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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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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to agree with your comment on Googles promises not being "enough". I think if someone wants to do personal calendaring, that is great. But to put a classroom schedule up with personal information like birthdays of students could be considered privacy violations. I don't want to go there. LH

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our school uses Google Calendar to communicate with parents- which we love and our parents have taken positively to the addition. The one thing that we love about it is the fact that our teachers could add their own events to the calendar, taking the expectation off of the middle man.

For our teachers, we use phpScheduleIt. We chose this program because it allowed our teachers to schedule our technology resources while they are lesson planning- whether it be at home or at their desk.

dain's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I started using Google Cal this year and there's a feature that suits me well teaching three different grade levels. I can view all three calendars at once while creating and editing them, but I can post them separately to each of my class websites so that the students can only see the calendar for their grade level.

KY teacher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this idea. For a small rural school, this could be a technology implementation for the school. Our school has a web site, and instead of always using a pepr calendar which can get lost in the shuffle from school to home, this could be another way parents can be in contact with school activities. I am going to share this idea with my fellow teachers.
I am always looking at ways to implement more technology into my classroom and this can work!

Mr. Higuera's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As the keeper of our school's calendar and website, I recently persuaded our admin to let us switch to Google Calendar. There is now a link on our website, and a few key players have rights to update and share school-wide.

Since we are a public school, all events are public and free to share. We do not post private events such as B-days and such; only school-wide events like assemblies, staff development, community events, etc. I've yet to hear how our teaching staff feels about it, but I'm optimistic.

The only one glitch I've found so far. It involves Internet Explorer (IE). Since Google and Microsoft don't play nice, IE doesn't print the calendar. The grid prints, but no events. Although there are ways around this, our staff is used to IE and sometimes reluctant to learn new tricks. Any one else experience this?

All in all... Google Calendar is a cool tool for school. ;->

-Mr. Higuera

Tanya's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This sounds good, I'm going to give it a try and see how useful I can make it.

Allison's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm always looking for something to keep me more organized. This is a great tool that I can not only use in my classroom but for my personal life as well. I'm very excited about creating my own google calendar. :)

Michele Celani's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! I must be a slow learner. I have been using the Google calendar to track my personal life but I never thought of using for school. I love the google calendar for all of the same reasons everyone else does, the 24-7 access, the ability to track multiple activities and the ease of entry. This would be an excellent tool for me to track my ever growing meeting schedules. I would not have thought to convert my paper school calendar to the google format without reading your post! Thanks!

Chris ONeal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi all - glad so many of you are trying out the calendar. I have a number of calendars in use - one that family across several states shares. It comes in so incredibly handy!

Regarding the question about it not printing correctly in Internet Explorer, I can only say that I haven't had that issue. I do know that when printing in IE, Google Calendar "turns itself into" a PDF file first - so maybe check to see that Adobe PDF is installed on those computers, and is allowed to run under IE. I also searched online for that issue, but couldn't find any other sources.

Keep us posted everyone on your use, tips, questions, etc.

Chris

Tessa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can't wait to try out Google calendar! I have a classroom website and am thinking I could add this tool to my site. I think my parents would love it, but I am not sure if I want to add one more thing to my "To Do" list. How long does it take to add an event to the calendar?

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