As you probably know from reading my blog, I teach mostly online classes for our graduate EdTech program. However, I also really like teaching a face-to-face undergraduate course called EdTech 202: Educational Technology, Classroom Applications. The course is a requirement for pre-service teachers and is meant to help them learn how to integrate and use technology effectively and efficiently. It’s a tough course to teach, really, as the students vary in their degree of technology skills and knowledge and of course, technology keeps changing. However, those challenges could also be opportunities.
The course has evolved from a final, high-stakes multiple choice test, to creating a Technology Portfolio which demonstrates competency of the ISTE NETS Standards for Teachers. I like the structure a whole lot better, but I’m finding that I can still push the envelope a bit.
For instance, we think it’s important for students to have some skill sets in using Microsoft Office applications, namely Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This is most likely based upon the likelihood that these future teachers will be provided with these tools in their schools and work environment. However, what if they don’t have or are provided with these tools? And more importantly, what if their students don’t have access to these tool and can’t afford to shell out the money to buy them?
So, I took a leap this semester and am using Google docs to help my students learn these application tools. Here are some reasons why:
- First of all, it’s a philosophical and competency issue for me. Instead of focusing on teaching a specific tool, I think we should help our future teachers understand WHAT THE TOOL DOES AND CAN DO and provide them with the skill-set and confidence to know that they can learn how to use ANY WORD PROCESSING TOOL once they understand the basics of the tool. In other words, why teach a student Microsoft Word exclusively? Wouldn’t it be better to have them gain the skills from a more generic, basic tool, having the confidence and basic skills to transfer those skills to another word processing tool? Besides, Microsoft is constantly changing their Office Suite (I remember how long it took me to find the familiar “Save As” feature in the new Word 2007, but hey, I DID find it!)
- Google docs is free, stable, has most of the features you’d ever want to use, is available on ANY computer connected to the Internet (and you CAN work offline, too), and can be shared with other people. This collaboration feature is what I think gives Google docs the edge over using computer-based applications. Students can work on their paper using Google docs, add you (the teacher) as a collaborator and you can easily edit, make comments, and see student progress. Plus, you don’t have to ask the student for the paper or the student won’t lose it. No excuses here.
- Google docs keeps adding more and more features. For instance, they now have many templates you can use to make your work easier. One of my colleagues the other day showed me a lesson plan template he uses in class. Yeah, a lesson plan template. How great is that?
- You can publish any Google doc so anyone can view it online. And if you change the original file, those changes are automatically updated on your published document.
- You can use Google docs as a safeguard against losing your stuff, such as a presentation. Google docs includes not only a word processor, but spreadsheets, and presentation software. So, if you are doing a presentation at a conference, put it on Google docs. If you lose your flash drive that had the presentation on it and your computer goes on the fritz, you can easily access and show your presentation from any computer connected to the Internet using Google docs.
Although Google docs is great, it’s not perfect. Of course, you need to have an Internet connection to upload or begin working with Google docs. And the software is still pretty basic, without all of the features of Microsoft Office. For instance, if you want to create a customized spreadsheet chart, I’d advise using Excel or Open Office. The charts in Google docs spreadsheet are still good, but not as full-featured as I’d like. And you cannot narrate a PowerPoint, which I am truly hoping will happen soon, as this is something I use a lot when preparing narrated PowerPoints that I convert to flash for online viewing.
However, given the positives and the negatives, I will still use Google docs as the mechanism and software application for helping my students learn how to use word processing, spreadsheets, and yes, even PowerPoint. Being able to create, view, collaborate on, and publish these files online are the features that make these tools so powerful and irresistible.