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Productivity Tools

Discovering Online Productivity Tools

productivity toolsOnline productivity web-based applications (think word processing and spreadsheets) use has exploded over the past few years, for good reason! These powerful applications - such as Google Docs and Zoho Writer - allow users to create and share documents over the Internet without needing installed desktop applications. Some experts speculate that this emerging trend may mean the death to Microsoft® Office and other software-based productivity tools; others think that web-based applications have their place, but not in the office. Regardless of where you stand, on this both sides seem to agree: web-based apps have their place.

One major benefit of web-based applications is that they eliminate the need to worry about different software versions. They also level the playing field, when emailing documents or moving from computer to computer. And they easily facilitate collaboration, since multiple users can edit the same file (with versioning). In addition, they enable easy saving and conversion of documents in multiple file types (including HTML and PDF). You can even use these tools to author and publish posts to blogs, wikis, and websites; this integration with other Web 2.0 tools also makes web-based apps appealing.

A number of the productivity tools in this section are part of the Google Apps for Education suite of tools. The apps provided to schools that have partnered with Google include tools similar to Microsoft® Office, including Docs, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Calendar, and Gmail. Many campuses (including some of the SUNY TOEP campuses) host Google Apps for Education for students; some also host these tools for campus faculty and staff. Learn more about the Google Apps for Education available at each of the TOEP institutions. Even if your institution does not use Google Apps for education, it is simple to set up a commercial Google account to use.

Productivity Tools in Teaching and Learning

Twenty-first century skills include finding, experimenting with, and evaluating new tools. As part of this evaluation, users must decide whether a tool meets their needs for creating, organizing, communicating, and/or problem-solving. Not only is this decision-making relevant for faculty and staff - as we make decisions for our academic lives - but it is essential for our students.

A variety of free web-based productivity tools can be particularly useful in education. For example:
  • Especially valuable are tools that easily enable students to work collaboratively on group projects with classmates, people from their community, and even experts in the field. 
  • Scheduling and calendaring software facilitate the communication and organization of time-based tasks. Shared calendars among student and faculty groups can promote efficient project management.
  • Polling, surveys, and forms help faculty and students collect data and analyze trends, related to course-focused and real-world questions. Forms can also be used to build quizzes and other assessment activities. They can also ease "housekeeping" demands of courses and projects (e.g., sign-ups for selection of assignment topics, meeting times, and student groups.)
Check out Kathy Shrock's Bloomin' Apps site; it connects social learning tools to the different levels of learning in Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Her site uses clickable images with hotspots that connect Bloom's Taxonomy to suggestions for using social learning tools and mobile apps for teaching and learning. Various web-based tools - including GoogleApps - are profiled with Shrock's interactive tools.

Discovery Resources 

Google Drive and Apps for Creating Shared Documents Accessible Anywhere on Any Device
Google Drive, part of Google Apps for Education, is a file storage and synchronization service hosted by GoogleGoogle Drive is the home of Google Docs, a suite of productivity applications, including word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. Google Drive supports creation and sharing of a variety of online documents; easy synchronous and asynchronous work on them with others; and web-based storage. Google Drive features automatic syncing, allowing users to work on the same files from any web-enabled device, including mobile phones and tablets. Several of the TOEP campuses provide institutional support to students and/or faculty and staff. The video below introduces GoogleDrive's major features.

Review the Google products on this list or described belowexploring a few of interest. Each tool has its own Help Center; many host "tours," to introduce their features.
  • Google Custom Search: Create a Google-powered custom search engine to search only the sites that you specify.
  • Google Scholar: Search for scholarly papers and link to your campus library.
  • Google Books: Search the full text of a vast library of books; many are in the public domain, and are available online.
  • Google Earth: Explore the world from your computer (requires downloading some software).
  • Google SketchUp: Build, modify and share 3D models.
  • Google Art Project: View artwork held by some of the world's leading museums, create your own collection.

