After setting up my two websites I went looking for a way to have e-mail accounts using my new domain names. The few sites that I found charge anywhere from $15/year to about $50/year, depending on the amount of storage and other various features you want (that’s is e-mail only BTW). I figured $15/year wasn’t that bad, and was about to do it when I came across Google Apps (standard edition). I cannot tell you how excited I am to share this gold mine of a find with everyone, but especially teachers. I promise you will be amazed at what you get, all for FREE!
Google Apps has been around since 2006, but I always thought it was strictly for businesses. I was definitely wrong. Google Apps offers all the normal Google products like GMail, Docs, Google Talk, Sites and Calendar. The difference is they are all rolled-up into one and managed by an administrator.
One of the incredible features is that you can use your own domain name. What if you don’t have your own domain? No worries, when you sign-up with Google Apps they give you the option to purchase a domain name for $10 (that’s half the cost that I paid). Think about how cool that is. For $10 you can have your apps under whatever name you choose. Maybe you have a class name, or a mascot, or it can be as simple as your last name.
Now that you have your name and your apps site, what’s next? Why is this the big educator find? Because with your main account you get 50 user accounts, each with 7GB of storage! So let’s say you are a teacher with 30 students, you can offer each of them an account under your domain. For example, if I sign a student up she can have the account name of “firstname.lastname@example.org”. She then has access to all those cool apps.
Maybe at this point you are thinking “okay, so what, why do I want to do this when they can just go to the regular Google sites and sign up for the same services, just not under my name?” Because with Google Apps under your domain your students can collaborate on documents and websites, all under your control.
This is a screenshot of my administrator dashboard, the control center for all the accounts (if you want to see it larger just click on the picture):
All of those areas have places where you can control things like who sees what, and what gets shared (and where). For example in the docs settings, here’s what you can do:
Sure, Google Docs can’t compare to MS Word, and Google Sites doesn’t compare to other, full-fledged blogging sites like Blogger or WordPress. But what you get here is a suite of products ready for collaboration. Or not. Actually I don’t know if I will use them for collaboration, but I like that I can offer my students Google backed products with my name attached.
Here are some of the highlights related to each app. (If you have used any of them already, this is nothing new).
- You can create a document in Google Docs and download it as a Word file (I think that is an awesome feature!). This is handy for those people that don’t have Word, yet need to submit a document somewhere. For example our school computers can’t convert Works files, but many of our students only have Works.
- Creating, uploading and storing documents means no more “I forgot my work”.
- You can create really neat things with forms. I created this poll for my students. You can easily create different kinds of tests, all which can be embedded, or simply printed out.
- Users can collaborate on a document, so there is no need to continually send it back and forth for revisions. Google saves the revisions so if there is a need to revert back it’s easy.
- Full e-mail system. Lots of storage space. On one of my e-mail accounts I have a couple of thousand e-mails sitting in the trash and/or archive and I have only used less than 1% of my storage capacity.
- GMail system shines when it comes to multiple e-mails with one person. It layers them so that you can easily see the “discussion”. It’s hard to explain, more like something you need to experience. 🙂
- Check-out Google’s Ninja guide for using GMail.
- Super easy way to get your students (or yourself) into the blogging world. See the super quick sample I made.
- Videos and pictures can easily be embedded.
- Students can collaborate and turn it into a Wiki.
- Remember with your Google Apps account you get to control the privacy level!
Calendar (this is my workhorse that I wouldn’t want to live without!)
- Put all homework and/or notices on the calendar. (Remember you can set-up multiple calendars).
- Embed the calendar in your website (example) and/or share it with users in your domain.
- Allows students to chat in a safe environment. You can control whether they can chat with someone outside of Google Chat and/or outside of your domain.
- You can choose to have a written log of the chats.
- You could set-up a chat time with students to answer questions about a particular lesson, etc.
I will say there is one MAJOR flaw with Google Apps: no RSS reader. I am extremely disappointed with that. I am starting all my students using readers in the fall, and not having that app makes it more challenging. Although, I did find a cool trick for add RSS feeds into Docs (as of this first writing I have not experimented with it though).
Honestly, I signed up because I wanted to have my own e-mail addresses that matched my website domains, but after looking at the apps I am seeing more and more ways I can use them with my students. Consider this post a beginning look at the system. When we get back to school and I really start using everything, I will certainly update you as to how it all comes together.
In the meantime you should go see things for yourself. Set-up is pretty quick and easy if you follow Google’s instructions. If you already have a domain name, its all free. And if you don’t, $10 really isn’t that much considering what you get.