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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Online Calendars: Virtual Schedules Help Busy Educators

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

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 Edutopia.org blogger
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Comments (60)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Tracy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I've just really starting using Outlook calendar at school, and think the Google calendar will be a useful tool. Thanks for the information!

Kim Snyder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can't wait to try this out. I'm always on the lookout for something that helps me to organize my time and activities.

Kerstin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! This is a great idea. I love that you can create a class calendar where parents and students can subscribe.

Ruthie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This sounds like a great idea! This is my first time on a blog and to stumble across a useful piece of information like this is wonderful. It makes me want to keep going. I believe this will prove to be helpful for my students as well as for my family.

Shane Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Tracy,

If you want to stick with Outlook calendar and you want to share it on your own website, then you can use the "Save As Web Page" feature in the File menu of Outlook.

If you want to use a combination of Outlook and Google calendars, you can export the calendar information from Outlook and then import it into Google (http://www.google.com/support/calendar/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=36608). Since there is not an easy way to automate this (that I know of), it is a bit of a hassle.

If you're trying to keep everything in one place, I would stick with Google calendar.

-Shane

Shane Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Susan,

When you create the calendar on Google, you will have control over who has access to it and what they can see (or modify). You will not need to distribute a password to parents; just provide them the link to the calendar. This link is found on the Calendar settings page after you have created a calendar. Just click on the little down arrow next to the calendar name and select "Calendar settings." There are little blue boxes that say "HTML" and represent the links to your calendar so others can view it. If you have made your calendar public, then you can select the first blue box; otherwise select the second blue box (in the "Private address" section).

-Shane

Kaylene's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great way to use technology to stay organized at home and at school. thanks for the tip!

Emily's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a great idea, however I carry my calendar with me everywhere I go and I don't always have access to a computer. Another great option to use technology in your classroom is to do your newsletter online...that way the children don't loose the important info. you want to get home to their parents.

Corey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I currently use Outlook's calendar and my paper dayplanner for my personal information, but our school uses e-chalk which has a built in calendar for student assignments, test dates, events, etc. It is wonderful because my students can see the events posted as well as any attachments and websites that I would like to add. E-chalk also allows a short description of each event/assignment so that you can add instructions, etc.

Dani F.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I haven't tried the Google Calendar yet, but I am very excited to give it a try. I am not overly organized and definitely not very technical, so finding an easy way to organize myself and potentially my students on my first trip into a blog is fabulously exciting. Thanks for the idea. I can't wait to come back to this site and see the other digital tools you might help me discover.

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