New online apps to enhance work tracking for students, teachers

By DANIEL HERATY
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS – Teachers and students throughout the Crestwood School District soon will use an online work-tracking system to keep better tabs on their respective daily tasks.

Board of Education members on Monday approved the use of Google Docs starting in the 2011-12 school year. Incorporating teacher email addresses will be the first step, officials said.

“We would like every teacher to have a Website come fall,” said Peter Marabeas, computer teacher at Riverside Middle School.

He said the use of Google Docs, a service offered by the Web-based company, would help teachers and students to keep better track of the work they produce. They would be able to collaborate with each other online and edit their documents seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

“Data is constantly backed up so files cannot be lost,” Marabeas said.

Crestwood is not be the first district to use this technology, he said, but it will be among the first.

Marabeas said he and fellow computer teacher Michael Moore first became familiar with Google Apps for Education, of which Google Docs is a part, at a conference in 2007. Google Apps for Education, according to its Website, “offers a free (and ad-free) set of customizable tools that enable faculty, staff and students to work together and learn more efficiently.”

Marabeas said staff and students at Riverside already have implemented it, and they are now looking to expand the service into the entire district.

Riverside Principal Jason Gribble also has been using the calendar offered in Google Apps, and has found it useful for helping his secretaries know where he is.

“They have access to my calendar,” Gribble said. “If they need to know where I’m at at any time, they can pull this up, they can see my calendar, they can know exactly what’s going on.”

Marabeas said Michigan is starting to require students to use more technology in the classrooms; Moore said that standard now includes being able to use computers and technology, as part of the classroom experience.

“The state standards are now not to teach how to use a computer, but how to use tools along with a computer,” he said. “This is the next step where everyone else is heading.

“It just makes sense for us to start utilizing these free applications.”

The apps are programs offered by Google that run in the Web browser. They require no installation, just a Gmail account.

Moore also said adopting Google Apps also will save the district money in terms of copies. Earlier in the meeting, the board approved a contract with Ann Arbor-based University Office Technologies to service the existing copiers instead of getting new ones, which could save the district about $25,000 per year in operating costs.

“If a teacher were to distribute a lesson plan in PDF form to the students using netbooks (a small laptop computer), right there we just saved 30 photocopies,” Moore said. “Doing the multiplication effect, and you’re going to see some serious savings.”

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com.)