The Wonderful World of Google Apps: An Introduction

I’ve been busier this fall semester than I anticipated I would be just a few months ago. The only posts I’ve really contributed in the last two months have focused solely on the charter school amendment being voted on today in Georgia. (I’m sure I’ll share my thoughts on the result when I find out later tonight.) It is time to move on, however, and focus back on PBL and its practice in the classroom. Enough politics for one year, right?!

I’m starting a new series of posts that is going to concentrate exclusively on how we use Google Apps in The Studio. For those new to the blog, The Studio is the my project-based learning classroom where a few colleagues and I have spent the last three years developing a PBL environment where students in a large public school could have choice in terms of the direction of their learning. In the class, we rely heavily on Google Apps and their many features. Their versatility is what made them so attractive to us to begin with. Our school utilized Google’s option to generate your own domain while still using all of their products such as Gmail, Google Drive, Calendar, etc. Thanks to a fellow PBLer-in-arms Mike Reilly over at Lanier HS in Sugar Hill, Ga we were set up with this access before we even began planning for The Studio at North Gwinnett. Nic, my colleague, and I immediately saw the value in using what was then referred to as Google Docs as a digital avenue to operate the structure of our new class. It wasn’t long before we designed everything from project proposals to rubrics to student portfolios for the class. I’ll attempt in a handful of future posts, to explain how we use Google Apps to turn our classroom into a mostly digital playground for learning and assessment.

Here is an overview of what Google offers educators that can be used safely in any classroom:

Gmail — It seems silly, but gmail accounts are some of the most secure public accounts around. When teachers and students are all sharing Gmail accounts, it is incredibly easy to communicate, chat, and develop an online discussion between the instructor and his or her students. This also allows students to collaborate more readily. Look into getting your school set up with a Google domain, so you know the accounts are even more secure and can be controlled locally at your school. (This also allows for control over student accounts and account names. For instance, our students use their first initial, last name and the last three digits of their student number as their usernames that are attached to our @northgwinnett.com extensions that are all run through Google. i.e. jdoe001@northgwinnett.com)

Drive — This is the mecca of what Google provides for us in terms of versatility and digital assessment. Formally labeled Google Docs, Drive connects users to online access to Google’s version of a word processor, spreadsheets, forms, presentations, drawings, and even video. What is so nice about Drive is that you can upload any kind of file to the account; you’re only limited by the amount of space Google provides, which you would rarely run out of space. So, PDFs, MP3s, MP4s, WAV, etc. can all be collected in your personal cloud space under Drive. The focus of my next few posts will center around Drive and how we use these particular apps in the class.

Google Sites — This is how we help students develop their own digital portfolios as well as teach them basic website building. As students complete a project, they collect their research, presentations, proposals, and products on their own portfolios. This collection will be used this next year to help our current juniors get into paid internships their senior year. We also love using Sites because it is a singular location for students put all of their project content in one place for easier summative grading. Sites isn’t as intuitive as many would like, but the challenge of learning how they operate is well worth it as students learn basic website building skills including some coding. More advanced students can manipulate their portfolios using html and even Java to develop stunning portfolios. (I’ll demonstrate in a future post!)

Google Books and WeVideo — Google Books has been a great feature to connect my literature students to various pieces of content digitally rather than lugging around a textbook, and since so much literature is out of copyright, most ‘classics’ can be found through Google Books. WeVideo is relatively new and isn’t technically owned by Google, or at least to my knowledge it isn’t, but WeVideo is an online video editing software that works seamlessly with GoogleDoc Videos. This means any video clips saved as a GDoc Video can be pulled into the editor from the cloud and put together in a project at any time and from any location with internet access. This is huge considering we have so many students work with video creation in their products.

Well, that’s the basic overview. In my next post, I’ll cover how we use Google Documents in our program including how we help students develop research proposals. Until then, explore the links above and consider the possibilities of how you might use Google Apps in your classroom!

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