Monday, October 1, 2007

Google Docs: Thought You Knew

Sometimes we here at the Tech Fridge leave the door open too long and let some cold air out.
I was going to update a previous post this morning with this great article from Tech Learning about using Google Docs. Problem is, I haven't written about it yet. I've done other Google products, including the last post about Blogger, but never Docs and Spreadsheets, Pages, etc. Well, fine then. We'll start with Docs and Spreadsheets. Be that way.
One of the biggest problems in education, as I mentioned in the Blogger post, is time. The second? Money. With more and more technology items costing more and more money, more and more districts are/will be looking at cheaper products to lighten the budget load. That is where free and open source programs come in, and district tech coordinators shudder.
Google is different from open source in a couple ways. First and foremost, its online. Nothing to download, constant monitoring of the website. On the other hand, your files are out in the open. According to the Tech Learning article (and from when I've used Docs), you can make your file closed to searches. (Then again, if you are working on something so important that no one else can see it, are you really going to trust an outside website?) But the collaboration piece of Google Docs is great. Many different people (all with free Gmail accounts, of course) can work on a single document from different parts of the world. Docs has many of the editing features of Word, etc., so a lot of what you could do with Office is available. Google also gives you the ability to export the document as a Word, html, rtf, pdf, etc., document for those of you that need it that way. You can also upload your current document to share it with others.
So what does this have to do with education?
I think Google Docs and Spreadsheets is a great way for teachers to be able to edit documents for assignments/projects/lessons and share with other teachers in their district. For example, our district is big into formative assessments (I'm guessing you've heard of them in one form or another...). If you had a common place to share those documents, teachers could constantly be updating, adding and/or improving those assessments...without a cost to the district. Students could use it for group projects, but they would need a Google account, something that may not be square with your district's beliefs. Giving them or allowing them to create their own account allows them access to all Google features and doesn't give you control over the accounts. You could create a couple accounts for you class and then change passwords, but I'll let you decide. Again, we get back to, is your document non-sensitive enough that if something happened to the Google site, would you get in trouble for releasing that information? That's something you have to decide.
I know that many district IT coordinators hate the idea of open source software and are leery (as they should be) about all-but-requiring students have access to a Gmail account, but with prices and students going up, look for more and more districts to drift towards these free choices.

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