Saturday, April 16, 2011

Google Apps for Education: Is it the way to go?

     Google seems to be one of those companies that people either love or hate. I have friends who refuse to do anything Google because they fear that the company is becoming a big brother which knows just too much about everyone who uses it.

     Despite this, however, Google has certainly become essential in many classrooms, whether it be through programs like Google Earth and Google maps, its search engine and, of course, through Google Apps.

     It seems that if there is anything you need, whether it be document creation, Email, collaboration software, cloud storage, photo sharing, website creation and so forth,  Google has a a product for it. Our school decided to adopt Google's Email for organizations about two years ago (same as Gmail) and since then, most of what we do revolves around Google. 

  •  Teachers and students  use Google's Email service to communicate with each other and with parents. 
  • Almost all of our document creation and sharing is done through Google Docs. 
  • Many teachers and students are creating Google sites to publish and share information. 
  • We use Picasa to store and share photos (and embed into our sites)

     These are just a few things that we do and more options keep getting added. When I think about it, the majority of my day with a computer is spent using a Google products. Even this blog was created using Blogger which is connected with Google. A big brother? Maybe, but I have come to like my big brother and rely on him for so much of what I do. 

     I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Google Docs. I love that everything works well together with a single login and how easy it is to create and share information. I love that my students can create their own documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and sites and can collaborate with each other in the process. 
I hate that the products are primitive compared to programs like Microsoft Office or Apple's Iworks. There are major limitations in what you can do when creating a document, presentation or spreadsheet. Google sites is good but isn't all that intuitive to use and is less flexible that other options like Wikispaces. 

     That being said, the products work well for the most part and allow me to usually accomplish what I need to get done and the lack of options isn't usually a major problem since I am usually content without having the bells and whistles. My students' presentations don't have spinning text and that is a good thing in my opinion. They are able to focus on content over style which helps them be more efficient. 

   With Google introducing the Chrome operating system next year, will schools find it more convenient and economical to go Google? If the future of computing is in the cloud, Google has certainly positioned itself well to be a dominant force in education. That would scare some and they would argue that Google is creeping its way into every aspect of our lives. I am still not convinced that this is a bad thing. 

     I will be posting more about my experiences with Google Apps in the future, including providing tutorials on how to use these products.