I was asked to review many productivity tools. I like www.scanr.com for emergencies (no access to a scanner while on the road recently and with the need to deliver a document back to the States ASAP) this productivity tool assisted in jumping over the technological roadblock! It pays to keep up-to-date on web solutions.
But, like my fellow YU colleague, Adam Simon , my favorite productivity tool is Google Docs. I definitely can see large potential for use in the high school arena where applications, forms, and its import flexibility into Mac or Microsoft systems could be used widespread for various educational learning tasks. As an aside, I am also impressed with Google Scholar as an interesting “documented” search tool. With searches easier than ever, real documentation of sources is important (especially when students are learning how to write and document their footnotes).
Google Docs is always tooted for its ability to share together on-line by many users in educational settings. Teachers can monitor and students can work together. I like Google Docs because it offers powerful tools that interface (it is not a stand-alone one-solution tool i.e. only a calendar or only a spreadsheet). It offers presentations in different formats.
For instance, an applicant fills out a user-friendly form on the website but it is reviewed in the backend as a spreadsheet. A school newspaper could use the form to create a survey to gather student or parent opinion on topics (my daughter was a newspaper editor-in-chief and that would have been a powerful tool) if the school newspaper had been on-line! In the backend, surveys can be viewed in the spreadsheet form, answers organized and turned into charts! Google Docs even automatically tracks answers in the backend as stats! It provides very powerful information and these facts can be used as information to attract funding (if needed). Surveys are valuable tools that can influence policies all the way up!
One school used Google Docs instead of Survey Monkey to gather information from the parent-body. The school knew surveys helped focus opinion and they found that a parent who participated in thinking about a solution to a problem was actually more likely to show up at the “live forum” to discuss and resolve the issues face-to-face. They used technology as the front-end tool rather than the only tool through which to communicate.
Google Docs saves time and money because it is free. In my last job, I was financial aid director for Jewish youth education. Our agency went from paper to on-line applications. We searched and tried out three different and costly on-line application solutions. Yes – these solutions were expensive and secure, but all of them had problems. While I might not select Google Docs for Jewish Day School financial aid application requests because we asked for “sensitive” financial and personal information, I do believe Google Docs lends itself to many uses in Jewish Day Schools for short closed-ended solutions.
For instance, I was asked to create a free on-line application solution for a learning trip to Israel. We used Google Docs Form to create the application – it was easy to create, attractive, use-friendly and accessible. Then the information flowed to us in their spreadsheet form. (We could have easily exported into excel and imported into an Access database for permanent storage).
Ultimately, I believe Google Docs for application solutions is best for short-term projects.
It was used effectively for this one-time 8th grade graduation trip. Or an application could also be used for entering families to access their aims, needs and areas where they wish to volunteer. Or it could also be used to teach how to create successful applications/survey.
Security is important feature of Google Docs and this short-term application involved using 3 different offices that were responsible to deliver information: the interviewer, the bookkeeper, and the travel agent. Those responsible for the trip didn’t live in the same city or country but we securely shared information seamlessly through Google Docs.
Google Docs has its limitations (you can’t redesign (add columns) in the middle of the original doc. Either you need to begin again and create a new application and/or your new column always appears at the end of the spreadsheet (so if you add a question after-the-fact i.e. after the original design on the form and make it #2, it will still show on the spreadsheet where you review information at the end. This can be frustrating. We also found that if we played around too much (and never could quite identify why) that sometimes applicant information from a form got imbedded in the application and the questions (without answers) weren’t appearing for new applicants (i.e. they were seeing answers from an applicant!. Whoops and therefore we monitored our simple application constantly. Therefore Google Docs is not a perfect tool and if you are in the business of Financial Aid for huge programs – it is not the answer.
Google Docs keeps refining their tools. That is what I love about Google the most – the system of competition is making their product better and better.