An increasing number of school districts have an online suite of tools through Google including Gmail, online email, and Google Docs, a web-based office suite. Google Docs allows for people to create documents, forms, spreadsheets, and presentations online as well as upload existing files. Not only does Google Docs allow for creating, editing and data storage, but it also allows for real time online collaboration. A teacher could share a document with the class and the students would be able to access it and add to it. Google Docs is also a great way for teachers to share data for tracking and analyzing. Last year I created a color-coded spreadsheet for all of the students in fifth grade. I included their scores from Arizona's standardized test, AIMS, as well as scores for the predictive testing, Acuity, that they take during the school year. There was a column on the far right side for teachers to add in comments about any intervention and/or enrichment that the students were receiving. This was a handy tool for us to use and update as we received more information on our students. During our Professional Learning Community time, the spreadsheet was a handy tool to facilitate conversations about where are students were and where we wanted them to be.
Another collaborative tool that has been around for a while are wikis. A wiki is a website where users can add and edit through a web browser usually using a rich-text editor. Wikispaces is one of the many different host websites that offer people to make their own wikis. A wiki that I am currently participating in is Clickers, Cloud, and Cyber Teaching. The other members and I are able to post work that we are doing on the wiki. We are able to view what each member is doing and provide feedback and engage in discussions. It is a wonderful tool that is designed for collaboration.
Cloud computing is another collaborative tool that I have just begun to learn about. It is a way for people to store and access files and documents online from any device that can connect to the Internet. April Lawrence wrote an article, Go Into the Light: Succumb to the Power of Cloud Computing, where she talks about the benefit of cloud computing for business.
There are numerous ways that these collaborative tools could be used within education all areas of education - traditional, hybrid and distance. One of the biggest barriers I have currently being a traditional classroom teacher is the limits the school district places on what we are able to access and use. Right now only one pilot school has given students access to the Google suite of online tools. We are discouraged by blocks and firewalls to use wikis in the classroom as well. In time I have hope that the "powers that be" in the school district will open up these tools for all of us to use.
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008). Principles of Distance Education. Baltimore: Author.