Google Apps for education

It is hard to say no to a free lunch. It is even harder when the menu contains a half-dozen tasty morsels. Google Apps for education is similarly tantalizing. They provide a ton of e-mail space, document collaboration, chat, shared calendars, and more. As more and more institutions migrate to Google- and Microsoft-hosted services we thought it would be a good idea to learn a bit more about how the Apps for Edu offerings actually measure up.

To that end, a group of IT and Library staff got together in a room for 4 hours this week to sample and test the major features of the Google Apps suite. I’ll be writing up our findings and questions still in need of an answer in a series of blog posts starting with this one.

First, I’ll set a context. Google has tons of web applications that are available to the public. However, to use them as collaboration tools in a large organization there has to be a way to systematically create accounts and group people by default. I can’t imagine taking 4,000 people through the steps required to sign up for a Gmail account, set up Google Docs, then add everyone else on campus to their contact list in Google Talk.  So we assume that everyone is going to need a new account related to and that everyone will be grouped together to make collaboration easier.

Google doesn’t even really care if the institution has signed up for the service. Anyone with an e-mail address can go out today and create a free Google Apps @ account:

Just choose the “sign in” link and then create a new account.  Once you’ve signed up for your Google Apps account, you can view a document I’ve shared with everyone in our workgroup:

Google Apps review document


This document summarizes the key items we discussed during our session. A few issues applied to the full suite:

  • It doesn’t feel like a cohesive suite of apps yet. The user interface in each app is slightly different. Saving your work in Google Docs is different than Google Sites.
  • The Personalized Start Page is nice, but there are add-ins available (for example, Google Reader) that are not accessible to Google Apps @ edu user accounts. It would be really nice if your start page would allow Gadgets to be logged in to different Google accounts at the same time, or if they’d open up their other apps to Google Apps @ edu accounts.
  • There is no Gmail available via the Google Apps @ edu service until the institution signs up and starts pointing our e-mail to Google servers.
  • Clicking links from the Start Page or within Apps too frequently opens in a new tab or window. This means it is way too easy to have a ton of confusing windows with older versions of your work hovering about.
  • It is unclear how deeply Google services can be integrated with our own MyIWU web portal. Can the nice little Google Gadgets from the Start Page become channels within MyIWU?  We cannot get rid of MyIWU since it is our portal to registration and course management.

More posts are on the way elaborating on our work with each individual app. In the meantime, I hope everyone with an e-mail signs up and gives it a try. Here is the link one more time:

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