DropBox Features File Storage and Document Sharing
Dropbox is one of several web-based storage tools that features file syncing and sharing. Dropbox is another way for teachers and students to privately share assignments from folders stored on their computers and mobile devices. You can automatically sync notes, recordings, annotated PDFs, photos, drawings, and many other documents created on your desktop, laptop, and mobile or tablet device directly over the web. The video below introduces Dropbox's key features.

Online Website Creation Tools
Google Sites can be used to build a public website, or a site shared privately to a group; it can also be used to build a Wiki. Google Sites is the tool used to develop the TOEP website. Wix and Zoho Sites are also popular website development tools, giving even inexperienced web developers tools to make sophisticated websites.

Productivity Apps Make Scheduling Tasks and Polling a Breeze
Many online tools are available to help with time management and conduct polls/surveys. Google Calendar organizes schedules, giving you the option to share it with family, friends, co-workers, and/or your students. Doodle makes scheduling easier by publishing an easy interface for making date/time selections, as well as choices of all types. Tools like PollEverywhere and SurveyMonkey can simplify creating polls and surveys. In addition, check out Survey Software Reviews, to compare popular survey platforms.

Web-based surveys and quizzes can also be built with Google Forms, which is a part of the Google Apps for Education suite. The TOEP registration page and Badge Submission have been created using Google Forms. Check out this list to get ideas for Interesting ways to use Google Forms in the Classroom
Online calendars, polls, or surveys can be linked to from within a Blackboard course website or any other Learning Management System (LMS) (e.g., Angel, Moodle). Sharing with students is easy; just make a calendar or poll publicly available, and share the unique link for it. In many tools, you have the option of creating a link that can be accessed without requiring users to sign in. Alternatively, paste student email addresses into the sharing options, in the tool that you are using. If you are using a GoogleApp - since many educational institutions are Google Apps campuses - students will often not need to create a new account to access a shared item.

Mapping Geographical Locations and Visualizing Data
Foldable maps are now outnumbered by the prevalence and utility of online geographical mapping tools. These tools are useful to visually represent geographic space and data. Numerous visualization tools are beginning to emerge allow you more easily map data in various creative ways to visually represent topics and trends. 

Check out these resources mapping and vizualization resources:
Other Online Productivity Tools
If you wish to explore further, there are multiple options across productivity areas, with tool choices increasing daily. Explore this Big List of Online Productivity Tools, to get a sample of just some of the options.

For more information, use this link to go to the Productivity Tools section of the TOEP Resource Library.

Discovery Exercise

Please follow these steps: 
  1. Choose a productivity tool to explore further, using the resources on this page. Create a document, poll, survey, website, or another file. If sharing is an option, share a file with a colleague, or make it public.
  2. Create a post about your discovery, posting it to our TOEP Google+ Community. What did you like or dislike about the tool(s) that you selected? What were the tool's useful features? How could it be applied to teaching and learning?
  3. Include the URL for the item that you created with one of the productivity tools in this Discovery Exercise. If you selected a tool that does not result in a publicly accessible URL, include a link to the tool's website in your post; include a comment about why a non-public solution works best for your circumstances.

Now, Request Your Badge!

Complete the badge request form to earn your TOEP Productivity Tools Badge. You will need the URL for the item that you created using one of the productivity tools in this Discovery Exercise. If you selected a tool that does not result in a publicly accessible URL, instead, please include a link to your post in the TOEP Google+ Community. (Learn how to get permalinks for any Google+ post.)

What Does the Research Say?

Nevin, R. (2009). Supporting 21st century learning through Google Apps. Teacher Librarian, 37(2). 35-38.

Burfield, C. (2011). Extending face-to-face learning through cloud tools. Distance Learning, 8(4), 1-5

Additional research information is available in the Productivity Tools  section of the TOEP Resource Library. 

*Note: Access to the research articles may require logging into your campus' library system or you may request an article through Inter Library Loan (ILL).
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