I just published a quick set of instructions for marshmallow geodesic domes to my class blog. Since it's hosted on Blogger (i.e., Google), it was just a couple clicks to post it directly from the Google Docs page where I typed it. Most people know that I'm a Google junkie, privacy be damned. However, that's not the topic of this post, although Google does a remarkably fine job of integrating it's Web applications.
Rather, this post is really about the phenomenon of Web apps more generally, and their particular applicability for educators. [See Gallery: Google Presentations–Getting started.] Teachers aren't like typical white collar workers, most of whom have been very slow to embrace Internet-based applications due to their general immaturity and inability to compete with Microsoft Office and other local productivity applications. Business settings often demand the latest features that are currently only available on desktop applications. Even if businesses have moved beyond Windows, a mail merge is not going to happen in Google Docs and Spreadsheets.
When was the last time a teacher did a mail merge, though? Ummm...Never? When was the last time we wanted to share a document with a student at home? Friday? How about the last time we were away from our computer and wanted to show a lesson plan or presentation to another teacher? Probably Friday. Teaching in a different room and forgot your laptop in the last class? Maybe Thursday? I find myself increasingly relying upon Web 2.0 style applications to meet my needs.
Teachers roam, migrate, work ridiculous hours at home and at school, share and collaborate, and are otherwise perfect candidates for the host of Web applications that aren't quite ready for prime-time in the corporate world. Obviously, I'm not going to ask my accounting teacher to handle her classes with Google Spreadsheets. They're cool, but not that cool. Similarly, our productivity applications courses will still focus on Office 2007 (and OpenOffice wherever I can exert my influence). However, for the everyday job of being a teacher, Web-based applications like those offered by Google, WebEx, and Numbler, among others, can offer some very significant advantages.
Not only are many of these services free (or very cheap for educators), but they allow the sort of easy, intuitive sharing, anytime, anywhere that we need. While Microsoft Office includes collaboration tools (remarkably sophisticated ones at that), I really don't think that it can match the utter simplicity of the sharing offered by Google and it's other competitors. As with so many areas of IT decision-making, this really comes down to addressing the needs of your users. If their needs can only be addressed by a full-blown office suite, then so be it. There are an awful lot of us who have a greater need for mobility, collaboration, and easy online publication than we do for desktop publishing. The latter has a place in every school, but in my classroom, Word has long been overtaken by blogs and shared documents hosted somewhere in Mountain View.