Thursday, July 15, 2010

Google for Classroom Collaboration

The OLPC project has proven value to a one-to-one computing approach facilitating collaborative learning

Similar projects, from first-world XO deployments, to the open 1-to-1 project in Maine, are following suite. 

The XO's mesh networking and collaboration functionality is buggy at times, but quite useful in a rural setting where infrastructure is unavailable. 
In my life, I have found collaboration to be best done via Google's web apps, with Gdocs and Gwave a staple of my business and scholastic life, providing real-time, multi-media collaboration anywhere with internet. Any document created with Google Docs are automagically stored in the cloud, where they are available for download or remote editing. Taking advantage of these free services makes tons of sense in an educational computing setup.

In stick-based 1-to-1 education, where the kids carry all of their files and programs around on a bootable flash drive, GDocs would provide a full backup in case of loss of stick. Storing editable files in the cloud would also let kids work on school projects, or parents/teachers monitor school projects, from home computers, without needing to boot into the stick OS.

In first-world educational laptop deployments, Google apps act as a "path of least resistance" for collaboration. Rather than having the IT staff install a custom Jabber server, simply configuring Google apps for school use accomplishes very nearly the same goal.

In very small schools or very large schools, Google apps acts as a "path of least resistance" for collaboration. Small schools often lack the resources necessary for internal collaboration servers. Google Apps for Education is free, and easy to set up. For larger institutions, it's a significant strain on internal resources to provide real-time collaboration via traditional methods. Google scales up excellently. 

There are obvious failings with this proposal. Right now, the primary interface for Google Docs is via web browser. In a modern educational setting, the last thing you want your students doing is having a web browser up in a classroom setting. Facebook and Flash games provide a powerful distraction from note-taking and group work.  Also, using a web browser as the primary text processor leads to issues when internet is unavailable.

Fortunately, there are solutions. HTML5, an upcoming web standard, will allow for GDocs to be used offline. Additional coding using the Abiword engine, used in the "Write" activity, with the GDoc API, would produce a platform-and-web-independent word processor with local and cloud file storage.

What do you think? In what other situations would cloud-based collaboration pay off? What sort of scenarios should software like this be designed for?


  1. One note: By far the most popular workshop at the conference was "moving to Google Apps"

    Question: Would it be possible to create a Google Marketplace App that could backup and restore all types of files in the Journal if the student lost the stick/damaged the harddrive?

  2. @SolutionGrove - Yep! Google recently unveiled functionality which lets you upload any/all type of files to a Google accounts. Backing up the entire Journal Datastore is definitely feasible.