Google Apps changed my life

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Jody Bowie

Jody Bowie

Guest post by Jody Bowie
Instructional Designer at
Southern Nazarene University

[Editor's note: Last fall I saw an e-mail on the technology listserv of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities/CCCU. It was from partner school Southern Nazarene University, announcing that their Friday Faculty Training workshops were open to CCCU schools via web conferencing software. So for the past year I've been periodically, virtually attending these workshops and they've been a tremendous gift to my work. I even had the joy of meeting Jody and a few of his colleagues earlier this year at the CCCU Technology conference in Chicago. With our coming transition onto Google Apps for Education at EMU, and knowing that SNU was already a Google Apps school, I've asked Jody to share a bit about the platform and his instructional design work at SNU. Thanks, Jody! -brg]

Google has been a household name for well over a decade, and Google’s e-mail service, Gmail, also enjoys considerable mindshare and widespread usage. However, many may not be aware of the other products offered by Google, and that they are bundled together and provided to institutions as a single platform. Google Apps for Education (GAE) is one such bundling, and is offered to K-12 and universities free of charge. Google was founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page as a research project while studying at Stanford University, so handing out GAE is a way for them to give back to the educational community.

GAE has a wide variety of tools for both educators and students. Here is a partial list:

  • Gmail
  • Google Plus (Google+ or G+)
  • Drive / Docs
  • Calendar
  • Sites

In the remainder of this post I’ll describe each product and how it can be used in your work as an educator…

Gmail is a great tool for communicating, and many are already familiar with it. But I want to make sure you are aware of an added benefit: Google Chat [recently re-branded as Hangouts -brg], which offers text, voice, and video chat capabilities. Because of this array of communication options, I rarely call colleagues on the phone anymore; I usually just reach them through chat. This works very well for any of your contacts – colleagues, students, even people outside your university domain, as long as they have a Google Account.

Google Plus is basically Google’s answer to Facebook, and it is probably the most under-utilized application of all of those listed above. Instead of “friends,” G+ uses the notion of “circles” which each user defines. Here’s one way you could use circles: Set up a circle and name it after a particular class. Add students in that class to the circle. Share interesting images, articles, and/or information, including the name of the class circle you have just created. If desired, check the box so that students will immediately receive an email showing whatever you have just shared. It might look something like this:

Notifications on G+ show up across all Google Apps in your browser, so this is a great way to share information with students and have them get notified when they do things like check their campus Gmail.

Google Drive might be my favorite of the Google Apps. You may have heard it referred to as Google Docs and it often still called by that name. Many people often see it only as an office suite of applications for creating documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. While it does function in that way, it can do so much more! One great part of Google Drive is the ability to share and collaborate on documents. To conceptually get an idea of what you can do, here is an older video about collaboration using Google Docs. Drive also acts like Dropbox, with its own desktop file/folder synchronization tool, extending the features even further.

By now you may begin to see that the big idea of Google Apps is that of a collaboration and sharing platform with multiple tools/products that work together.

Google Calendar is no different. Calendars can be shared at whatever level one would like. Others can be allowed to view or even edit calendars. Calendar enables one to invite others to an event and that event automatically shows up on the invitees calendar, along with the ability to change the status of their attendance without leaving their personal calendar. This includes events created in Google Plus. Imagine having a circle of several faculty and inviting them to an event with just a click or two. This strategy is used for our Friday Faculty Training and it has made creating these events and being able to see who is coming very simple.

Google Sites lets you easily build websites for internal or course use. How about having students create their own resource page for technology being utilized in a course? Students plug in the content to a website on the first night of class. Creating a basic Google Site is very intuitive, much like editing a Word document. As the professor, all you need to provide is a blank site with several pages and organized by technology you plan to use. [This could be used in conjunction with Moodle. -brg]

Each of the Google Apps works as a stand-alone tool for individuals, but as mentioned previously, the key to Google Apps’ potential is integration, collaboration, and sharing.

I used to give a presentation at conferences about Google Apps. I struggled to come up with a catchy name for that presentation until I had given it a few times. A former student of mine was using Google Apps as a collaborative tool and she was sharing with other teachers and students. She used Google Hangouts (video chats) to work with other students and seamlessly integrated Google Docs into Hangouts so that group projects no longer required being in the same physical space. She set up meetings with other students through Google Calendar. This student had convinced a teacher to replace a paper with an option to create a YouTube video instead. I saw that student in the hall between classes and she exclaimed, “Mr. Bowie! Google Apps changed my life!”

I knew I had found my title.