Sheffield Hallam University has provided Google accounts for all students for some time, but has recently introduced them for staff too. This means that staff now have access to several very useful online tools which can be used to encourage collaboration amongst students, collaborating with colleagues, and work from varied locations.
The key tools that are available are Drive, “Docs, Slides and Sheets” (or just Docs for simplicity), Forms, and Sites. They can be accessed from http://go.shu.ac.uk/google using your usual SHU username and password and this post will give an overview of these tools and some ways in which they can be used.
The main benefits to using Google Apps rather than other tools is that they are built with sharing and collaboration in mind and work over the internet without the need to install specific software. This means that, for example, several people can work on a document or spreadsheet at the same time and all changes are immediately visible to everyone working on the document. By removing the need to email documents to collaborators and keep track of changes and versions this feature can really help streamline group work for students and staff. There are many other features in the tools and some of them will be touched upon below.
Google Drive provides staff with 30Gb of online file storage space and allows files to be shared with anyone who has an email address. This makes Drive especially useful when you have large files that you want to share with others but don’t want to clog up their inboxes with the actual file. The PebblePad eportfolio system, which is gradually being introduced across SHU, allows files to be pulled from a user’s Drive account for use within their portfolio, simplifying the management and reuse of files and documents.
Google Docs is a part of Google Drive and is an online office suite that contains a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation (Powerpoint) tool, and a drawing tool. They all allow documents to be shared (for viewing or editing) and support live collaboration, making them perfect for situations when people want to work together but can’t physically meet. Documents can be editing with mobile devices and standard Microsoft Office files, such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint, can be uploaded and converted for collaborative editing. Docs has been used to support students in writing group essays and working together on presentations and large spreadsheets because the ‘revision history’ feature allows the contribution of each individual to be clearly seen.
Google Forms is a tool that makes the creation of online questionnaires and surveys extremely quick and easy. The responses are added as rows to a Google spreadsheet, which means that formulas can be added to calculate totals, draw graphs, etc. that update automatically whenever someone completes the survey. The forms work well with mobile devices, which makes Forms very useful for collecting feedback from students, performing ‘street surveys’ or organising events.
Google Sites is a relatively straightforward way to create websites. The websites can be private, public or only accessible to specific people and collaborators can be allowed to edit the entire site or just particular pages or sections. The All About Linguistics project at the University of Sheffield, which used Sites to encourage students to develop a website together (with each responsible for their own section), found that being able to see the work of other groups motivated the students to improve their own work. They have also been used at SHU to collate and structure video resources and as a way for students to build accreditation portfolios.
Other tools are also available with your SHU Google account, including:
- YouTube – upload videos that can be watched via the internet
- Calendar – sharable calendar that can be accessed over the internet
- Blogger – create blogs to share your thoughts and work with the world
- Groups – discussion spaces for other people with Google accounts, such as staff and students
- Scripts – extra features that can be added to other tools, such as creating and distributing private copies of a document for different groups, limiting responses to a survey, or sending personalised emails from a Google spreadsheet
- Keep – ‘sticky notes’ that work particularly well if you link your account to a smartphone or tablet.
Accessing the Tools
The easiest way to access your SHU Google account is from http://go.shu.ac.uk/google, using your usual SHU username and password. Once you are in your Drive you can start uploading files, create new Docs, or built a survey form and can open the other tools using the ‘grid of squares’ icon at the top right of the page .
You can also link your account to a smartphone or tablet by using your special Google account email address and usual password – the email address is <SHU username>@my.shu.ac.uk, so a person who logs in to their PC using abcd123 would use firstname.lastname@example.org. This will let you use the Google Drive apps to upload / download files and edit Docs while on the move.
On 7th March 2014, SHU ran an event, in conjunction with the University of Sheffield, on the use of Google Apps for Learning and Teaching. A Google Site was created for the event and it contains copies of the slides for all, and videos of many, of the presentations on the ways people at both institutions are using the tools with students.
We will be posting more about Google Apps in the coming weeks. You can use the Subscribe options at the top right of the page to make sure that you are kept informed. We are running a series of workshops over the next few months for anyone who is interested in finding out more about Google Apps and trying them out. The dates are:
Clicking on the above links will allow you to book a place on the workshop.