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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.

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Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger

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Chris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If you sync your Palm with iCal on your Mac (OS 10.4), you can then export your iCal file to your Google calendar.

1. Open Palm Desktop.
2. Select File --> Export; Name your calendar. Select Format to be iCal.
3. Open iCal.
4. Select File --> Import. Your Palm data will be imported into iCal.
5. Select File --> Export. Name your calendar. Your Palm + iCal calendar data will be exported as a .ics file.
6. Open Google Calendar.
7. Select Import Calendar from the Add dropdown menu. Choose your saved calendar (.ics)

It would be nice if Palm files imported directly into the Google calendar, but this process took me less than a minute to complete.

However, it does not appear that there is an export process from Google to iCal so the Google calendar only functions as a backup or universal calendar solution. Being universal, the Google Calendar would work great for all designated school people to upload their calendars to create the total calendar.

Anne W.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You have a lot of great ideas for web calendars. Currently I'm writing everything by hand and I could count at least 4 different calendars that I use. Some are personal and others are professional. If I used the web calendars I would definitely be more organized. I often feel I'm doing things last minute. Also, I'm an 8th grade teacher and this tool would be great to communicate with parents and students about upcoming tests and assignments. I'm going to have to buckle down and eventually switch. Thanks again.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have forgotten a lot of due dates and appointments in my days and google maps looks like a great organizational tool to help me out. Thanks for the tip!

Karen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This sounds like a super idea. It would be a great tool for class organization and letting parents know what is happening via a text message. Is there a way to link a class website to a calendar link? Then it could be accessed from your specific website.


Jessica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our school has just started a webpage for each teacher to post information, newsletters, etc. (I know... a little behind.) This would be wonderful for me to use and link on my webpage. That way, if needed, the parents can print off the calendar and have it at home instead of using our newsletters that also provide dates. My only concern with this is the parents that typically don't have the right dates and times also don't have internet access.

brigette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of going paperless. Our school is trying hard to become a one stream school by eliminating all the extra paperwork and letters sent home. What an interesting idea to add! Thanks for the information

Kamala Bhaskar's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this idea of online calendar. I am definitely going to try it out. I am wondering whether there is a technology tool that will help me with my ESL class schedule. I handle more than 70 students from grades K to 5. I pull them out in small groups of 10 to 12 students at a time. Fortunately, I have two assistants to help me. But in each grade group there are students reading at different levels. I spend a lot of time writing in my plan book all the details about the books, lessons and strategies I use for each group.
My question is what can I do to organize all this information in such a way that I just update the information from time to time, print it and paste it in my plan book?

Kamala Bhaskar

Jennifer Schmidt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is amazing how the capabilities of the Web can change our interactions with students and families! I am currently designing a class website and adding a link to Google's online calendar would be fantastic. I can continually update it, and it would be easy for any parent, student, or myself, to access it to see what is coming up.

On a more personal note, it would be great, to help me stay organized. Does anyone else have to turn in hard copies of their attendance? That would be my biggest issue with giving up my paper planner.

Crystal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At first, I clung to the hard copy calendar too but when I choose to start using Google calendar I didn't look back. My husband and I share a calendar and we know just where one another is despite our crazy schedules. Also, I am excited to start to use this in my classroom but dragging my feet a bit because our district currently uses Blackboard. Same idea, but why post assignments twice? The nice thing about Google is that Google will send out automatic remiders to users while you have to remember to do that on Blackboard. Technology woes... : )

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