willing to abandon a previous tool if I wanted to truly adopt the new Google tool.  One of the most important things I am taking away from my exploration of Google Apps is the possibility of it replacing some or all of our software programs at school.  I see this as a cost and time saving measure and a way to alleviate some of the pressure on me to be a technology goddess.  (Although I do love it when I can solve a technology related issue for a staff member just by entering a room, which has happened on a few occasions - my magic teacher-librarian wand I tell them.)


Barack, L. (2010). Schools Opt for Google Apps. School Library Journal, 56(6), 12.

Berger, P. & Trexler, S. (2010). Choosing Web 2.0 tools for learning and teaching in a digital world.
     Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Nevin, R. (2009). Supporting 21st Century Learning Through Google Apps. Teacher Librarian,  
     37(2), 35-38.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms.
     Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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