08 July 2007

The Google Toolbox for Your Student

If you have a student with organizational troubles – and isn't that all students? Then, there is no better tool than the fully-implemented Google Account. This is the ideal study-and-life-support solution for almost all secondary and postsecondary students.

Combined with the Firefox Browser (for PC or Mac) and free add-ons to that system, the Google supports can provide an absolutely free system that will give your student the tools that help put academic success far more within reach.

Start with Gmail. http://gmail.google.com/ All of your family should be on this top-shelf e-mail system. It includes built-in chatting, and can have GoogleTalk installed as well. It will also show you the status of your "friends" (are they on-line? Are they available to chat?). But that is just the start: Gmail oraganizes all your conversations into "streams" that allow you to track everything said. Gmeil has the finest search engine of any email system, so you will not "misplace" vital emails. Gmail also comes with 3 gb of storage that almost eliminates the need for USB "jump" drives. Have anything you want to carry with you? Attach it to a "draft" email, and it will be available to you on any computer. (Note: If you are not scanning in all your travel documents, from passports to tickets to medication lists, and storing them this way, do not complain if you lose things on a trip.) (Note2: you can install the "Gmail Drive Extension" http://www.viksoe.dk/code/gmail.htm which will allow you to simply drag files on your computer into your Gmail Drive the way you currently move things around in Windows.)

Now, add the Calendar. http://www.google.com/calendar Google Calendar is brilliant, simple to use, and allows various levels of sharing. Thus, you can add dates and events into your student's calendar, and so, with the right permissions, could his or her teacher, etc. (there are also private settings, not all events must be shared). Everything that other calendars have is here, the ability to make things repeat in any pattern, the ability to invite others, the ability to add notes/descriptions, the ability to map locations.

What Google has not yet added is a task list… but, spend no money. Instead, sign up for RememberTheMilk http://www.rememberthemilk.com/ and get a complete, also sharable, task device. Add it into Google Calendar by adding this widget http://blog.rememberthemilk.com/2006/11/add-your-tasks-to-google-calendar.html, then, the "to do list" will appear via a check-mark at the top of each date. [To add RememberTheMilk to your iGoogle homepage, go to http://blog.rememberthemilk.com/2006/10/add-your-tasks-to-google-personalized.html.]

Here's another crucial Google Calendar capability: Despite all the talk after the incidents at Virginia Tech about how difficult universities find it to merge email and texting, you can have Google Calendar text your student's mobile phone at a chosen time before any specified appointment. I've even used this as a travel, and as a back-up alarm clock.

Google Docs and Google Notebook are next. Google Docs http://docs.google.com/ provides free word processing and spreadsheets with free on-line storage, and the possibility of multi-simultaneous-user collaboration. That is, many people can be editing the same document at the same time, and you can decide who gets to collaborate and who might also get to see – but not edit. (Special Note: for those who run across re-calcitrant WordPerfect users, Google Docs is the perfect WordPerfect to MS Word translation tool.)

Google Notebook, http://www.google.com/notebook/ when the widget is installed in a computer's Firefox or Internet Explorer browser, allows you to grab any text as you research something and store it in a specified on-line "notebook." In Firefox on PC this is a simple "right-click function." It revolutionizes research.

The best use of all of this is with Firefox http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/ the best browser available. Firefox, with its security, its tabbed-browsing, its ease of use is fine right "from the download" but you can make it much better. Begin by adding ForecastFox https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/398 for on-screen weather. Then Map + https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2394 (currently US only, sorry) so that right-clicking any highlighted address in any website will give you a map for that address. gTranslate https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/918 offers right click translation of words and sentences for English and 8 other languages and German-French. For any student with literacy issues add Charles L. Chen's brilliant CLiCk, Speak http://clickspeak.clcworld.net/downloads.html which reads any website to the user. You will also want Merriam-Webster's one-click Dictionary button http://www.m-w.com/downloads/firefox/firefox-button.htm.

Now, linked to your students desktop or laptop computer, and/or PocketPC, and Mobile Phone, you have a full-featured support structure, that helps your student keep track of classes, of assignments, of appointments, of life. That helps them study. Helps them read. Helps them write. And every bit of it is absolutely free.

  • Gmail (with Chat)
  • Google Calendar with RememberTheMilk and Text-Messaging
  • Google Documents (word processing and spreadsheets)
  • Google Notebook
  • Google Talk
  • Firefox 2.0 with add-ons
  • CLiCk, Speak
  • gTranslate
  • ForecastFox
  • Map+
  • M-W One Click Definitions
- Ira Socol


assistivetek said...

Ira: Well done- great piece for teachers and students to know about. Brian

the irish librarian said...

I have not been on gmail that long and only recently noticed some of the things you have mentioned. Some I was completely unaware of, muchless would of known to put it to such good use. Sometimes I just don't see things.
Thank you for pointing it out to me.

Anonymous said...

For Mac users: Be sure and get anold of Gmailto, which will open Gmail when you click on a 'mailto:' link on a web page. It's also free.


Anonymous said...

Great ideas there, but we mustn't forget that many of Google's apps are not yet 508 compliant. People who use screenreaders in particular are reporting difficulties with Google Apps, particularly Calendar. Google acknowledge this and have appointed two staff to address these issues.

irasocol said...

Thanks for the Gmailto link

And Enda: Yes, true, but CLiCk, Speak and FireVox do handle these pretty well (surely they both handle Google Docs), so IF those will work, you are ok.

Anonymous said...

I'm not familiar with those apps, so I can't comment on their effectiveness, but the screenreaders I am familiar with such as JAWS and WindowEyes users are not having fun with Google Apps!

Paul Hamilton said...

Another amazing Firefox add-on has just appeared. It's called HyperWords, and it provides a whole range of options when you click on any word on a web page open in Firefox. HyperWords is really worth checking out. For more info, I just wrote a post about it on my blog (http://paulhami.edublogs.org)