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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Improving School Communication with Google

Does your school speak Google? If not, you might want to give it a try.
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

This may come as bad news for those who fear Google's world domination, but the fact is that the Google Apps Education Edition is a useful tool that teachers and students can employ in almost any school.

The apps -- Web-based tools for communicating, connecting, and creating content -- are free. Teachers use the Google Docs tool to plan lessons together, follow up on ideas that arise in instructional meetings, or give students just-in-time feedback. Counselors use Google Spreadsheets to monitor student behavior and quickly flag concerns. Students use Google Chat and Google Docs to collaborate with peers in real time and Google Calendar to keep track of deadlines. Parents stay in the loop with their own Gmail accounts. Jason Levy, principal of Intermediate School 339, in the Bronx, New York, has seen rapid academic gains, improving its New York City progress report grade from a D to an A.

Here's a way to develop a plan for your school:

Pick a Starting Place

Many schools sign up for Google Apps to solve a specific technology challenge. Levy's I.S. 339 needed to replace an outdated email system. Getting school leaders and teachers to use new Gmail accounts was an easy first step that improved communication. Having a shared starting place builds buy-in and sets the stage for expansion.

Empower Users

At Belle Plaine Senior High School, in Minnesota, Anthony VonBank uses Google Apps as his communications backbone. This enabled students to work on collaborative projects from home or school, using mobile devices and home computers. Collaborating in teams not only empowered individual students but also accelerated their leap to innovations, like mashing up different apps to solve specific local problems.

Ask for Help

Not surprisingly, educators who are pioneering the use of collaborative tools are eager to share their insights and support newcomers. Check out the assortment of webinars, case studies, and discussion groups at the Google Apps Education Edition (for K-12). Then connect and brainstorm with your online colleagues.

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