How To Start Using Google Apps In Education
As teachers, our plates are perpetually and impossibly full. The idea of adding one more component – such as incorporating technology into instruction – can seem daunting to say the least. In my own attempts to incorporate technology into my practice, Google has been the most valuable tool I have found thus far. Not only does it increase my ability to organize my instructional tools, but it also allows me to incorporate more technology when I feel ready to do so.
Why use Google Apps?Google provides a multitude of Apps that can be accessed through multiple mediums – computer, smartphone, or tablet. Apps range from the Microsoft Office-like suite which allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and such, to more expensive programs such as a site-creator or centralized grading and email system for the whole school.
These apps are all free and come with varying levels of privacy ranging from completely public on the web to limited only through sharing with specific contacts. Not only are Apps free but as someone who generally prefers her pen and paper, I can vouch for the fact that they are also very intuitive and easy to use. This large variety of products is really fundamental to helping you manage all the components of your teaching centrally.
So how can I use Google Apps in my teaching?To showcase the management advantage of Google Apps, I will highlight an example of how I use Google Apps in my own instruction. Currently, I am a student teacher and thus working within the classroom set up of another educator. By extension, I have much more restriction in terms of how much I can infuse technology into my practice. I am not in a position to empower my students to use technology independently, I do however, use Google Apps to plan for the Civics course which I lead teach.
To do this, I first created a folder in my Google Drive (you can think of this like a storage space on the internet versus on the hard drive of your computer) titled ‘Civics’. Within the Civics folder I created a Google Spreadsheet where I have all my lesson plans for the entire course. In this Spreadsheet, I have the long term vision of where I want to go with the course, daily lesson plans broken up under tabs for each unit, links to the different resources I want to use for each lesson, and reflections I have made about how well certain lessons or activities went and how they can be improved. In addition to my planning spreadsheet, I also create and store all my assessments, activities, notes, or otherwise related ideas in the Civics folder and add to them as I go along teaching the course. Once I finish a unit, I put all related documents to that unit under a sub-folder titled ‘Unit One – American and Civic Identity’ or the appropriate unit number. Everything I used for my Civics class can be found in my Civics folder on my Google Drive.
The fact that I have all of this in one place is great because when, as an in-service teacher, I get the chance to teach the course or one similar to it, I will have immediate access to everything that I had already worked on related to Civics. Additionally, I will be able to make changes to the activities I made before and thus continuously enhance and develop my instructional tools as I grow in the profession. I will be able to build and add to my previous experience instead of starting from scratch every time I teach a course.
This snapshot of how I am currently using Google Apps in my practice is not the end all or be all of Google’s usefulness in the classroom.The most powerful aspect of Google Apps that has been significant to my teaching is its exponential potential for growth within my practice. If your school has incorporated an online grading system, but you still have everything written out on your calendar, and you have students handing in large papers or homework periodically, you already know how easily you (and a couple of student papers) can get lost in the shuffle. With Google Apps, you can centralize all of those things in one place. You can have students utilize Google Docs to write their papers and then give them feedback instantly by commenting directly on their document. You can utilize Google Calendar to put all your dates in one place and then share that with students so that they can know when things are coming up. You can even synchronize both your docs and calendar across the whole school so that if the administration needs to update anything it will automatically show up across your Google products. Really, once you begin using Google Apps you start discovering that there are always more things to try and more room to grow.