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Online Calendars: Virtual Schedules Help Busy Educators

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger
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This fall, let's kick it up a digital notch and start experimenting more with the technologies available to us. Depending on where you stand on the technology-pioneer continuum, you may be two steps ahead of me or looking at me cautiously from the side. Either way, this post and the next few to follow will provide brief overviews of some easy-to-use digital tools I think every teacher should experiment with, use in the classroom, or employ for personal productivity.

The first tool I'd like to explore is the online calendar. Keeping an electronic calendar is nothing new, but you'd be surprised at how few people use one. It took me several years to let go of my paper-based day planner, but once I settled into the digital-calendar world, I never looked back. If I had ever lost my day planner, all my calendar entries would have gone with it, except for the few things I had memorized -- which means I would be deprived of records for just about everything except my daughter's birthday.

I wanted a calendar that was software independent, accessible from anywhere, and capable of keeping more than one of my calendars -- for example, I have one for work and another with personal information. Although several good online calendars -- Yahoo! Calendar and Apple's iCal, to name a few -- are available, I chose Google Calendar.

Because the calendar is online and backed up automatically, I don't have to worry that I'll misplace it. Every so often, I print out a copy of my calendar to take with me in case I'm without my laptop or online access -- although that's rare. I give read/write access to a few coworkers, my daughter, my spouse, and anyone else who needs to know where I am, add events to the calendar, or give me redirection.

Google Calendar also has a few fun options such as "smart entries": I simply type "Chloe's recital at 9," and Google knows "at 9" means the time of the appointment and automatically places the entry in the correct spot. I can attach a reminder to that entry, such as an email or a pop-up -- or (my favorite) a cell phone text-message reminder. By attaching that feature to an entry, I can have a text message sent to myself (and whoever else subscribes to this calendar) just to make absolutely sure I don't forget. Can you imagine how cool it would be to attach this feature to a classroom calendar? Your students and their parents could receive an automatic text message about upcoming tests and other important classroom events.

The collaborative side of online calendars is limitless. You can create a class calendar to which parents and students subscribe. The calendar could contain birthdays, classroom-event reminders, test schedules, or project timelines. And, because online calendars offer RSS feeds, parents always have a live calendar they can access from anywhere -- you won't need to worry that a student lost a paper calendar on the way home. Another option is to set up a separate calendar for each class period. In addition, teacher teams can share a team calendar, eliminating the need to enter similar information across multiple calendars.

Google has a nice Help and overview page. The calendar allows you to import and export between iCal, Outlook, and more. It also integrates with your email program. Get familiar with the calendar by playing around -- start a calendar of important birthdays and set up reminders for them. Create a separate calendar for school business. Build another with your students' pertinent information, and enter their parents' cell numbers so you can send text reminders. There's so much you can do. Let me know what you think of this online system -- what does or doesn't work for you, or interesting ways you've organized your calendars. Post your responses here so we can all learn together.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger

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Rallou's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Does anyone know whether Google calendar works with Palm Pilots? It sounds like it has tons of good things, but I'm so used to Outlook.

Chris O'Neal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I pretty much do everything electronically now. I also store nearly every single (work and social anyway) thing I do online as well. I travel a lot, and being able to (1) have my stuff, no matter where I go, even if I were to lose my travel hard drive and (2) be able to immediately share my stuff with anyone who wants it, is just so helpful.

Please share questions, thoughts, etc. about other topics you'd like explained or explored here! We'll get right on it!


Angela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of using the calendar as a class calendar to allow parents the ability to receive a text message about important events in the school and class. I send so many papers home in a week, this would really save a tree or two. This is definitely an avenue I would like to explore to implement into my class. Thank you.

Mary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The biggest challenge for myself, this year, is coordinating all of my calendars and schedules. This just might save me from insanity! We currently use the Outlook calendar for home. The reminders are great but I generally do not update the calendar's content.Using an online calendar would allow me to access the calendar anywhere--anytime. Perfect!

Heather's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

A few months ago a young man came to our school in Beijing and did a short workshop on internet learning. It was there I first learned about iGoogle, Gmail and the wonderful world of Google. While I am engaged with Google Reader, Google Docs etc I have never used the Calender. I will now add that to my list of ways to use Google. Thanks for the intro.


Jamie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

First off... Palm Pilots were versions of the Palm hardware from many years ago. Either say Palms or Palm and your version like Palm Zire 72.

There are several applications out there that you can purchase or get for free that help to sync your calendars, but they aren't real easy to use. I have done some searching in the past couple of weeks and can't say that I am really happy with anything. I was hoping that Google would put an initiative forward that would allow for this as a native option inside the Google Calendar.

We currently use Google Calendar as our events calendar at school. It would be really nice if it would sync up to my Outlook 2003 desktop application so that I can see the things online on my Palm. We won't be getting Outlook 2007 for a while.

Nikki S.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel exactly the same way. This is my first time blogging, and I am also interested in the calendar. More importantly, have you tried it yet? If so, was it really that easy to figure out? Please let me know your thoughts.

Nikki S.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ok. This sounds like something that I could do...maybe? This is tool sounds wonderful. I hope it is as easy to use as it sounds. I will definitely try it!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow, what a creative way to not only keep yourself organized, but a school classroom as well. The google calender seems to be more reliable then the average agenda. There would be no more worries if the agenda gets lost and it can give you friendly reminders on an upcoming event via text message or e-mail. I doubt agendas or even palm pilots can be so trust-worthy. Also, this tool is a great way to encourage parent involvement in their kid's education.

Jane Krauss's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for the tips on calendars. I've got 30 Boxes going in a wiki and I can see ical (mine) and google calendar (school) dates in it. Pretty nice.

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