The Google tools are among the best free and user-friendly options for getting yourself organized. With Google, your information is stored online in the Google cloud. This means that you can access your documents, spreadsheets, and calendars no matter which computer you are using—as well as from your smartphone or iPad.
To use the tools discussed below, you will need a Google Account. Note that if you have a gmail address, you already have a Google Account; you can use your existing gmail address and password to sign into additional Google services. If you do not have an account with Google, sign-up is free and easy at https://accounts.google.com.
- Google Calendar (https://www.google.com/calendar). An online calendar allows for quick and easy updating, entry of additional information about events, and can support students setting their own pop-up, email, or text message reminders. The main Google calendar is a blank slate to which you can add a variety of different calendars. Each calendar is a separate entity with its own data and privacy settings. Layered together on your main Google calendar page, you can see all your events in one place at one time.
- You can import common calendars (U.S. holidays, for example) from the Google calendar repository. Google calendar can also import your data from iCal or from Outlook. And, of course, you can create your own calendars: we suggest creating one calendar for each class or section you are teaching. As you create these class calendars, you’ll want to make sure that the default privacy settings restrict editing to you alone but allow for public viewing. Doing so will insure that all your students—even those without Google Accounts—can view your class calendar. To share a public calendar with your students, you can distribute the calendar’s URL on your syllabus or email the information. Google Calendar users can then add this calendar to their main Google Calendar. For your students that do not use Google Calendar, the calendar can be printed or the data can be exported to a variety of other calendar formats.
Google Calendar also has two other features to help instructors manage their workflow: appointment scheduling and task scheduling. For appointment scheduling, both you and the person scheduling an appointment with you must be Google Calendar users and your calendars must be set to the same time zone. On a calendar that is either open to the public or shared with selected users, you indicate the blocks of time that are available for appointments and the duration of those appointments. When others view the calendar, they will see the available appointments overlaid with their own Google calendar, allowing easy selection of a workable time. Individuals can cancel their appointment by deleting the event on their own calendar; this will appear as a declined appointment on your calendar. The appointment slot then becomes available to others. You could use this feature to schedule in-class presentations or required meetings with your students, allowing your students to sign up online and change their slots as need be without contacting you directly.
For task scheduling, you can simply click on the date you wish to start/end/submit the task, select the task heading in the pop-up box, and enter the relevant information. Identifying the item as a task places it on both your main Google calendar and on a special sidebar. In this sidebar, you can see all your tasks displayed, mark which ones are completed, shuffle the order of tasks, add additional information, and print lists of tasks. If you are a gmail user, you’ll also have the option to see your tasks within a window alongside your email; task view is also enabled on the mobile versions of gmail and Google calendar.
- Google Documents (https://docs.google.com). The Google documents feature allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, tables, drawings, and forms. You can also create a “collection”, grouping several items together in one folder. In addition to creating items anew, you also have the option to upload existing items, which will then be converted to the corresponding Google format and stored online for your future use. At any time, you can download Google Documents and convert them into Office, PDF, or open format items to save on your own machine. If you intend to share items with your students, you can either make the items available to the public or available to anyone with the link. Note that visibility and editing are separate settings, so if you also want your students to be able to edit the items, you’ll need to make sure your document settings reflect that as well.
- How is this different from the Doc Sharing area in LearningStudio? The major advantage of the Google documents tools is their interactivity. With shared access and editing, you can have all your students contributing to a single document, no downloading, uploading, or Google Account necessary. You could also use this feature to schedule in-class presentations or required meetings with your students. Unlike the Google calendar appointment slots, your students need not be Google calendar users since this sign-up method is via Google documents. Likewise, you and your students could use this space to collect a list of helpful resources related to course topics. The advantage of using a Google Document for this is that all the information is one physical place, not nested among different threaded discussions or emails. Additionally, student access is not constrained by the end of the term as it is with course shells; students can refer to the item as long as you desire to keep the document public.
Last, for those of you that assign group projects, you might encourage your students to use Google Documents to eliminate problems related to Mac / PC conversions or to students using different versions of the same program. With access open to all individuals in the group and the content stored in the Google cloud, there is never a doubt about who has the most recent document. While the Google cloud provides data back-up, students can also download the items to their own computers, safely saving their work in two locations. In the event that multiple individuals are working on the document simultaneously, the document displays a pop-up window indicating this, and any changes that are made display in real-time, allowing the individuals to collaborate and communicate effectively.