Teachers apply Google to classwork

Sara Gabriele/Staff Writer

The phrase “Google runs the Web” seems to be true now more than ever. The recent advent of new software applications has broadened Google’s reach beyond searching the internet, and many teachers and schools are now trading in their standard paper assignments for the free web-based alternatives Google offers.

Power of the Media teacher Jen Paulson has been using Google’s free word processing application, Google docs, in her class for three years. She requires it for two group projects and allows it as an option for essay tests and papers. Students make an online document and then “share” it with her and any other students also working on the assignment. This can provide an easier method for communication and collaboration because, once a document has been shared, the collaborators can view or edit it at any time after logging into Gmail.

Paulson said she feels this is one of the biggest advantages of using Google docs for assignments. It allows for collaboration that may not otherwise be possible, especially for student-to-student teamwork on projects that require group work.

“It allows them to collaborate without being in same place at the same time,” Paulson said. “They may not have work schedules and school schedules that allow them to meet, so it allows them to (work together) when they’re not together in time and space.”

The web-based medium also provides a convenient avenue for communication. “It makes it more convenient for students to turn in assignments on their schedules,” said Paulson, who uses an 11:59 p.m. digital turn in deadline. It also allows teachers to edit directly on the site, which eliminates time-consuming sharing back and forth from student to teacher.

“I think it opens up a whole realm of possibilities. You can have collaboration from student to student or students to teachers at any time, and you can also collaborate with experts in the field,” media specialist Kim Traw said.

Business teacher Julie Cuvelier uses Google docs in her class as a way to save paper. A goal of hers is to become paper free. Other teachers agree this is a definite benefit of using the application.

“It saves paper — lots and lots of paper. For my conflict analysis paper it’s eight-14 pages, and if you keep printing drafts and everyone in the group prints out a copy, it’s a lot of wasted paper,” Paulson said.

Another major benefit of using Google docs, as opposed to software programs such as Microsoft Word, is that everything is saved to the “Cloud,” or Web.

Because documents are not saved to individual hard drives, projects can be accessed anywhere there is Internet.

“No matter where they are, what they’re doing, what computer they’re on, they can access their document,” Paulson said. “They don’t have to remember how to upload and download to the server. It’s all on the Web in the same place.”

Using online software also saves money for school systems because it allows them to purchase computers with less memory.

“I think there’s a question for schools, especially in times of budget constraints, to ask, ‘Do we need to spend money on purchasing software when there are now these free alternatives?’ I think this may be one place we could save,” Traw said.

In addition to Google docs, Google provides several other free online applications. One is a blog function called Reader that Cuvelier also uses in her classes as a forum for discussion. She posts a question, such as a current event topic, and gives students points for sharing their opinions outside of class.

“It gives students that may not otherwise talk in class a chance to share their opinions. It encourages everyone to be part of the discussion,” Cuvelier said.
Because students can also read what other students post, she feels it allows them to focus on what’s being said instead of other things that may prohibit students from contributing in a classroom setting.

Also available through Google are a presentation application (like Powerpoint), a spreadsheet and form applications that present possibilities for teachers. The form function can be used as a method to submit online quizzes; teachers create the questions and then students’ answers are automatically put into a spreadsheet.

However, not every class has embraced the innovations. Some teachers find the site presents more complications than benefits for certain types of assignments.

English teacher Judy Timmins began to use it for her logs for her semester project, but she has opted not to because she said it creates an organizational headache.

“I think for projects that require collaboration, revision and editing back and forth it could be very useful, but for others, the cons may outweigh the pros,” Timmins said.

Replacing old methods with new software alternatives can be more time consuming at first for new users and may present some complications. However, many feel using digital technology such as online applications is a trend worth adopting.

“I think digital technology could transform the education system: how teachers teach and how students learn,” Traw said, “But a lot of it is figuring it out. Yeah it’s out there, but is it really going to help my students learn what they need to learn in class? The challenge is figuring out how to use it and make it so.”

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