Google Apps for Education

Posted by: Howard Errey, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Last chance registrations for RMIT Staff: A special lunchtime workshop on Blended Learning at RMIT Wednesday, 2 July, 12.30pm, in the Swanston Academic Building featuring Professor Geoffrey Crisp (Dean, Learning and Teaching). Email Rosemary.Chang@rmit.edu.au for details.

During April I had the good fortune to attend the Google Education Summit in Sydney. It was really useful to see the scale and variety of what is going on as well as becoming aware of some of the things on the horizon.

One focus was helping teachers organise and solve problems. There were several sessions on using YouTube for organising, streaming and editing videos. One of the eye openers was seeing how easy the video editor was to use. 67% of courses in the College of Design and Social Context report they are already using YouTube so it will be useful to be able to share more of this functionality. Fortunately, like Blogger and Hangouts (recently switched on at RMIT via Google+), YouTube is on the RMIT roadmap for our suite of apps. You can find out more here.

I saw some excellent work being done with Google Sites, from using it as a low level learning management system, to enabling sharing across different sites and platforms. This seemed particularly useful for teachers needing to structure their online activities with large numbers of students. Many of the sessions were about Add-ons in Google Docs and Google Sheets enabling tools such as Doctopus that can combine with Google Drive and Sites. For example teachers can distribute different documents across different student groups into their Google Drives. I have since been trying out some of the Google Docs add-ons such as EasyBib for adding bibliographic references from the web.

Another session I enjoyed was an informal talk with four Google engineers who talked a lot about their favourite apps and were reassuring about Google wanting to be improving the experience for a number of the issues that we have had (for me it was better organising of shared files). The biggest push however was improving the mobile experience. Already we are seeing this with the apps for Drive and Sheets.

It was also eye-opening to go to a session on Google culture.  Here’s their ‘10 things we know to be true‘, formulated in the company’s first years:

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

Did you know Google was originally called Backrub? (‘Just let me Backrub that for you…’ rippled around the room.)

The main feature is that Google is led by a ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude. When Google Maps (invented in Australia) was introduced many staff were skeptical as it seemed so far away from their core business. At the same time one of the founders was saying ‘Why not map the oceans or Mars as well?’ Both have become Google projects in the meantime.

A screenshot showing false-colour elevation of Olympus Mons on Mars

A screenshot showing false-colour elevation of Olympus Mons on Mars.

An inspiring keynote was given by Jenny Magiera who works in a Chicago public school where they have recently replaced Apple iPads with Nexus tablets. It takes only a few seconds (versus several hours per iPad) for a teacher to set up each Nexus, as demonstrated by Jenny’s students in the video leading this post. An interesting change of direction given that Jenny is also an Apple Distinguished Educator.

One session I thought was about learning analytics was called Making Sense of Data. It is a free online course Google makes available. The session involved taking us through the course as a way of learning Google’s data tools:

What was really impressive though was the learning design of this short course. Quizzes are offered up front, and then learning exercises are offered if you are not sure of the answers. You can learn about and try some of the course here or do the full course with the Google teachers here.

I also understood for the first time the value of Chromebooks which are essentially browser-based devices with a keyboard and touchscreen. By using the Chrome browser with all the plugin extensions available and combining this with all the capabilities in Google Drive and other Google platforms such as Maps and YouTube, so much can be done purely online.I am beginning to wonder about the value of the Mac I recently bought, compared with a Chromebook which retails for about one fifth of the price.

The next Google Summit is scheduled for Melbourne on 22 – 23 September. It would be terrific if some others from RMIT could benefit from the perspective that attending one of these summits enables. In talking with the organisers they would love to customise a summit for tertiary providers, so I will also be watching that space.

If you want to keep up to date with our project, follow us at www.whatonearth14.wordpress.com. We have a number of new posts showing RMIT teachers and students at work.

Share your thoughts about using Google’s tools in the comments section!

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Twitter: @teachingtomtom and

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