Tech Talk Live Blog

Cloud Anyone? Cloud-Based Asynchronous Collaborative Tools for Teachers and Students

Ken Zimmerman

While there are many cloud storage options available for educators these days including DropBox, Box, Amazon Cloud Drive, SpiderOak, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drivethe two major contenders  continue to be OneDrive/Office 365 and Google Drive.

These two contenders have continued to add functionality and user ability to their service updates over the past few years.  At one point GoogleDocs, now part of Google Drive, was the only asynchronous collaborative tool teachers and students could access. In this 21st century, there is an increasing need for asynchronous productivity and creation tools which students and teachers can utilize in today’s classrooms. Real time collaboration enables teachers and students to build storyboards, presentations, data spreadsheets, essays and compositions, lab reports, and many other projects which they can access from anywhere they have access to the Internet instead of having to be face-to-face during productivity and collaboration time.

The key to ongoing academic success is having a shared environment that allows for asynchronous collaboration while working on the same documents, spreadsheet, or presentation placing the emphasis on the 21st century skills of critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. In addition, due to tight school budgets during these trying economic times, FREE makes all the difference!

Although the above tools are all great cloud services, when focusing on having a true asynchronous sharing environment Google Drive and OneDrive/Office 365 are two very widely used solutions in today’s districts.  There are many comparison articles posted online to provide one point of view over the other regarding which should be the leading contender of the productivity tools; however, there is one simple solution to which one is truly the best since there are so many equal comparisons.  The best cloud-based productivity tools are indeed, the ones that the district selects and utilizes to meet the desired outcome.  In today’s technology rich world, there are plenty of tools that have similar functions.  There is not always one solution that meets all needs.  One tool might come closer than another tool, but when it comes down to which tool should be selected and used, it depends on what the district is looking to provide.  The tool the district selects to maximize student learning, is the best tool at that time for the district.

Many districts have become Google Apps for Education (GAFE) districts providing their educators and students with the beneficial features of Google Drive, including Gmail, Google+, GoogleDocs, slides, sheets, forms, and now the newly added Google Classrooms.  Not only do teachers and students have SSO access to great productivity asynchronous collaboration tools, they also have a Course Management System (Google Classrooms) and Professional Learning Network (Google+) built within their free access to unlimited storage in their Drive via their GAFE account. When considering privacy and child safety, it is important to note that Google Apps for Education are in compliance meeting FERPA and COPPA regulations, so advertisers are not authorized to collect information from users.  Because Google tends to change their settings and functions frequently, it is important to review Google Apps for Education Common Questions in order to stay up to date and current with Google’s policies.

Remember that the tool is not the point, rather the desired skill set is what is most important. No matter if the district chooses to use Google Drive or OneDrive/Office 365 or maybe even a combination of both, it matters most how educators will leverage these collaborative tools in order to maximize student learning and performance.

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