Thursday, November 13, 2008

Getting on Board With Google Docs


For the last year and a half I have been promoting Google Docs among the staff at the school where I work as a Technology Integration Specialist. When I first started using Google Docs two years ago I thought it was a no brainer that teachers would want their students using it as well. I was convinced it would replace the standard office suite and I still am despite Microsoft's reported efforts to move their suite online in the next version. Regardless of platform cloud computing is revolutionizing the software business and making possible collaborations not possible before. If the collaborative features alone are not attractive enough to invest a little time to get comfortable with these services the fact that student's work can be available from any computer anywhere should seal the deal.

You would think.

As with other technologies I have promoted and teaching strategies I have promoted to take advantage of new and existing technologies for education I hit a wall. I found that I could talk all I want about how great Google Docs or Zoho or other online office suites are but unless teachers see a need to change what they are using or are given enough time and incentive the change is not likely to happen. This isn't always true though. Last week I introduced Xtranormal to our staff and immediately a few teachers started using it with their students. This is because sites like Xtranormal provide something fun and engaging that did not exist before. We have word processors, we have spreadsheets, we have PowerPoint, what more do you need?

Well, I may have stumbled onto a solution today. Toward the end of the last school year I started introducing Google Docs to students who had some unique problems that Google Docs could solve but Microsoft Word could not. These students all thought Google Docs was great and started using it as their office suite of choice. They even got a few of their friends on board. This got me thinking that maybe if I want our staff to make the shift to using more cloud services the change can be more efficiently accomplished by the students.

Today I learned that our 7th grade English/Social Studies teacher was having every 7th grader create a Google Docs account and that he was going to expect students to use it to submit their work to him by assigning him as a collaborator on every document for his class. He was also going to give them their assignments by assigning all students as viewers or collaborators of documents in his account. Now, if he did this every year, within 6 years all students grades 7-12 will be using Google Docs which will encourage the other teachers to jump on board as well.

I also have to mention the other variable involved here. Our school was using old thin clients for most of our labs for many years. Last year I acquired from the federal government enough Pentium 4 PCs to replace all of these severely out dated machines with actual computers. Problem came with our Microsoft licenses. We did not have enough licenses for all of these machines so instead of ponny up the money for them we installed OpenOffice. The students didn't really like OpenOffice all that much. There were features they were used to having in Microsoft Word that OpenOffice doesn't have and they kept running into filetype frustrations. While OpenOffice is a great program it still can't outperform Microsoft Office. This gave us an oportunity to give the students a choice. If they were unhappy with OpenOffice they could use Google Docs or Zoho instead. Many students made the shift. Now with all 7th graders making the shift we will see how long it takes before our school is completely on board.

Next step: Put the staff development budget on Google Docs and assign members of the group as collaborators.

2 comments:

arvind said...

Carl : Great post! And nice initiative from you and your fellow teachers to introduce your students to cloud services.

Regards,
Arvind
http://zoho.com

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