There are many ways in which Google Apps for Education encourages students to work together. My favourite tool from the Apps suite continues to be Google Docs which allows students to work on one document in real time.

This means, if desired, an entire class can collaborate on one document. In Phil Bagge’s primary class, his pupils conduct cooling experiments, enter their data on one spreadsheet and then undertake analysis as a whole class using the built in graphing tools.

Add into the mix the in-built chat facility when working on a document and you have a really powerful way that pupils can quickly and easily collaborate. In my own, and other teachers’ experience, once students have got over the initial novelty of the ability to send instant messages and work on the same document at once in Google docs, they generally use it sensibly.

Subsequently, it can have an incredibly positive impact on the way they think about and self-assess their work as shown in Oliver Quinlan’s class. However, as James Mitchie’s experiences illustrate, even with the best of intentions, collaboration in this way is a new concept for students and takes time and careful planning to work effectively.

Another great way of increasing student collaboration is through a shared calendar on which they input their birthdays and other important dates. Responsibility for this can be shared amongst the entire class, or one or two pupils each half-term. Shared calendars are also a great way for schools to increase communication with parents.

Encouraging parental engagement

The ability to share and collaborate on multiple calendars means that schools can easily share important dates with parents. The calendar can be embedded into the school website, or another site, along with blogs, You Tube channels and other useful links as Helen Morgan has done in her department.

Google Sites are a very simple web design tool for children to use and Ian Addison’s pupils have been creating their own websites to share information about their local area. Many schools are also starting to use Google Apps instead of expensive virtual learning environments and Kevin McLaughlin outlines the process he went through to do just that here.

Furthermore, Google forms are also a superb way to find out what parents are thinking and collect anything from feedback on the school website to preferences for appointment times at parents’ evenings.

The beauty of course with forms, other than the ease with which they can be created and shared via email or embedded into a website, is that the results are automatically collated into a spreadsheet, complete with timestamp. It is therefore hugely beneficial for schools who have been collecting such information via paper forms. Google includes some good instructions to using forms.

Increase teacher productivity

Forms can also be used in many ways, to collect data and opinions and saving teachers time which they can then use to focus on teaching. There are some fantastic ideas from teachers all over the World in Tom Barrett’s fantastic ‘Interesting Ways’ series. Another great, time-saving way of using forms is to create self-grading quizzes for pupils. A detailed tutorial of how to do this is here.

Moreover, communication and collaboration between staff becomes easier using Google Apps. Sharing departmental or administrative documents is simple and they can be worked on by multiple staff simultaneously meaning less time spent on administration and more time for teaching.

Similarly, the ability to share calendars with different groups allows senior managers and departments to have their own shared calendars which makes arranging meetings or checking when people are available very straightforward. A school can also set up a room, or laptop trolly as a resource, making booking that room or trolley very simple and one less administrative task for someone to have to manage. Reminders can be sent via email, popups or text message, making life easier for busy teachers.

Indeed, the ability to access email, documents & all information from home & any device with internet connection means staff can access their work from anywhere and at anytime, if they choose to do so, and being able to publish calendar events directly to twitter is fantastic for a school that is trying to increase communication with parents.

Although I have really only been able to scratch the surface of what can be achieved with Google Apps for Education in this post, I hope I have shared with you how the Apps suite is offering great collaboration and communication opportunities for students, staff and parents alike. Put simply, Google Apps has real scope to enhance teaching and learning in any educational organisation. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to Go Google!