2020 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the beta version of Gmail, Google’s first move beyond being just a search engine. Since then Google has created an extensive suite of applications many of which are extremely useful for teaching and learning. In this blog I’ll be looking at some of, what I think, are the most useful apps and why, during the current lockdown, Google can be useful in helping deliver online learning.

Possibly the most useful change Google has made in light of the lockdown was to extend video conferencing (Hangouts Meet)  to all GSuite accounts allowing up to 250 participants in any online meeting. Setting up an online meeting using Hangouts Meet can be done via the Google calendar thus notifying participants automatically. While this particular app lacks some of the functionality of Webex, it is useful for hosting and running a simple meeting or online seminar.

In this time of distributive learning, collaboration can still be facilitated and Google provides tools such as jamboard that will allow students to contribute to online tasks and discussions. Jamboard provides a pin-board style interface onto which students can pin their ideas and contributions to group tasks. While apps such as Google docs do clearly provide opportunities for online collaboration, jamboard provides a tool for more focused tasks with a clear and easy to read interface.

On the Degree Apprenticeship programme, we make major use of G Suite including Shared Drives and Google Docs, indeed without these, it would be difficult to see how we could manage some of the required administrative tasks. The ability to enhance the functionality of some Google products such as sheets, also means that they can be tailored to best meet the needs of our students. For example, all degree apprenticeship students are required to keep a log of their off the job training activities, such as their weekly University sessions, to help them complete these logs we use Google forms linked to Google sheets. Being able to add a script to the sheets means that emails can automatically be sent out allowing course administrators to more easily monitor log entries.

In terms of teaching and learning, one of the most useful Google products, and certainly the most ubiquitous in terms of videos, is YouTube, bought by Google back in 2006. By virtue of having a Google account, all members of the University automatically have a YouTube account. This, combined with the unlimited storage offered by Google, provides staff and students with an invaluable teaching and learning platform. Google’s screen capture app, Screencastify, integrates nicely with Youtube allowing users to edit and then upload directly to their YouTube channel.

So, out of the range of apps, Google provides, which ones are my favourites?

Having worked with apprenticeship students in the Business faculty for over two years, helping them with their ePortfolios, I’ve become a convert to Google Sites. I found the old version while having plenty of functionality, a bit clunky and not that user-friendly, often having to write HTML to achieve what I wanted. A downside of New Google Sites was the lack of template functionality, but this issue is being addressed as the addition of templates is currently in development.

But, on a day to day level, Google docs and Shared Drives have pretty much transformed the way I work, simplifying working collaboratively with colleagues and students. 

The pace of development of Google products is also impressive and I’m looking forward to making use of Smart Compose (https://gsuiteupdates.googleblog.com/2020/02/smart-compose-ga.html) and neural grammar correction, currently in beta. While Word does ship with far greater functionality and even slightly complicated Word documents do not convert well to Google, for the majority of users, the tools available with Docs are generally more than enough and thinglink (https://www.thinglink.com/scene/1282367584611598339) is great for those new to Docs. Google has also made it slightly easier to share documents with non-Google account holders, users can now use their existing email address to set themselves up with Google to enable access to shared Google docs, Sites etc. while a PIN verification system, currently in beta, will remove the need to set up any kind of Google account at all.

The current situation has thrown up considerable challenges in continuing to provide engaging and high quality teaching and learning especially in terms of students working collaboratively, Google clearly does not provide all the solutions required, but its suite of apps are certainly a good starting point.

Image by Saveliy Morozov  from Pixabay