Am I Ready for Google Web Apps?

As you may know, my specialty here at CAPE is in Curriculum and Instruction. Over the last few years, my focus in this area has been on active learning and student engagement, mostly due to our QEP but also because it’s how I teach. However, I don’t have all the answers either. I still struggle with getting some students engaged in classes and activities and am still searching for ways to improve my instruction for my students.
One of the topics that has arisen a great deal lately is that of incorporating Google apps, such as Google Docs and Google Slides, into the classroom. I was first introduced to the concept when I attended training for Cengage’s MindTap this summer. MindTap allows an instructor to insert activities and/or text from Google drive directly into the student’s version of the textbook that can be accessed through the web in MindTap. Although I was incredibly fascinated by this concept, I was also a little leery of using it. I love the idea of inserting my own assignments or information directly into the text so that the students can read it or complete it in context. However, I’m also realistic enough to know that some of my students don’t have the internet connection or the devices to access MindTap appropriately. That’s why they also have a textbook that they can use. I want to give my students the same experiences, and I can’t put the Google document into their real textbook the same way that I can insert it into MindTap.
Shortly after this training, I found the article Using Google Web Apps to Improve Student Engagement in Faculty Focus. This initially sparked my interest because of the “improve student engagement” but I stayed interested to see how the author used Google web apps in the classroom. Willis (the author) uses Google Docs and Slides to encourage collaboration and as a central storage place for students to access documents and make changes to those documents. They also use it when working on group projects. These apps are able to be accessed with almost any type of smart device, so most students wouldn’t have an issue with not being able to complete the assignment.
I admit to being of two minds on this topic. First, I struggle with assigning group work and with having a place for students to access materials that they can then edit and repost easily [for more on this topic, see Alex’s post this week Up in the Cloud(s)]. Google Docs and Google Slides seem like the perfect solution to this. However, I already use Blackboard and MindTap in my classes; do I really want to add another site for which students must create an account and remember when, where and how to use it? Is there an easier way to improve student engagement in the classroom and get students working collaboratively and equally on course assignments without adding to the list of technology that we are already trying to get them to utilize?
I’m still going to explore how to use Google drive, calendar, docs and slides, but I’m going to wait a while before I try to incorporate them into my classes. If I decide that this is the best way to increase student engagement, I want it to be done in a meaningful and easy way. If you’ve already tried it, how’s it working for you?


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