Weekly Teaching Note
Nov 30 2011
More on Student Collaboration and Google Apps

As you know, Google Apps were made available to NYIT faculty and students this past summer. Many schools in the US and around the world are using Google Apps for Education to support student learning and provide opportunities for student engagement and collaboration.

You might ask: “Whats in it for me?
A simple answer is:
1)    It will save you a lot of time
2)    It will make you a very interesting teacher who uses technology innovatively (students love Google Apps’ user-friendly interface!)
You might also ask: “Whats in it for my students?
A simple answer is:
1)    Easy collaboration: no more multiple copies of documents, each one slightly different
2)    Easy collaboration: easy scheduling!
3)    Skills that are transferable to the work world
You have probably read or heard the term "cloud computing" or "working in the cloud" or some such phrase with cloud in it.  For those unsure of this term, it is really just a metaphor for putting the stuff you create – documents, or spreadsheets, or calendars, or web sites – on a server somewhere in "Google land" so that you and others can access it whenever you are on the Internet. 
This is actually a fairly straightforward concept, but the implications are profound. We no longer need to remember a flash drive with the presentation we want to use, no longer need to lug the laptop to a classroom that already has a computer in it, and no longer need to worry about showing up to class on the other side of campus only to realize we forgot our notes for the class. 
I have been using Google Apps with my classes for about 3 years now. Initially, I used my personal Google account and now, supported by NYIT, I use Google Apps for Education. I find that I teach differently and my students are more engaged in the class.
Sharing class materials is easy
   Google Sites.  Faculty can create basic web sites for their classes to serve as "home base."  For many of my face-to-face classes, I set up a class site with one page for the syllabus, one for a list of blog sites the students have created, a third for class announcements, and a “file cabinet” page to house my video lectures and accompanying Power Point slides.  This allows students to access course material anytime they can get on the Internet.  I have also found it useful to use during class to refer back to the syllabus, or to bring up a document about which a student might have a question.
   Google Docs.  If you don’t want to set up a Google Site, you have another option that is just as easy. Google Docs allows you to create a ‘collection,’ and tag specific files as part of the collection. If you create a collection and share it with your class, then any document you subsequently add to the collection will be shared as well, automatically.
You can create ‘collections-within-collections,’ analogous to creating sub-folders, which gives you more flexibility. You could, for example, have a master “collection” for each class, with sub-collections for each major topic. To make things even easier, Google Docs will let you upload an entire folder at a time, and will automatically create collections for each sub-folder.
Students collaborate easily and are more accountable for their work
   Google Docs. Google documents allow multiple users to contribute to one document and collaborate interactively on a project.
For the Group Presentation project in my Speech 105 class, one student in the group creates the initial Google Presentation file and shares it with the others (and with me). Students can see what has already been done and can plan their contributions accordingly. Google Docs allows me to see which student created which portion of the presentation, making it easier to assign equitable grades.
   Google Calendar. Google calendar facilitates work progress and supports creation of timelines.
Students working in groups can create and share a project calendar. They can establish deadlines for stages of the project and schedule group meetings. If they find it helpful, individual students can configure their calendar to send them text message reminders in advance of important deadlines.
   Google Sites. Students can create sites to organize their work. The site can provide a structure that makes it easy to find their presentations and other documents, links to resources, and the group’s calendar.
These are just a few examples of the many things that both you and your students can do more effectively with Google Apps. There are many more possibilities, some of which we have yet to think of. The easiest way to get started, however, is to sign into the NYIT portal, click on one of the new Google App links on the left, and begin to experiment.
Dan Quigley
Associate Professor, English
New York Institute of Technology
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