Teaching Google

A class in Microsoft Word or Excel would be remiss without featuring Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Here's why.

Google is many things to Ed Tech, not all of them completely positive.  Sure, it's a great search engine, although Google Images can provide students with a lot of naughty thumbnails, even if the source sites are blocked by your content filters.  It is also most likely the bane of every librarian's existence...If it's in the top two or three hits on Google, it must be true and should be cut and pasted into every research paper produced in America, right?

However, there is a piece of Google-iciousness (yes, I just made that up - Any Google marketing folks reading this should feel free to use it and forward any appropriate compensation to me care of ZDNet) that is frequently ignored in schools.  Google Apps are not only cool and useful but mark a fairly mature set of Web 2.0 applications.  Web 2.0 as a buzzword has been floating around the IT world for some time, but hasn't trickled into the lives of students and teachers outside of the recreational MySpace and YouTube sites (my web design students are always surprised to find out that they are actually using a Web 2.0 app if they update their MySpace).

I actually find myself using Google Docs and Spreadsheets quite a bit.  While they can't touch Word and Excel (or their OpenOffice equivalents) in terms of functionality, they are really remarkable in terms accessibility and integration with Gmail.  Any computer, anywhere, and all it takes is an Internet connection.  I have a handheld on order and I can't wait to make use of the applications through that interface as well.  As countless bloggers have pointed out, this is really just the beginning of the sorts of Web 2.0 applications that will find real utility in a business setting, as local computing becomes less relevant and net-based computing (even via pdas and smartphones) becomes more ubiquitous. 

In fact, I really believe that any high school class offered in basic productivity apps like Word and Excel really needs to hit on Web 2.0 style apps like Google Docs.  If this reflects the state of the art and an emerging trend in the business world (Office Live, anyone?), then any business-oriented computing class would be remiss if it didn't cover Google Apps.

Better yet, Google now offers Google Apps for your domain.  Jump through a few hoops and all of the users in your domain can have Gmail accounts and access to all of the collaboration and productivity tools built into Google Apps.  Obviously, Google Apps can't be all things to all people.  However, if all of your teachers and students can use Google's application suite for writing papers, sharing documents, math exercises, data collection, basic accounting, calendaring, etc., then your students will have a real leg up on their peers when they start seeing applications online to which MySpace pales in comparison.

Teaching Google certainly means teaching students to harvest the power of a great (but utterly overwhelming) search appliance, but, more importantly, it means showing them what Web 2.0 is really all about.

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