Wednesday, June 15, 2011

4 Reasons Google Docs Is a Good Idea for Educators

In a time of tight budgets and few resources, administrators need to find as many ways to save money as possible. In an earlier post, I suggest Google Docs as an alternative to purchasing Microsoft Office as an office suite. Google Docs does provide users many useful features that extend far beyond what can be obtained from a locally installed office suite like Open Office or Microsoft Office. Here's four things that set Google Docs apart from an installed office suite.

1. Create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings online. With this feature, users can create documents any time and any place they have web access, right through their web browser. Unlike an installed software package on a local computer, there's no need to worry about document compatibility or saving your documents on a portable device. With Google Docs, create your work online, and then save it online. You can also take advantage of these additional features:
    • Save your documents online and never have to use a portable storage device such as a DVD or flash drive.
    • Take advantage of Google's online Template library to create documents.
    • Upload any existing files you have to Google Docs so that you have access to them any where.
    • Use a much simpler user interface than most office suite programs.
2. Share and collaborate with others on your documents. With Google Docs, you can choose with whom you wish to collaborate. You can share your work instantly with others through email. You can also work with others synchronously and asynchronously.

3. Safely store and organize your work.  Google Docs' web access gives users access any where there's an Internet connection. You can access documents stored in Google Docs on any computer. You can also store documents created in MS Office in your Google Docs account. Additionally, you can export documents from your Google Docs account to your desktop or laptop. Finally, you can use folders to organize your online Google Docs documents.

4. Control who has access to your documents. While the documents in your Google Docs account are stored online, you still have the ability to control who can see them and how they see them. You can publish your work as web pages, you can send invites to others you wish to view your documents, you can post your documents to your blog. Finally, you can share your documents internally with only those in your school.

That list describes an array of additional features beyond those found in a regular office suite. If I were to emphasize features to administrators, here's three I have found most useful and worth exploring:
  • Creating Forms: This feature has proven to be quite useful to me as an administrator. I have used it to create a discipline tracking form, parking lot form, new student entry form, and a walkthrough observation form, just to name a few. Google Docs' form feature has been extremely useful for collecting data. It puts the collected data into a spreadsheet for later reference.
  • Sharing Documents: Being able to share documents through Google Docs this year has actually cut down considerably on some of our staff face-to-face meeting time. For example, when we needed to develop a schedule this year, we shared a Google Doc spreadsheet, and all our staff edited, suggested, and made changes until we had an acceptable document. We did the same with our school improvement plan.
  • Two additional programs make using Google Docs even more functional. These programs are: "Syncdocs" and "GoDocs" for the iPad.
    • Syndocs: Syndocs is a free program that allows users to sync and store copies of all their Google Docs documents on their computer. It syncs on start up each time your computer boots. This program also allows you to have offline access to your documents. You can download Syncdocs here.
    • GoDocs for iPad: I tried several iPad apps so that I could access to my Google Docs account on my iPad, and so far GoDocs has been the best solution. It allows me to read and download any document in my Google account so that I have an added layer of access to those documents. It will also allow editing, but that function is done through a browser. It does not work as well as I hoped.
Google Docs is a Web 2.0 solution every administrator needs to learn how to use. It's simple to use, and best of all, doesn't cost anything.

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