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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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Jared Bradford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Just what the doctor ordered. Part of my professional growth plan this year is to do just what you said - kick it up a digital notch. Thanks, Chris.

Kern Kelley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm working with all my administrators, staff and students to use Google Calendars, because the more people that are using them, the easier it is to link to each other. Plus quick copy and paste and you can post the calendar as it's own webpage.

BTW for those that need it to sync with their Palm's try www.goosync.com

Dave's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I absolutely love Google Calendars - as a literacy coach at a K-8 school, I am able to create a calendar for all my intervention groups, district benchmark tests, school holidays and so much more. I have also linked the calendars to my web page at http://ea.literacycoach.googlepages.com/ so the teachers have easy access to the calendars for their grade level.

Another feature that was not mentioned in your blog is the ability to add events to your Google calendar from your gmail account. If a date or time is mentioned one of your gmail e-mails, you can add it to your Google calendar with a few clicks. It is so easy to use.

Deanna Stall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Another site worth mentioning is http://www.airset.com. This site will sync with your other calendars plus calendar sharing, plus discussions, blogs, photo sharing, and much more.

GingerTPLC's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The charter school I work in uses Google Calendar to communicate with teachers, parents, and other outside connected agencies. I also use the calendar option to share just my school meetings with the other staff and my parents, to help facilitate them setting up meetings with me (for confidentiality, I use the busy/away option).

Finally, my students also use the calendar to record their homework, sharing it with me and with their parents so we know they're learning crucial organizational and time-management skills.

There are also many other online calendars, but I like this since the families didn't have to download anything to use it!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is the best!

Paul B. Zettler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Another terrific feature is that when you enter a location Google Maps is completely integrated. A map link shows up that viewers can click to see the location of the event. This is great for coaches that want to publish a team calendar and in doing so provide maps for parents to all of the away contests.

Patricia Szasz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, All,

As a program administrator, I've implemented Google calendar to help me keep track of program schedules and staff availability, in addition to my personal calendar. It's great having a central location where my staff can see important dates, including orientations, tests, student and faculty birthdays, etc. I also like the ability to select multiple schedules simultaneously and see how they overlap -- helps me avoid schedule conflicts.

PLUS you can create easy PDFs from the print link, which look nice when printed out for posting hard copies.

Very cool!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

How do I know *who* -- at Google's or at hacker.com -- will be able to access my calendar? And from there my mail or even my whole box?
Google's promises are just *not enough* and there have been loopholes in privacy in the past...

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