Classroom Tech, Part II: iGoogle

I am in the midst of a series of posts outlining how I plan on using technology during the coming school year. I’ll share some tools, resources, and ideas that I intend to use with students in the classroom, and hopefully you, the reader, will share some advice or thoughts of your own, either in the comments section, or on your own blog (just let me know if you do!).

The second tech tool in this summer series is one many of you may already use: iGoogle. This is a fantastic tool that I’ve been using for about 2 years now, though really only frequently during the past school year.In addition to talking about iGoogle, though, this post will include a little bit on several Google tools I’m thinking about using this year.

For those that haven’t heard of it, iGoogle is an internet home page that tries to aggregate all of your web experiences into one place. If you use Gmail or Outlook, Google Reader or Delicious, Google Docs or Facebook, CNN or ESPN, iGoogle wants to bring those all to one place using what it calls “gadgets.” To borrow a phrase, if you want to do something, there’s a gadget for that. The obvious benefit of using these gadgets is that you will spend less time clicking through frequently used websites or web tools.

To give you an idea of what iGoogle is like, here are the gadgets I currently use on my iGoogle page:

  • Sticky Note
  • Gmail
  • Google Reader
  • Google Calendar
  • Delicious
  • Google Docs
  • AccuWeather
  • Sports Scores
  • Daily Literary Quote
  • Notable Shakespeare Quote.

By using iGoogle, I can bring all of these tools onto one website and minimize the amount of time that I spend surfing the web

My hope is that I can have students create their own iGoogle pages in order to organize their web experience a little better. In a way, I envision it as a sort of digital planner where they can keep track of assignments, due dates, and other important information. Of course, iGoogle is completely worthless without the right gadgets on it, and that is what the rest of this post will focus on.

I think there are a few gadgets that will be mission-critical for students who are using iGoogle. First and foremost is Google Reader, which lets me read RSS feed updates from my iGoogle page. This tool has saved me countless hours since I began using it, but I’m discovering that a lot of educators don’t know about RSS feeds. If this describes you, I encourage you to learn more about RSS by watching CommonCraft’s “RSS in Plain English.” I promise it will be worth your time. A couple of ways I’ve considered using Google Reader with students:

  1. Our school uses SWIFT websites, which are RSS enabled. Students who have a Google account can use the Reader gadget on their iGoogle pages to subscribe to their teachers’ websites and get updates right on their home page, hopefully resulting in increased awareness and accountability for assignments.
  2. In addition to students subscribing to teacher websites, teaching parents about RSS feeds could make it much easier for them to stay connected with their student’s classes.
  3. Students can subscribe to something that is specifically required for class, such as another student’s Shelfari page (more on this in another post).
  4. Students can subscribe to other useful/informational sites like CNN or the Seattle Times. If they want, they can even subscribe to a specific writer’s feed or a narrower topic feed (say, the Seattle Times Husky Football Blog).

The second tool that I think will be really valuable on a student’s iGoogle page is Google Docs. If you’ve never used Google Docs, it’s like having Microsoft Office online and available to share with others. It can be used to share finished documents or to collaborate on documents in progress, whether text, spreadsheet, or presentation (take the tour here). It even has a way to create surveys that anyone can take. A couple of ways I’m thinking about using Google Docs this coming school year:

  1. Students can use Google Docs to compose their essays. This means no saving to flash drives or emailing papers to themselves (or even worse, printing out the unfinished draft and typing it into a different computer). Instead, they can edit the paper from multiple locations.
  2. Once their essays are finished, students can click the “Share” button and send me their papers to be graded and returned online. I’m still debating doing this or having them email Word documents so I can use the Track Changes features. If you have experience with this, I would really love to get your input.
  3. Collaborate on group assignments using a shared Google Doc. It can also be shared with me so I can monitor their progress any time I need to.
  4. Maintain a digital portfolio documenting standards met, evidence of meeting standard, and reflections. This can then be shared with me and I can grade it online without printing a single piece of paper.

There are a lot of other tools I’m thinking about having students add to their iGoogle pages – a Delicious gadget (more on Delicious here), a Google Calendar gadget to keep track of the updates they receive via Reader, and even a sticky note/to do list gadget to write down whatever they might need to remember. However, these are the essential ones that will help make students’ iGoogle pages a 21st century planner and, hopefully, help them become better students as a result.

Feel free to comment and share your thoughts or your own ideas for using iGoogle with students.

Part III in the Classroom Tech series will share a couple of ideas about using Animoto in the classroom (and will hopefully be much, much shorter!).

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5 responses to “Classroom Tech, Part II: iGoogle

  • E. Lukoff

    Igoogle is terrific. I’ve used it with my students last year when I assigned a research paper. Our district has so many filters that they really couldn’t email anything home to themselves to work on and many forgot to bring a flash drive, so I introduced them to Google documents. They loved it. Most never even knew it existed. After they saw how easy it was, they would work in Google documents and then continue with it at home. Love it. I would really like to try some of the other features this year.

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  • Chris W.

    Kevin –

    I am a huge fan of technology in the classroom, but this seems to be spilling over into the home. I would assume use of tech like this in your class is optional?

    Otherwise, the more interesting blog entry would be how you addressed some of the logistical challenges. For instance:

    How do you get permission from parents for students to create a Google account?

    What do you offer in your room or what have you negotiated with the school librarian to offer computer time and Internet access to those students who don’t have such things at home?

    • thehurt

      @Chris – Great questions. I’m actually setting this up in class tomorrow. I’ll address the easy one first – opportunities for those who might not have access at home. One part of the solution is allowing students more in-class time to work on these things. For example, if we’re drafting essays, I’d like to spend more class time actually writing, so we would need more lab time. Regarding outside work / homework, our school provides a lot of opportunities for students. We have the library & computers open 30 minutes before school every day, nearly every day during lunch, and for an hour after school 3 times a week. In addition, we live in a fairly well-to-do community, so the access issue becomes minimal – I think well over half of my 8th graders have their own laptops.
      The harder part of this is the logistical / administrative part. The first question you raised – is it optional? – is one I wrestled with. I eventually decided that I wanted to require kids to use the Google tools and have a Google account. I think it is such a common tool in the workplace that kids need to learn how to use it. It’s also incredibly valuable to have students using something like Reader to keep up to date on their classes.
      The other issue, which is tied to the parent permission question, is security and safety. I’ve tried to cover my bases as much as possible on this – notified parents in the class syllabus, sent home a letter, provided the lesson plan ahead of time, etc. I’ve let the parents know that if they don’t want their student to use these tools, then we can find alternatives (like emailing Word docs). Another option is that parents can require students to use their family email addresses for the account and keep tabs on what the student is doing.
      Perhaps the most important point, though, is that I will be spending some serious chunks of time talking about digital citizenship, both from a positive and a negative perspective. We’ll spend time talking about why it can be good to get your name out there, but also why we need to be careful about what information we share and with whom. I’ll be working this into several lessons over the course of the year, but particularly in first semester.
      Hopefully this answers some questions. I’d be happy to share some of the resources/ideas I have if you’d like to know more. Just let me know.

      • Chris W.

        Kevin –

        Thanks for the great insight into your thinking on this one. I think you have a great and ambitious goal!

        You mentioned that this if for 8th grade; that brings up another question from me. Google’s terms of service for Gmail (and most other online companies) do not allow anyone under the age of 13 to have an account. It seems like you would have to have them use a secondary address or share a family one?

        Good luck tomorrow!

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