Sometimes it takes me awhile to catch on. I’ve been here at W&M as a part-time doc student since 2008. I taught as an adjunct in 2010, and then took a position within Academic Technology about a year and a half ago. It has only recently occurred to me, though, that the faculty I support might not be fully aware of all of the collaborative tools students have at their disposal through WMApps, given that faculty email and calendar tools are powered by Microsoft Exchange while William & Mary student email and calendars are powered by Google.
In Spring of 2010, William & Mary student email accounts were migrated to WMApps. Powered by Google, the WMApps email service is essentially a Gmail account with an @email.wm.edu extension. As such, William & Mary students (and alumni) have access to most of the Google applications associated with regular Gmail accounts, although some apps may have limited features. Three of the WMApps (read Google apps) that William & Mary students have access to include Google Docs, Google Sites, and Google Reader.
Google Docs allows students to create, upload, and collaborate on word processing documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations. Other media may be uploaded and stored in Docs (.mp4 files, for example), although rich media files cannot be collaboratively authored or edited. It looks like Google will soon be taking the storage and sharing capability to the next level with Google Drive. Google Docs is slated to become Google Drive in the near future, stressing the ease with which users can store, retrieve, and share documents and files. The transition from Docs to Drive is Google’s answer to iCloud services powered by Apple. I initially started this very post in a Google document because I had to move between work stations in different locations. WMApps enabled me to do this seamlessly, without worrying about saving to a drive. Admittedly, the formatting in Google Docs leaves something to be desired (although there have been some improvements over the last year), but the tool does provide a quick and easy way for students to collaborate and to co-author.
In addition to the ability to share and collaborate on files, WMApps also provides students with the ability to author individual or group websites (for a group website, think “wiki”). Google Sites provides multiple templates to choose from and uses drag and drop action for content building. In a quick search of the Google Sites websites shared from WMApps accounts, I found sites that support student clubs and activities, athletics, and even team pages for collaborative class projects. The sharing permissions for Google Sites are the same as for Google Docs: students can decide whether to share privately, with everyone at email.wm.edu, or with the world. One limitation of Google Sites in WMApps is the inability to change the URL. All sites created via WMApps will include sites.google.com/a/email.wm.edu as part of the site address. Google Sites is not the only tool students have for building individual web pages or group sites, however, as William & Mary faculty and students also have access to W&M Blogs (powered by WordPress) and to WMWikis (Wikispaces).
Google Reader is an app which enables readers to subscribe to websites and blogs so that their web content comes to them all in one location through RSS feeds. RSS (really simple syndication) feeds are denoted by the orange RSS feed symbol. Paperfeed.org provides a list of academic journals and sites with RSS feeds arranged by discipline. Most major news outlets and web publications also allow readers to subscribe via RSS (as does this blog!). In addition to allowing students to build and customize their news outlets, Google Reader can be used to promote student engagement with each other, or with discipline-specific bloggers. Students in one recent W&M graduate course, for example, were required to maintain blogs through W&M Blogs. Students used their Google Reader app in WMApps to subscribe to classmates’ blogs so that they could follow each other’s posts in one location. To subscribe to an RSS feed, WMApps users can search for content from their Reader page, or they can simply paste in the URL of the site or blog they wish to follow.
WMApps provides free collaboration and sharing tools for William & Mary students. But, what if you want to participate in your students’ collaborative work as well? William & Mary faculty can request a WMApps account by sending a request to email@example.com. If you are interested in exploring Google Apps for Education in more detail, you can visit the Google Apps Learning Center to explore each tool. If you have a teaching project that utilizes WMApps, please share your ideas. We’d love to hear how (and if) these collaboration tools are being leveraged to support teaching, learning, and research at William & Mary.
If you’re interested in reading more about how you might use Google Drive, you may want to take a look at these posts: Three Ways to Use Google Drive for Student Assignments, Collecting Student Assignments with Google Drive, From Word to Dropbox and Back Again — Sharing Comments on Text Documents, and Collaborating on a Conference Panel with Google Drive.