Weekly Teaching Note
Nov 16 2011
Enhance Student Collaboration with Online Tools: Google Apps

NYIT faculty members care about effective teaching and student engagement. Sometimes in conversation, faculty members voice concerns about student collaboration. Let’s consider two of the most common:

  • Accountability: How do I hold all students in the team accountable for doing their share of the work? How do members of a team hold each other accountable?
  • Time constraints: How do I engage students in meaningful collaborative work when it takes so much class time?  
Some of the emerging educational technologies might be able to address these prevalent concerns in an easy and user-friendly manner. This summer NYIT has adopted Google Apps for Education. We now have access to a suite of tools that allow students to collaborate – from any location and at any time – and that keep track of individuals’ contributions to the work.
This week, we’ll look at how to access the tools and a brief description of the ways you might use some of them. The next few Weekly Teaching Notes will highlight some of the ways you can use Google Apps to support make student collaboration, making it even more effective. In the spring semester, join your colleagues for some workshops at the Center for Teaching and Learning, in which faculty members will demonstrate the ways they have put Google Apps to use.
First, how do you access Google Apps? Log into the portal at http://my.nyit.edu, and look at the menu on the left side of the screen. At the bottom of the list, you will find links to “NYIT Apps Calendar,” “NYIT Apps Docs,” and “NYIT Apps Sites.” Each of these tools can be used publicly, so the world can see them, or privately, with access restricted to whomever you designate. You can give people view-only access, or you can grant them editing privileges. For a brief screencast, created and shared by Dan Quigley (Associate Dean, Arts and Sciences), that demonstrates how to access the tools, please follow this link: screencast.com/t/bIWzGXMrcVH.
Google Calendar
Google Calendar lets you create multiple calendars. You can create one for each course you teach, and put class meetings, readings, and assignment due dates on it. Students can subscribe to the calendars for each of their courses—when you make a change to the course calendar, it will automatically appear in the students’ accounts. Since student email at NYIT is hosted by Gmail, students can access the Google Apps calendar whenever they check their email.
Google Docs
Google Docs actually includes several different tools: a word processor, a spreadsheet, presentation software, a forms/survey generator that deposits data directly into a spreadsheet, and a drawing tool. You can create a “collection” of various documents and share the collection with a class. Any document added to that collection is also shared, automatically. Google docs have some special Web 2.0 features students already might be using outside school: students working on a document or a presentation can edit simultaneously and can use a chat window on one side of the screen to talk about what they’re doing. If they need to work asynchronously, they can leave comments for one another in a Facebook-style threaded display. 
Google Sites
Google Sites provides a simple interface to build a web site, and has a large number of templates to get you and your students started. Sites can be used to organize information for a course, a project, or anything in between. They can be used as repositories for documents, links to resources, or as a collaborative creative space in which students build a project. As with Google Docs, you can track changes to the site, and hold students accountable for their individual contributions.
All Google Apps include comprehensive help pages. At the top right corner of the window, click the gear-shaped icon. The menu will allow you to change your settings (preferences), and will also direct you to the help pages, which are both indexed and searchable. For additional technical support, please contact Service Central at servicecentral@nyit.edu.
In the coming weeks, we will go into more detail about how you can use each of these tools to enhance student engagement and learning in your courses. To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu.

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