What’s the Deal with Google Apps for Education?

| September 27, 2010

For the past few months, the office of Academic Computing has been sending announcements about Teachers College moving to Google Apps for Education. To many of us, however, it is not entirely clear what this means or how it will affect our daily computing needs. This is a synopsis.

What’s New?

Most of the capabilities of Google Apps for Education are functions you may be already familiar with or possibly already using:

Mail–pretty much plain old email. Best spam filters around, though, and all the functions of regular gmail, including chat.

Documents–the ability to upload and share documents. You can upload syllabi and other course documents, but also it gives the ability to collaborate on and co-author projects.

Calendar–a calendar. By subscribing to different calendar feeds, you can have all of your calendars–academic, personal, course, etc–in one place.

Sites–Hosting for individual and group websites. Can be used for courses, or for anything you want.

Course Management–CloudCourse is a course management application that lets you manage enrollment, attendance, waiting lists and the like. It integrates with the college’s existing system to manage many of the practical aspects of courses. CloudCourse is open source, however, and still being developed, so it likely will need a few more iterations to superannuate TC’s existing systems.

Again, most of these features are all currently available through regular Google, and so this move ultimately doesn’t mean a big leap in functionality. More important are the changes that this means for the server hosting and management–basically the hosting and management of the server are being outsourced to Google–rather than the front side users like students and faculty.

What Else is Out There?

What Google Apps doesn’t yet offer is a specially designed application for supporting classes called Learning Management Systems. There are a number of platforms available, which provide spaces for document sharing, for posting podcasts and video, for linking to and posting course readings, as well as offering various tools for feedback and evaluation.

…Next up: Moodle!