Weekly Teaching Note
Dec 07 2011
What's the Right Tool for the Job?
 “Great strategy!  Do you have a "how to" packet on Google Apps? How and where does use of Blackboard fit in?”
“Isn’t Blackboard a comparable resource or perhaps it doesn't have the large variety of capabilities?”
“Do we do this in addition to the Blackboard site for each live class?”

Great questions! A number of you have written to me in response to the Weekly Teaching Notes on Google Apps, asking about the advantages of Blackboard as compared to Google Apps, how to decide which one to use, and requesting more information. In this week’s note, I’ll try to answer your questions, giving you some rules of thumb about when it’s appropriate to introduce a new technology into your teaching and highlighting some of the differences between Blackboard and Google Apps.  

Questions to Consider

When I am deciding whether to introduce a new technology into a course, I want to know that the time and effort I expend will be well spent. Time is one of our most precious commodities—not only do I want to use it wisely, I want a good return on my investment. I find that I consistently come back to these four questions:
  • Does it measurably improve teaching and learning?
  • Will it help my students become more engaged with the course material?
  • Does it make my work or that of my students easier and more efficient?
  • Is it “better enough” than what I’m currently using to justify the time and effort required to learn it?


Which Tool Best Suits My Needs?

Your choice will depend on what you want to do (and what you want your students to do), who you want to be able to access the content, and how much time you have. The two suites of tools are quite different. I’ve created a table comparing their features in—what else?—a Google Doc that you can access at http://goo.gl/oFmoG and download (go to the “File” menu and select “Download as…”) for reference. You are also welcome to comment on the document (select some text and use the “Insert” menu to select “Insert Comment) or to add more information to it.

How Can I Learn More?

“I would like to learn in more detail how I can use each of these tools to enhance student engagement and learning in my courses.”
“It might be useful if you held a brief training/overview session, in a face-to-face group setting, or webinar, to better grasp all that's available with Google docs/apps/sites.  What better way to spend a cold January intersession day?”

Next semester, we’ll have two workshops—February 14 and 28 during free hour—on Google Apps so you can see how your colleagues are using it with their students. On February 14, Cecilia Dong, SoECS, and some of her students will share how they’ve been using Google Sites to organize a project-based class. On February 28, Dan Quigley, CAS, will share some of the ways he’s used Google Apps (including Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentation, and Forms) in his courses. You can register for one or both of these workshops at http://goo.gl/zVjTB. Please plan on joining us!
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